Botterill to use Penguins’ NHL-AHL relationship as model for Sabres

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For the Buffalo Sabres to succeed, the Rochester Americans will also have to succeed.

That was the message today from new general manager Jason Botterill, who comes to the Sabres after a decade with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Botterill was most recently the associate GM of the Penguins, with responsibilities ranging from scouting to contract negotiations to salary-cap management. However, he also served as GM of the AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, and we all know the importance the Baby Pens have played in the Big Pens’ recent success.

Now he wants to bring that model to Buffalo.

“I think one of the successes of the organization that I’m coming from is the relationship between Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh,” said Botterill. “We want to re-strengthen the relationship with Rochester and Buffalo.”

The Americans, like the Sabres, have struggled in recent years. This past season, the AHL team missed the playoffs for the third straight time. The NHL team last made the postseason in 2011.

While Botterill obviously sees room for improvement in a lot of areas, he does really like one thing about the Sabres, and that’s their top two centers. Coming from a team that won championships with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, it’s no wonder he’s excited to have Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly.

“This is a league that thrives on centerman,” he said. “The fortunate thing here is we have a couple of amazing high-end centermen.”

The defense, on the other hand, needs a lot of work. But at least Rasmus Ristolainen is there.

Botterill, who replaces Tim Murray as GM, is aiming to hire a head coach to replace Dan Bylsma before next month’s draft.

What he wants in that coach is someone who will educate the players, but also someone that will lay down the law when necessary.

Communication will be key, and so will “presence.”

“Making sure the players understand the head coach is in control,” said Botterill, “and certainly leading the charge.”

It should be noted that, in 2015, Botterill hired Mike Sullivan to coach Wilkes-Barre, and that decision worked out rather well for the Penguins.

It should also be noted that, after cleaning house last month, Sabres owner Terry Pegula said that “discipline, structure, communication and character” would be the pillars of the club going forward. No more dysfunction would be tolerated.

As far as next season’s goals, Botterill simply wants improvement and competitiveness. When asked when the Sabres might compete for a Stanley Cup, he wasn’t willing to offer a prediction.

“We will be better,” he said. “But at the same token, I have a lot of respect for this league, and there are some teams that didn’t make the playoffs this year that will be better next year.

“I came from an environment in Pittsburgh where, yes, we had success the past couple of years, but for numerous years, we didn’t achieve those results or we had injuries.

“To me, the goal of the organization needs to be year-in-year-out competing at a high level, and in one of those years you break through.”

Related: What will the Sabres do with Evander Kane?

Flames re-sign RFA goalies Gillies and Rittich

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The Calgary Flames have re-signed goalies Jon Gillies and David Rittich to one-year, two-way contracts, the club announced Saturday.

Both spent the majority of last season in the American Hockey League, but did get in some game action with the big club in Calgary. The 23-year-old Gillies, the Flames’ third-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, played in 39 games with the Stockton Heat, posting a .910 save percentage.

He then made his first career NHL start on April 6 against the L.A. Kings and stopped 27 of 28 shots faced for the win. He then began the playoffs as Calgary’s back-up because of an injury to Chad Johnson.

Rittich made his debut two days later, allowing one goal on 10 shots in 20 minutes of ice time versus San Jose.

The Flames have already taken care of their goaltending situation at the NHL level for next season, bringing in Mike Smith from Arizona and Eddie Lack from Carolina.

Columnist: Potential new Hurricanes owner concerned with ‘revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market’

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The Carolina Hurricanes may have a potential new owner in Chuck Greenberg, the former CEO of the MLB Texas Rangers who also had interest in the NHL’s Dallas Stars.

A report Friday goes into further details about Greenberg’s motivation in purchasing the Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos, who has been exploring a sale of the team for quite some time now.

Previous reports indicate the agreement between the Hurricanes and Greenberg would keep the club in Raleigh, amid ages of speculation it may be a candidate for possible relocation to markets like Seattle or Quebec City.

From the Raleigh News and Observer:

Interviews with people close to Greenberg and others who have knowledge of the proposed purchase but requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks paint a picture of a front man who would be deeply concerned with the fan experience and revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market, but lacking the money to fund the purchase himself and reliant on a group of investors to get the deal done.

If the deal goes through, at a reported price of $500 million that likely includes a large amount of assumed debt while valuing the actual franchise closer to $300 million, Greenberg would move to Raleigh with the intention of making the team work here. That’s what Hurricanes fans long afraid of a move to Quebec City or Seattle during these years of ownership uncertainty as Karmanos has had the team on the market have been hoping to hear.

The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006 but haven’t made the playoffs since 2009. Despite their postseason drought, Carolina is building quite a depth of young talent, most notably on defense. They could take another positive step forward next season, perhaps contending for a playoff spot. In a bid to bolster their goaltending situation, the Hurricanes also acquired and then signed former Chicago No. 2 netminder Scott Darling.

Predators’ Watson asking for $1.4 million in arbitration

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It could be a busy couple of days for the Nashville Predators with two arbitration hearings scheduled through Monday.

The first of those two was scheduled for Saturday with restricted free agent forward Viktor Arvidsson, while Austin Watson is scheduled to have his on Monday if no deal is struck before then. On Saturday Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Watson and the Predators have filed their numbers for that hearing with Watson looking to make $1.4 million, and the Predators countering with an offer of $700,000.

Watson made $575,000 this past season for the Predators when he scored five goals with 12 assists in 77 games while mostly playing in a bottom-six role.

The 25-year-old Watson was a first-round pick by the Predators in 2010 and has played his entire career to this point with the organization. In parts of three seasons with the big club he has scored just nine goals in 140 games.

He played what was perhaps his best hockey with the team during the 2016-17 playoffs when he scored four goals (nearly matching his career regular season high) and added five assists during the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. All four of those goals came in the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks, including two in their series-clinching Game 6 win. He also recorded three assists in the Stanley Cup Final.

Given the relatively small gap here this seems like a classic “meet in the middle” situation when it comes to reaching a deal for this upcoming season.

Ducks prospect Jones seems ready to make the jump to the NHL

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The Anaheim Ducks had a chance to restock their prospect cupboard during the 2016 draft with a pair of first-round picks, selecting Max Jones with the No. 24 overall pick and Sam Steel with the No. 30 pick. Both prospects had strong seasons in 2016-17 with their junior teams — Steel recorded 131 points in 66 games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, while Jones was a point-per-game player for the OHL’s London Knights before getting his first taste of pro hockey with a nine-game look in the American Hockey League playoffs with the San Diego Gulls.

He now seems determined to make the Ducks’ roster this upcoming season.

Here is talking to Eric Stephens of the OC Register following the team’s prospect camp earlier this month.

“I don’t know if it’s about that,” Jones said at the Ducks’ prospect camp earlier this month. “I just think … I won a Memorial Cup. I think it’s time to move on and try to win a Stanley Cup. That’s kind of what my idea is.

“I want to step into the big leagues and I want to … for years and years I’ve been watching teams win that Stanley Cup and that’s all I want to do right now. Start playing and try to win a Stanley Cup.”

The problem Jones and the Ducks will face this season is that he is still not eligible to play in the American Hockey League during the regular season due to the CHL transfer agreement, which means the team has to decide whether or not to give him a look with the big club in Anaheim, or send him back to the Ontario Hockey League for a third consecutive season.

He also missed significant time this past season due to a broken arm and another suspension for crossing the line physically (this time it was 10 games for cross-checking), something he has struggled with during his junior hockey days.

Given his willingness to play the game with a physical edge and his size (6-3, 215 pounds) he certainly seems to fit the Ducks’ “heavy” style of play.

Still, the Ducks’ roster is already pretty deep and there aren’t many spots available, especially after the team just reached the Western Conference Finals this past season. For as big and talented as he is, he has still only played 112 games in the OHL over the past two seasons and hasn’t always dominated offensively. Some additional development time might not be the worst thing for him this season.