By Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com
While the Sabres arguably made their biggest splash of the offseason via a trade on Friday, the team remained busy as free agency opened on Saturday afternoon. Jason Botterill brought in a goaltender in Chad Johnson and a forward in Benoit Pouliot, plus added a group of role players to strengthen organizational depth.
Toss in defenseman Marco Scandella and forward Jason Pominville, both of whom were acquired from Minnesota in the aforementioned trade, and it’s been a productive couple of days for the Sabres front office.
“We are very happy with what we accomplished on the back end,” Botterill said. “Do we still want to move things around from an offensive standpoint up at forward? Yeah, we’ll continue to talk to people to see if there’s some fits that can make us better and make us a little quicker up front. But we are happy, I think it’s a good situation here. It’s been a good week for our organization.”
Botterill discussed each of the additions of end Day 1 of free agency, among other topics. Here’s some of what he had to say.
Some presumed that this would be the year that Linus Ullmark, an All-Star in Rochester last season, would be called up full-time to serve as the backup to Robin Lehner. The addition of Johnson changes that outlook.
Botterill explained that the move to bring in Johnson was made for two reasons. The first was his belief that it will be more valuable for Ullmark to develop by continuing to play every day in Rochester as opposed to sitting on the bench in Buffalo, and the second was to add to the team’s organizational depth.
“We wanted to, instead of having a situation where some things beyond our control happen and it becomes a point of weakness, we wanted to have it as a position of strength,” Botterill said. “And I think if you look at our one-two-three right now, it’s a strength of our organization.”
In other goalie-related news, Botterill announced that goalie coach Andrew Allen will return as a member of Phil Housley’s staff next season.
With William Carrier having been selected by Vegas in the expansion draft and Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis having been sent to Minnesota on Friday, the Sabres suddenly had a lot of room on the left wing. Botterill addressed that need by signing Pouliot, who he thinks has upside coming off a down year in Edmonton.
“If you look at Benoit’s history, in situations where he’s had a difficult season he’s been able to bounce back strong. That’s what we’re looking for from him coming into Buffalo here.
“I think there’s opportunities on our left side right now. I think he’s a guy who can play anywhere in that two, three, four hole. It’s going to be a matter of how he comes in and how he performs. You look at his size and his ability to get on the forecheck, we just think he’s a guy that could complement our centers well and be a guy who can sort of get his career back on track.”
On Brian Gionta
While we’re discussing forwards, Botterill was not ready to close the book on another year for the Sabres captain. He said that discussions with Gionta’s representatives are ongoing and that the team will continue to examine whether or not there’s a fit.
On the depth signings
Let’s go right down the list and get Botterill’s thoughts on each of the other players that were brought into the organization:
Matt Tennyson, D – Tennyson, 27, signed a two-year contract with the first year serving as a two-way deal and the second as a one-way. He has 105 NHL games under his belt, including 45 for Carolina last season.
“We view him as being one of the guys that can step in right off the bat in training camp and really vouch for a position,” Botterill said.
Seth Griffith, F – In addition to playing 24 NHL games for Toronto and Florida last season, Griffith scored 44 points (10+34) in 38 AHL games as well. He’s a proven scorer at that level, with 202 points (66+136) in 203 career games.
“Griffith is a player that we think has extremely high offensive upside,” Botterill said. “We think in the right situation he can provide scoring at the National Hockey League level in the future
Kevin Porter, F – The veteran captained the Amerks during the 2012-13 season and played 43 games for Buffalo over parts of two seasons. Botterill became familiar with during the past two seasons, when Porter split time between Pittsburgh and its AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“Porter was a strong leader in Wilkes-Barre over the last couple years but also was a player, especially two years ago, that [Penguins coach] Mike Sullivan really trusted at the National Hockey League level. He’s a player that can play both center and wing and play a smart, two-way game.”
Kyle Criscuolo, F – The former Harvard captain scored 41 points (17+24) in 76 games last season as a rookie with Grand Rapids, helping the team win the Calder Cup.
“He can play center, an area we wanted to strengthen in our organization, but he’s just a young player who plays with a lot of pace and a high compete. He can certainly play the type of pace that [Sabres coach Phil Housley] wants to play.”
Adam Wilcox, G – The second-year goaltender started a career-high 34 games for Syracuse last season, his second as a professional.
“Wilcox is a player that’s still in his mid-20s. He’s a competitor in the net, has really good quickness and we think is just going to be able to strengthen our entire organization, top to bottom, from a goaltending perspective.”
On Chris Taylor
Coaching many of those aforementioned will be Chris Taylor, who was hired as coach of the Amerks on Friday. Taylor spent nine seasons in the Buffalo organization as a player for both the Sabres and the Amerks and an additional five seasons on the Rochester coaching staff upon his retirement. He spent las season working under Botterill as an assistant coach for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“I think he comes in, he’s extremely well organized, he’s obviously very familiar with Rochester,” Botterill said. “He’s a player who found a way to go from the AHL to the NHL and I think he’s going to be able to interact with a lot of our young players and help them do the same jump.”
(Reprinted with permission of NHL.com) (NHL.com photo)