Jason Botterill

PHT Morning Skate: NHL won’t restrict coaches if play resumes (even older ones)

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

NHL not restricting coaches and other matters relating to COVID-19/return to play

• ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reports that the NHL will place no restrictions on coaches that would entail “prohibiting them from doing their jobs” if play resumes. Coaches with certain at-risk factors (including advanced age) won’t be restricted from coaching teams. Some of this might boil down to the wishes of the NHL Coaches’ Association. I can’t say I’m pumped that masks aren’t an instant requirement, but I’m also not thrilled that players won’t be wearing full face shields. Why not take the precautions that make the most sense, even in a process that might be risky overall?

Anyway, read on for more from Kaplan. [ESPN]

• Speaking of throwing a debatable amount of caution to the wind, the Rangers stated that Kaapo Kakko looks likely to return to play. This is notable, as Kakko is a Type 1 Diabetic. Rangers president John Davidson claims that the team’s doctors are giving Kakko the green light. I don’t know, gang. Perhaps we’ll just have to get used to players “choosing” to roll the dice? [NHL.com]

• For the first time ever, the Hockey Hall of Fame will induct a class without in-person debates. Instead, there will be a “virtual conference call.” TSN’s Frank Seravalli provides details on this rare process. [TSN]

• Adam Gretz breaks down why the Canadiens could be a tough matchup for the Penguins. And, no, Carey Price isn’t the main reason. [Pensburgh]

Darcy Kuemper explains that, after being off the ice for months, “you kind of have to re-teach yourself how to play goalie.” If nothing else, Kuemper faces one of the bigger challenges to regain his past form, simply because he’s been legitimately elite since January 2019, basically. [Arizona Republic]

Departures, Sabres firing fallout, and other hockey links

• Now-former Rochester Americans coach Chris Taylor spoke to Bill Hoppe about getting fired. When word surfaced that the Sabres were firing Jason Botterill, Taylor believed that it would be limited to that. Instead, it was a purge where a stunning 22 people were fired. Taylor admits he didn’t see it coming. That’s pretty understandable, being that the Americans finished second in their division for two seasons in a row, and third during Taylor’s first campaign as head coach. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• Lyle “Spector” Richardson notes that Botterill ranks among assistant GMs who couldn’t find big success as GMs. Interesting stuff, although I’d argue that Ron Hextall did a mostly good job with the Flyers, particularly cleaning up their cap nightmares. He just* made the classic mistake of … um, hiring someone with almost the same last name? [Featurd]

* — OK, there were multiple errors, but I’d still give Hextall a “B” or “B+” overall.

• Why a Connor McDavid rookie card auction already surpassed $70K. It’s on its way to becoming the most expensive modern hockey card. [Edmonton Journal]

• EA Sports downplayed rumblings about “NHL 21” being left out of a video hyping future games. [U.S. Gamer]

• Pondering how Reid Cashman’s departure might affect the Capitals. Check this one out if you want to dive into the pool-o-analytics. [Japers’ Rink]

• Nikolay Goldobin bolting from the Canucks to the KHL represents one last departure for this post. There had been high hopes at times for Goldobin, but it didn’t work out. You could probably argue with Canucks fans on Twitter about Goldobin still, though. [Offside Vancouver]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Can Kevyn Adams overcome inexperience to succeed as Sabres GM?

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Fair or not, it’s difficult to avoid the “inexperience” question regarding the Sabres handing the GM keys to Kevyn Adams.

Keith Jones, Patrick Sharp, and Liam McHugh discussed that subject, along with other Sabres issues, in the latest edition of “Our Line Starts.” While Sharp provided some glowing words for Adams, and Jones expressed optimism about holdover head coach Ralph Krueger, the larger Sabres picture is unsettling.

You can watch and listen to the full “Our Line Starts” podcast in the video above. The episode is also included at the bottom of this post. Here’s the specific clip discussing Adams and the inexperience issue:

Sabres present a colossal challenge for GM Adams, even ignoring inexperience

It’s amusing that Kim and Terry Pegula leaning on “E” buzzwords, especially efficiency, in making this change, being that they’re going with a third inexperienced GM in a row.

Let’s be honest, if there’s an “E” you’d use to describe this Sabres era, it would be “erratic.”

Adams represents the fourth GM the Sabres hired since the Pegulas came into the picture in 2013. Ralph Krueger ranks as their sixth head coach. Both Tim Murray and now Jason Botterill only received three years to make their marks as Sabres GMs.

To be frank, it’s difficult to guess what kind of vision Adams has as GM. In a lengthy discussion with The Athletic’s Tim Graham (sub required), Adams emphasized communication. And, yes, the word “efficient” went around a lot.

But there weren’t a lot of specifics. Just about every team claims that they want to emphasize speed and character, two things Adams did key on.

Adams did indicate that he’ll be working closely with Krueger. There can be some drawbacks to coaches having a lot of say in personnel matters, but considering how disjointed the Sabres are right now, having two top front office members on the same page is a plus.

(Yes, the Sabres are absolutely dealing in small victories right now. That’s what happens when you’re rudderless amid a nine-year playoff drought.)

Can Adams rebuild — not just the roster, but also the front office?

Botterill getting fired and replaced with Adams grabs the headlines. Yet, the Sabres absolutely dismantled their staff, almost top to bottom.

The Athletic’s John Vogl captures how scorched-earth the Sabres “barren” system currently looks (sub required), illustrated quickest in his tweet:

Yikes.

It’s not particularly promising that Adams doesn’t just qualify as inexperienced as a GM. He hasn’t served as an assistant GM, either. He was just promoted to vice president of business administration in September.

To be fair, many of us roll our eyes at NHL teams constantly hiring “retreads.”

Still, this situation makes you wonder if it’s really ideal for a novice. Sabres fans aren’t exactly overflowing with patience right now. Neither is superstar Jack Eichel.

Adams isn’t merely being asked to unearth prospects, or clean up the salary cap. While the Sabres’ messaging hinges on “doing more with less,” they’ll need to restock their front office — at least eventually.

Frankly, I view going short-staffed as short-sighted, at least in the longer term. It’s easy to look at a large staff as bloated. However, a savvy team can save millions merely by investing in an analytics staff that would tell people “No.”

Could a larger analytics emphasis have averted disastrous free agent signings over the years? Possibly. Maybe they could have salvaged more from trading Ryan O'Reilly, if that was unavoidable? It’s pretty easy to see how relatively cheap staff members could save teams millions.

The Sabres do still employ an analytics director (Jason Nightingale), but that doesn’t mean it’s an area of emphasis. I personally believe that is where a team can be more “efficient” than old-school, bigger spending teams.

Sabres at least have time to search for answers

Overall, there are a lot of troubling signs for the Sabres, with the inexperience of Kevyn Adams merely being one of them.

That said, it’s crucial to remember that the Sabres will probably look quite different whenever the 2020-21 season kicks into gear. (Or, gulp, 2021-22? Just 2021, then 2022? We live in uncertain times.)

The key is for important people, particularly the Pegulas, to learn from mistakes. Not even going through a GM search ranks as yet another troubling sign, but maybe inexperience won’t matter as much as some think regarding Adams?

It will be fascinating, and maybe a little frightening, to watch it all play out. Speaking of playing out, enjoy the latest episode of “Our Line Starts” below.

Start-12:45 Breaking down the front office overhaul in Buffalo
12:45-16:35 What will life in the “bubble” be like?
19:10-22:50 Discussion on potential hub cities as the official announcement nears
22:50-34:30 Handicapping some of the major awards

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

MORE ON ADAMS, SABRES:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Plenty of questions for Kevyn Adams as Sabres GM

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The Sabres stunned many on Tuesday by firing Jason Botterill, and naming Kevyn Adams as their new GM.

The move accomplished the interesting task of making the inevitable feel shocking. Yes, Botterill seemed like he was on borrowed time as GM. But considering Kim Pegula’s vote of confidence from late May, the Sabres signaled that now was not the time. And then they changed course.

As messy as all of this is, the truth is that it might work out for the best. Why head into this long, unusual offseason with a GM you don’t believe in? Every prime year from Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin is precious, so why waste them if Botterill really isn’t the best choice?

Of course, what happens next hinges on Kevyn Adams. Can he finally get the Sabres on track as the franchise is mired in a nine-year playoff drought? Let’s look at the monumental task(s) Adams has in front of him.

Adams faces key decisions (big and small, short and long-term) as Sabres GM

As cathartic as it might be to move on from a GM or coach that didn’t work out, there’s also a risk that the new people in charge will make the wrong changes, sometimes merely to show that they’re not just sitting idly.

For better (Jack Eichel) and worse (Jeff Skinner, Kyle Okposo), the Sabres have a lot of big contracts they really can’t move. Rasmus Ristolainen stands as the biggest piece — even literally — that they actually could conceivably remove.

It feels like Ristolainen has been subject to trade rumors for ages, even though he’s merely 25. Either way, it makes you wonder if Botterill wanted too much for Ristolainen, or if the market really is just that cold on him.

Frankly, the Sabres might be better off cutting their losses, even at a discount rate. By most measures, including this multi-season RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey, Ristolainen seems like an overall drag on his team:

Kevyn Adams Sabres GM should trade Rasmus Ristolainen
via Evolving Hockey

If the Sabres traded Ristolainen, it might help solve their Rasmus Riddle.

On one hand, Ralph Krueger really helped improve the Sabres on defense. Consider his isolated impact via Hockey Viz:

Kevyn Adams Sabres GM should keep Ralph Krueger
via Hockey Viz

Yet, while Krueger bumped down Ristolainen’s ice time, the tall defenseman still topped the Sabres in ice time. Meanwhile, Rasmus Dahlin actually saw a dramatic drop in ice time from his rookie campaign (21:09) to his sophomore season (19:18).

That’s puzzling. I can’t help but point out that the “free agent” market for coaches is unusually robust, featuring choices ranging from Bruce Boudreau and Gerard Gallant to Peter Laviolette and even Mike Babcock.

Overall, though? It seems like Krueger is a good coach, maybe a very good one. Adams should probably trade away that one bad habit in Ristolainen, though.

RFAs need addressing

Take a look at the Sabres’ long-term outlook for a longer list, but Buffalo is brimming with RFA decisions to make.

Some of the most important names include breakout rookie sniper Victor Olofsson, goalie Linus Ullmark, baffling trade acquisition Wayne Simmonds, Brandon Montour, Michael Frolik, and Jimmy Vesey.

While the Sabres have $25M devoted to Eichel, Skinner, and Okposo alone, the slate is reasonably clean for Kevyn Adams to make his own mark as GM.

He’ll need to make the right calls not just with who to bring back, but also who to add.

Ullmark played pretty well this season, but not necessarily to the point that he silenced all questions about Sabres goaltending. Should Adams stick with Ullmark and Carter Hutton, who’s worked on vision problems and has one year remaining? Should the Sabres instead plunge into a pretty promising goalie market, and either try to trade away Hutton or even eat the cost of sending Hutton to the AHL?

Go big in free agency or aim more modestly?

If the Sabres make the call to spend on a UFA goalie, they’d need to determine the right target. Braden Holtby boasts a big name, but he’s struggled in recent years, and would be expensive if he leaves the Capitals. It’s difficult to imagine Robin Lehner returning to Buffalo, but maybe Adams and the Sabres can identify the next Lehner?

Skaters represent interesting questions, too.

If Alex Pietrangelo becomes available, is it worth the risk of going top-heavy to improve in an area of need? Dahlin will need a contract after 2020-21, so the Sabres could see their breathing room collapse quickly if they signed Pietrangelo, only to receive diminishing returns.

Taylor Hall could give Eichel the sort of support he’s rarely seen, yet Hall’s shown serious signs of decline recently.

The Sabres have also gotten burned by more mid-range free agent signings, so there are risks if they swing for contact rather than for the fences.

Maybe the best path would be to call up, say, the Lightning or another cap-challenged team to shake loose some talent?

Even if Adams keeps his early moves modest, he still faces a lot of questions in taking over as Sabres GM. This team needs to add talent, and rebuild trust from fans. As we’ve seen from Botterill and others, it’s a job that can go wrong in many ways.

What would you do if you were in Adams’ shoes?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sabres fire Jason Botterill, name Kevyn Adams as new GM

Jason Botterill Kevyn Adams Sabres GM
Getty Images
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So much for that vote of confidence from late May. The Buffalo Sabres announced that they fired Jason Botterill on Tuesday, while also naming Kevyn Adams as their new GM.

Kim and Terry Pegula noted that, after “candid discussions” with Botterill, they determined that the sides had “philosophical differences” about how to run the Sabres.

“This morning, we informed Jason Botterill he will no longer be the General Manager of the Sabres,” Kim and Terry Pegula said in that statement. “This decision was made after many candid discussions with Jason during a full review of our hockey operation. We recognized we have philosophical differences regarding how best to put ourselves in a position to compete for a Stanley Cup. So, we decided to make this change.”

Interestingly, the Sabres did not seem to attach an “interim” title to Adams as GM.

“New General Manager Kevyn Adams and Head Coach Ralph Krueger already have a close working relationship and we are excited to see what they can do together as we re-configure our hockey operations,” The Pegulas said. “We have the benefit of this long 2020 pause to take time to reorganize and re-energize our hockey department. We recognize the importance of this offseason with so many player decisions to be made.”

Botterill gives way to Adams after about three years

The Sabres hired Botterill as their eighth GM in May 2017. That gave Botterill enough time to scramble and conduct Buffalo’s 2017 draft, including choosing Casey Mittelstadt eighth overall. (Mittelstadt represents the second debatable eighth overall pick in a row for Buffalo, as the Sabres chose Alex Nylander in that spot the year before.)

Much like Botterill, Phil Housley carried a pretty high league-wide perception into his job as Sabres head coach. To put things mildly, both Botterill and Housley saw such reputations plummet. Botterill stayed on long enough to see Ralph Krueger coach the Sabres for one season, but that’s it.

[RELATED: Plenty of questions for Kevyn Adams as Sabres GM]

Generally speaking, Botterill avoided huge free agent moves during his tenure, which seemed wise considering some of Buffalo’s biggest blunders.

Many of his biggest splashes came via trades. While acquiring Jeff Skinner was a big win, Skinner’s pricey extension negated most of that goodwill.

Will the revolving door stop for Buffalo?

The Sabres only managed marginal improvements in defense, goaltending, and depth scoring under Botterill. Despite changing GMs and coaches, the tune seems the same: the Sabres failed to surround Jack Eichel (and now Rasmus Dahlin, too) with much support.

Sabres fans get the change that some desired, at least at GM. You can’t “fire the owners,” so to speak, so plenty of people will grumble at decisions. We’ve seen plenty of examples of “re-arranging the deckchairs” on this sinking Sabres ship, too.

Will Adams find any more luck and success as GM than Botterill did? It won’t be easy. And Sabres fans might not be inclined to give Adams too much leeway.

UPDATE: The organizational changes continued Tuesday afternoon:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: No hub cities ruled out by NHL yet; CBA extension brewing?

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Pierre LeBrun reported that, as of Monday, none of the 10 cities have been “ruled out” yet as hub cities. LeBrun also reports that the NHL is looping in the NHLPA on such matters. This won’t stop people from speculating about hub city frontrunners, but good to know that there could — theoretically — be more twists and turns. [TSN/Pierre LeBrun on Twitter]

• So, cities want to serve as hubs. How much value would the hub city experience actually bring to a given market, though? Daniel Nugent-Bowman recently asked some experts, and the general takeaway is that such benefits are overblown. [The Athletic, sub required]

• Ranking Bruins jerseys, from worst to best. Ally Koss apologizes for ranking the “Smokey the Bear” jerseys last. That apology prompts this question: are there people who ever liked those unironically? [Hockey By Design]

• This post went up in early May, but is it ever too late to read about Darius Kasparaitis? Aside: I totally thought I remembered how to spell his name without looking it up. I was wrong. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• In discussing how players can drive up energy without fans, Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse hoped to channel Michael Jordan’s competitive fire. As much as I enjoyed “The Last Dance,” that … feels like a bit of a stretch. Either way, it’s interesting to hear what players have to say about that experience, and probably won’t stop being interesting for a long time. [The Canadian Press]

As discussed before, there are rumblings of one possible positive emerging amid the pandemic pause: a CBA extension. Lyle Richardson delves into that possibility, with the NHL reportedly preferring a five-year extension (through 2026-27), while the NHLPA might want it through 2025-26. After all of the lockouts, it really all feels like gravy to me, personally. [Spector’s Hockey]

• How long will it take for players to go from pandemic pause to “game speed?” Depends on the players. In this instance, different Capitals had different takes, with Alex Ovechkin among those seeming pretty optimistic (relatively speaking). [NBC Sports Washington]

• Interesting read on how Kings prospect Blake Lizotte took an unusual path to the NHL. [The Hockey News]

• Amid all of the angst surrounding the Maple Leafs, it rarely felt like the team was at 100-percent. This Leafs Nation post really digs into that assumption, and strengthens that argument. Now, sure, plenty of teams need to roll with the punches, but this is still food for thought. [Leafs Nation]

• A look at Jason Botterill’s struggles as Sabres GM. While not every move was that bad in a vacuum (the Brandon Montour investment seemed like a fair way to address a big problem), the bigger picture isn’t very pretty. Then again, how many times do you want to hit the “reset” button with a franchise? The Sabres are a in a tough spot. [Last Word on Hockey]

• USA Hockey player membership saw its first drop in numbers since they began publishing said stats. It’s tough to say this would have happened if not for COVID-19, yet it’s noteworthy nonetheless. [NHL to Seattle]

• Ray Sheppard looks back at the Panthers’ improbable run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. No plastic rats were harmed in the process. [Panthers Press Box]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.