The Botterill conundrum

Dave Molinari 3 years ago

Jason Botterill would seem, at first blush, to be the ideal choice to be the next general manager of the Penguins.

He’s young and energetic. Respected throughout the industry. An authority on the NHL’s salary-cap system and, for that matter, its entire collective bargaining agreement.

What’s more, he has been the general manager of a perennially successful American Hockey League team and had a playing career of his own in the NHL, albeit one cut short by concussion issues.

At 37, Botterill might seem a bit young for the position – although Tampa Bay assistant GM Julien BriseBois, another highly appealing candidate, is the same age – but that might not be the biggest hurdle to him getting the job.

The major problem might well be where he is employed at the moment.

Botterill, of course, works for the Penguins.

So, for that matter, does fellow candidate Tom Fitzgerald, the Penguins' assistant to the general manager who also has interviewed for Shero's old job. Many of the pluses and minuses attached to Botterill because of his connection to the Penguins also apply to Fitzgerald.

Botterill was hired by Ray Shero, the guy whose position he now hopes to fill. In fact, Shero got permission from upper management to create a position for Botterill, because Botterill made such a strong impression while interviewing for a different job.

It is a given in hockey circles that Botterill will be a GM in the NHL someday, probably in the very near future.

And there’s no reason – no good one, anyway – that it shouldn’t happen here, assuming co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle and team president/CEO David Morehouse deem Botterill to be the most qualified candidate.

Now, if Botterill is named GM, the owners likely will face criticism in some quarters for choosing the assistant to a general manager, Shero, whose drafting and player-development record purportedly was the reason he was fired.

The hire might not look so good to some people.

If that possibility would be enough to dissuade them from selecting a candidate they deem most qualified to elevate the franchise to the level at which ownership believes it should be, Lemieux and Burkle would deserve whatever it is that they settle for.

Beyond Botterill’s obvious qualifications for the job, there is at least one factor that should work in his favor.

And it is the same one that would seem to be working against him: He’s already in the organization.

If people in the hockey operations department have been told that ownership isn’t intent on cleaning out the department, which Morehouse is purported to have told the people there when informing them of Shero’s firing, making Botterill GM is the only way to be reasonably certain that respected player-development men like Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin remain in the organization.

That’s because the next GM surely will want to surround himself with people in whom he has confidence, and anyone from the outside presumably will prefer to bring in people with whom he has worked elsewhere.

That means the brain drain the Penguins could suffer from not giving the job to Botterill would not be limited to simply losing Botterill, whose departure would be virtually guaranteed, whether it happened immediately or not until another team offers him a GM job.

Not everyone’s job should be secure if Botterill is promoted, of course. For example, major changes in both the pro and amateur scouting departments would appear to be in order, given ownership’s harsh assessment of Shero’s drafting and player-selection record.

Botterill should be the Penguins’ next general manager only if he is willing to make potentially hard decisions about the futures of colleagues he likes and respects, in addition to being the most qualified candidate on other counts.

But if Botterill can check-off all the criteria established by the owners, the least they can do is to have the courage to offer him the position.

No matter what team he is working for.