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?