Buffalo Sabres fans have a lot to be worried about as the organization has decided to keep general manager Jason Botterill. Since being hired in May of 2017, Botterill has turned the front office into a circus that seems to be incapable of running a competitive organization. Through failed free-agent signings and lopsided trades, the little talent still on the roster has continually been degraded. Drafted in 2015, prior to the Botterill era, star centre Jack Eichel has yet to reach the postseason. He has been relying on this front office to build a playoff-caliber team around him. Botterill has failed to build a competitor, failed Eichel, and failed the Sabres fanbase.
Incompetence from Jason Botterill has Wounded the Sabres and Jack Eichel
Jack Eichel’s Situation
Jack Eichel has given everything he has to Buffalo. A former second overall pick, he has established himself as one of the NHL’s elite forwards. In his five-year NHL career, he has scored at nearly a point per game pace (337 points in 354 career games). In 2018, the franchise displayed great confidence in his ability, naming the then 21-year-old the 28th captain of the Sabres. However talented he may be, Eichel has never seen playoff action. If the front office does not fix this problem, Eichel may want out of Buffalo. He is currently signed with the Sabres through the 2025-26 season.
Jason Botterill’s Trades
Botterill has overseen some interesting trades, to say the least. One of which was at the 2019 trade deadline. With the team in position to scrape into the playoffs with a wild card berth, Botterill went after a top-four defenceman. They acquired Brandon Montour from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a first-round draft choice (LW Brayden Tracey) and defenceman prospect Brendan Guhle. Following the trade, the team imploded. With a 29-25-8 record at the trade deadline, Buffalo dropped in the standings, finishing the year with a 4-14-2 run. They failed to qualify for the playoffs, and the Montour trade was essentially worthless. While shoring up the defence was a good plan, they failed to bring in adequate scoring help for Jack Eichel.
In the 2019 draft, Buffalo had two first-round selections. One of those picks was in a package deal with the St. Louis Blues. On July 1st, 2018, the Sabres shipped out Ryan O’Reilly. The return included Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, a first-round selection in 2019 (D Ryan Johnson), and a second-rounder in 2021. Botterill essentially shipped out a top-line centre in exchange for three role players, and a couple of prospects. O’Reilly would be named playoff MVP for the Blues in their championship win. If the Sabres were invested in making this roster better, they should have held onto O’Reilly. His loss cannot be understated.
This next trade was just flat out odd. By the time the 2020 NHL trade deadline rolled around, the Sabres were not anywhere near playoff contention. The only thing they could do to better the team was to trade players away in exchange for draft capital. Instead, Botterill opted to trade a fifth-round draft selection for Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds is an aging veteran who is past his prime. There is no need for him on a team with no goal other than to shoot for a high draft selection. This trade was pointless, and a waste of a draft pick.
The Jeff Skinner Debacle
One of Botterill’s most egregious moves involved Jeff Skinner. To acquire him, Jason Botterill traded Cliff Pu and second, third, and sixth-round draft choices over several drafts. This deal appeared to pay off, as Skinner tied his career-high with 63 points. It was still a hefty price, but it appeared worthwhile. What came next was astonishing. Botterill resigned their rental player to a whopping eight-year contract with an average annual value of $9 million. That amount of money is ludicrous for the talent Skinner possesses. This is not to say Skinner should not have been retained.
For reference, some of the other NHL forwards who are paid in the same range as Skinner include Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, and Nikita Kucherov. The three of them average 1.28, 1.03, and 1.06 points per game over their respective careers. Skinner’s career average? A mere 0.64 points per game. Jeff Skinner was worth keeping around, but not for the amount Botterill paid him.
Jason Botterill’s Free Agent Signings
The key aspect of free agency in Buffalo is to add talent around Jack Eichel. He is the cornerstone player for this franchise to build around. So what does Botterill do? Next to nothing. For three years, Buffalo has made some of the most meager signings in the NHL.
2017 Big-Name Free Agents: Kevin Shattenkirk, Joe Thornton, Chris Kunitz
In 2017, Botterill was just getting his first taste of free agency as the general manager of the Sabres. Things were kept fairly low key. The team was still attempting to rebuild but nearing the end. They added forward Jacob Josefson. He is no longer playing in the NHL. They signed forward Seth Griffith. He is currently playing for the Winnipeg Jets AHL affiliate, Manitoba Moose. To bring a veteran presence, they brought in Benoit Pouliot. He is no longer playing NHL hockey. Finally, Botterill decided on Chad Johnson to help save their goaltending woes. After one season with a highly disappointing 3.55 goals-against average, Johnson left the following offseason.
2018 Big-Name Free Agents: John Tavares, James van Riemsdyk, James Neal
In a much more talented free-agent class than 2017, Jason Botterill had a real opportunity to add quality talent to the roster. Now in a position to start righting the ship, the front office made signings they thought would help. To fill the starting goaltender position, Carter Hutton was brought in to be the next franchise goaltender. Hutton is still on the roster, but in a backup role to Linus Ullmark, not as the starter. They also added left-wing, Scott Wilson. He has played 21 NHL games with the Sabres over two seasons. The best move of this offseason was to re-sign Sam Reinhart. A first-round draft choice in 2014, Reinhart has been a capable asset with 255 points in 400 career games. He only signed for two years, however, and is now due for another contract.
2019 Big-Name Free Agents: Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene
An even bigger opportunity presented itself in 2019. A real opportunity for improvement after what had appeared to be a promising season in 2018. With some of the most talented players the NHL has to offer to hit the open market, Jason Botterill signed only Marcus Johansson. This added talent to go along with Jack Eichel. But this was not nearly enough. Johansson managed to tally 30 points over 60 games. If Botterill wanted to make significant improvements to a struggling roster, this was not the way to do it.
In the three drafts Jason Botterill has been in charge of thus far, he has drafted 18 players. Of those 18, Casey Mittelstadt and Rasmus Dahlin are the only two to take the ice in an NHL game. Of the two, Dahlin has been the only one to find any sort of success. Now we can’t say these drafts were all busts. It can take years for some of the most talented prospects to develop into an NHL player. That said, they are heavily relying on these prospects to turn this organization around.
Prior to becoming a general manager, Botterill spent time as a scout. Three years is too short a time period to truly evaluate how most of the players in his first draft will pan out. If his draft choices find consistent, high-end success, Botterill could redeem himself. It is even sooner to begin evaluating any of the more recent ones. But ultimately, the jury is still out on Botterill’s drafts. If it looks anything like his trade and free agency success, Jack Eichel is going to want out of Buffalo as soon as possible.
Closing Statements of The City of Buffalo v. Jason Botterill
Jason Botterill has done a great disservice to Sabres superstar Jack Eichel. Over the course of his tenure as general manager, he has not done what it takes to get Eichel a competitive roster. Time and again, we have seen him overpay mediocre talent, and ship out high-level talent. Eichel has given this city his all. He has competed at the highest level and represented the Sabres organization with as much dignity as possible. A true star in the league, Eichel has proven to be the face of the Buffalo Sabres. Botterill has failed this franchise and its fanbase. Sabres fans deserve better than what Botterill has put on the ice. Now it’s time for the ownership to make changes in the front office.