BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Jason Botterill is leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins’ bid to defend their Stanley Cup title for an opportunity to build the Buffalo Sabres into contenders as general manager.
The Sabres hired the Penguins associate GM on Thursday to lead a franchise that owner Terry Pegula criticized for lacking structure and discipline.
Botterill takes over three weeks after Tim Murray was fired, and one day after Pittsburgh advanced to the Eastern Conference finals by defeating the Washington Capitals 2-0 in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series.
Botterill’s first priority will be hiring a coach to replace Dan Bylsma, who was also fired in the Sabres’ second front-office house-cleaning in 3 1/2 years.
The former NHL player has spent the past 10 years working up the Penguins’ executive ranks. Over the past three years, Botterill has closely helped GM Jim Rutherford with scouting, contract and player development matters.
The Penguins have referred to Botterill as the “key architect” of their 2009 and 2016 Stanley Cup-winning teams.
Botterill was particularly credited for hiring Mike Sullivan to coach the AHL team before the start of the 2015-16 season. Sullivan coached them to a championship.
“Jason’s knowledge, experience and developing players, and his approach to management stood out to us during our interview process,” Pegula said. “Jason has built a solid reputation as a leader that connects strongly with players and staff around him.”
The Sabres ended their search process a week ago, delayed only by waiting for the Penguins to complete their playoff series. Buffalo interviewed at least seven candidates, including Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin and Nashville’s Paul Fenton.
Botterill was a candidate for the Sabres’ job in 2014, when former team president Pat LaFontaine hired Murray.
He now takes over a team that stagnated under Murray, missing the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season. With a 33-37-12 record, Buffalo finished last in the Atlantic Division , 26th overall, and with two fewer wins than last season.
It’s also a bit of a homecoming for the 40-year-old who grew up in Winnipeg. Botterill closed his playing career in the Sabres organization. He played 38 games with the Sabres from 2002-04 and retired after sustaining a concussion eight games into the 2004-05 season with Rochester, Buffalo’s American Hockey League affiliate.
Pegula took a hands-on approach in the search, saying he regretted not being more involved in hiring Murray and Bylsma.
The Sabres have lacked front-office and coaching stability since Pegula purchased the team in February 2011. Bylsma was Buffalo’s third coach since Lindy Ruff was fired in February 2013. Murray took over a year later, after Darcy Regier was fired. And LaFontaine’s tenure as president of hockey operations lasted less than four months before he abruptly resigned in March 2014.
Botterill attended Michigan, where he helped the Red Berenson-coached Wolverines win a national championship in 1996. He is the only Canadian to win three World Junior tournament titles (1994-96).
Selected by Dallas in the first round of the 1994 draft, he spent eight seasons in the pros, mostly in the minor leagues. Botterill finished with five goals and 14 points in 88 career NHL games split over four teams, including Calgary and Atlanta.
Upon retiring, Botterill returned to Michigan to earn an MBA.
“Jason is a big-picture person,” Berenson told The Associated Press this week. “He was very in-sync with the whole program and not just his role on the team. You could see right there that he’s either going to be a coach or a manager at some point.”
Botterill’s father, Cal, is a sports psychologist, who previously worked in the NHL. His mother, Doreen, was a two-time Olympic speed skater. And his sister, Jennifer, won three golds and one silver medal playing for Canada’s national women’s hockey team.
Both Pegula-owned Buffalo sports franchises are in flux with the NFL Bills also undergoing an offseason overhaul. On Tuesday, the Bills hired Carolina Panthers assistant GM Brandon Beane to take over after GM Doug Whaley and their entire scouting staff was fired a day after the NFL draft.