There was some major NHL news on Tuesday morning when the perpetual tire fire that is the Buffalo Sabres announced the firing of general manager Jason Botterill, replacing him with Kevyn Adams. It is a stunner of a move, not because the change wasn’t warranted (have you seen the state of the Sabres lately?) but because the organization had just given him the dreaded vote of confidence no more than a couple of weeks ago.
Now, here we are.
Why is this piece of news relevant to the Penguins? Simply because Botterill is a very familiar name around these parts given his extensive resume with the Penguins’ organization as an assistant general manager through two Stanley Cup runs. He was always held in high regard both in and out of Pittsburgh, seen as a GM in waiting (perhaps even in Pittsburgh), and was given A LOT of credit for the Penguins’ success in 2015-16 and 2016-17. Now that he is available again the question will be asked as to whether or not the Penguins should try to bring him back. As The Athletic’s Josh Yohe already pointed out on Tuesday, the Penguins think very highly of him and valued his contributions while he was here.
Given that, as well as the familiarity between all parties involved and the success they all had together, it is certainly a possibility to consider.
Let’s start with the obvious point here: Botterill’s time with the Sabres was an absolute disaster across the board. The team remained stagnant and there were some truly horrendous moves that put the franchise in an even deeper hole. That can not be ignored.
But it does not mean Botterill does not know hockey or would not still have a lot of value to an organization in a lesser, more specialized role. Just because someone excels in one or two specific areas of team management (let’s say, salary cap management for example) does not necessarily mean they are going to excel in all of them when they have to drive the entire bus.
There is also the Buffalo factor at play here, and the fact that pretty much everyone that has gone to Buffalo over the past decade has badly failed in every role. There is a common denominator in that organization that goes above the head coach and the general manager. With Botterill’s firing on Tuesday, the Sabres are — for at least the time being — now paying three different general managers (Tim Murray, Botterill, and Adams). That is a stunning level of ownership malpractice that goes beyond even the now embarrassing playoff drought. The point is: I do not know that anyone is going to have success under the watchful eye of the Pegula family. So while there were some dreadful individual moves, I still think the biggest problem there is the person signing the checks.
That brings us back to Botterill and the Penguins. One of the things that I always found to be somewhat maddening was the amount of credit he received for the Penguins’ two Stanley Cup runs, and the dread that seemed to exist when he left for Buffalo. I think part of it comes down to the fact that when Jim Rutherford was hired by the Penguins it was always viewed as a temporary job and that he was just bridging the gap from Ray Shero to an eventual Botterill promotion.
Obviously, that timeline became altered when the Penguins started winning Stanley Cups under Rutherford. And while I was very critical of the Penguins’ roster moves and direction for the two year stretch that followed the 2017 championship, I still feel like Botterill’s overall impact was greatly exaggerated. The perception seemed to be that every good move the Penguins made during their Stanley Cup runs was the result of Botterill and every bad move was the result of Rutherford, and that Botterill’s exit led to the end of the mini-dynasty that had started to form. It was — and still is — an outrageous thought to me. It wasn’t a “Rutherford move” or “Botterill move” situation. It was a collective group effort that made it all work.
I also wonder how a hypothetical reunion would be perceived. And what I mean by that is — would Botterill again by viewed as “the GM in waiting” given that GMJR is one year closer to retirement. Had Botterill never left for Buffalo and remained in Pittsburgh as the assistant GM that is almost certainly how he would still be viewed. But we now have a three-year look at what it looked like when he called the shots and the results were ... well ... not good.
In the end, I think Botterill still likely has a lot to offer an NHL team in its front office, and his disappointing tenure with the Sabres should not change that. Not everyone is ready to be the main boss, and nobody seems able to work for the Sabres. Given his track record and relationship with the Penguins, reaching out to see if a reunion makes sense seems like a sensible approach.