"It's a scenario where you finish 31st you have to make some difficult choices," Botterill told reporters in Dallas, hours before the Sabres were scheduled to open the NHL draft with the No. 1 pick. "Part of it that was so disappointing and difficult about it is that I know Robin is passionate about the city of Buffalo, and passionate about helping this organization," he said. "We felt like we had to make some adjustments."
The move comes nearly three years to the day Botterill's predecessor, Tim Murray, gave up a first-round draft pick to acquire Lehner and journeyman forward David Legwand in a trade with Ottawa. Lehner's tenure in Buffalo was plagued by injuries and inconsistency. He missed the first half of his first season in Buffalo after spraining his right ankle in the Sabres opening game.
Last year, he went 14-26-9 on an under-performing team that failed to meet expectations in becoming the league's first to finish 31st following the addition of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. Lehner finished with a 42-61-22 record in Buffalo, and particularly struggled in winning just six shootout decisions.
The price of Lehner's qualifying offer was an issue for a rebuilding team seeking to free up space under the salary cap to address other needs. Another factor was Botterill's intention to provide Linus Ullmark an opportunity to make the jump to the NHL on a full-time basis after spending the past three seasons developing in the minors.
The Sabres lack experienced depth in goal with veteran backup Chad Johnson also eligible to become a free agent. Botterill acknowledged the Sabres are in the market to add an established goalie this offseason to work alongside Ullmark.
"You have to understand there's a growing process here, and we think Linus is ready for the next challenge," Botterill said. "But to hand over the No. 1 role, I think that's unfair to any young goalie."
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