Former Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill knows his new Kraken team doesn’t have much time to mesh as a front office.
Between an expansion draft fast upcoming next summer and a pandemic that’s limited scouting opportunities much of the past year, the man announced Tuesday as a new assistant GM to top dog Ron Francis said communication will be key. And in working alongside Francis recently during another time-pressed situation co-managing Team Canada’s entry at the 2019 IIHF World Hockey Championship, Botterill sensed they’d already developed a rapport.
“We got together and met down in Raleigh when the Sabres were playing there,’’ said Botterill, 44, who at the time was in the midst of a three-season stint as Sabres GM while Francis had been fired the previous spring from the same position with the Carolina Hurricanes but still resided in the area. “So, we started evaluating players and then, as we’d go through it, you bring on the coaching staff.
“In a world championship situation, you have your initial roster and then there’s about 55 different versions of the roster before you actually get to the tournament there,’’ Botterill said of a spring tournament where Canada’s entry consists largely of last-minute NHL player add-ons who didn’t make the playoffs or got eliminated early. “So, when things happen and there’s changes, you just need to find a way to get resolutions to it all.’’
Botterill, Francis and third co-manager Ron Hextall got their entry to the gold-medal game, where they lost to host team Finland. But they “got along so well’’ that Botterill said he kept it in the back of his mind to keep an eye out for future opportunities to work together.
And when the Sabres fired Botterill last spring, Francis waited to see whether he could snag Botterill for an assistant GM role identical to one he’d previously held winning three Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Francis on Tuesday also announced that longtime Chicago Blackhawks front office assistant Norm Maciver, 56, who won three Cups with that team in a 14-season stint in various roles, is joining the Kraken as player personnel director.
The hirings continue a trend of Francis building a hockey operations staff long on experience as he prepares to pick a team under limited, pandemic-restricted scouting opportunities. Kraken scouts haven’t been inside arenas since last March and Francis still isn’t sure exactly which venues they’ll be allowed to enter when the abbreviated 2020-21 season launches next week.
Francis also doesn’t know how comfortable the team will be flying scouts around to various places while COVID-19 infections continue to hit record levels nationwide. That’s where surrounding himself with experienced hands could help in picking quality players with less information.
Not every GM would hire an assistant who was a general manager with another team less than a year ago. Or who had been considered a GM possibility with other teams as recently as the past few weeks.
But both men have a shared mentor in current Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, who held that position in Carolina when Francis was an assistant there. Francis mentioned Botterill’s “loyalty’’ among a handful of strengths and clearly heard and saw enough about him firsthand to trust they can work together without bumping heads.
“There’s no shortage of work to do,’’ Francis said. “So, I think it will be fruitful to find ways to work together on everything and help each other be as successful as we possibly can be as an organization.”
Francis sees Botterill, a former NHL winger with four teams, in a “jack of all trades’’ role alongside the Kraken’s other assistant GM, Ricky Olczyk, who has similar expertise in managing salary caps and contracts as a prior Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers assistant.
Botterill said he feels assistant GMs have more time to devote to specific club needs than GMs stretched in multiple directions by dealings with the league and other teams. And the ability to once again “engage with a scalpel’’ on various items is one he’s looking forward to.
“What Ron has done is he’s brought in people from other organizations that have had experience,’’ Botterill said. “We all have our beliefs in how to put a team together. But there’s never one way to put a team together.
“You look at a situation in a pandemic, you want to have as much information, as many resources as possible, made available to you.’’
Onetime NHL defenseman Maciver, who teamed with Francis in Hartford and Pittsburgh, saw what went into the Blackhawks winning three Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015 in roles there that included assistant GM, director of player development and director of player personnel.
He’ll work closely with Francis and the two assistant GMs, keeping them apprised on players leaguewide, prospects the team is developing and any amateurs they might be drafting.
He’ll be a critical sounding board ahead of the expansion draft as the Kraken contemplates potential deals with teams ahead of its picks. The challenge of building from scratch is something Maciver relishes.
“I think there’s the excitement of just not knowing until a certain day who’s going to be available,” he said. “And when you do finally find out, then trying to assemble that roster and decide who you’re taking from each team. So, that’s what I’m really excited about and really looking forward to.’’