How to stay in the game

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:53 AM ET

He thought he was through with hockey. Or rather, that hockey was through with him.

His playing career cut short by concussions, Jason Botterill was stickhandling towards the boardroom, a masters of business degree in his back pocket and dreams of corporate finance in his head.

But try as he might, the Winnipegger couldn't shake the game.

This past week Botterill combined the best of both worlds, taking a front office job with the Pittsburgh Penguins that'll see him crunch the numbers that matter most in today's NHL: player salaries.

The fact he's joining hockey's most promising team, with the league's marquee player in Sidney Crosby on board and a new arena on the way, isn't lost on the 31-year-old.

"It's an exciting time to be part of this organization," Botterill was saying the other day. "You look at that franchise over the past year, it's gone from one of the most unstable, looking like it was going to be moving, to the excitement and stability that Mario ... and Sidney and the rest of the players have brought."

Jobs like Botterill's are becoming as critical to the success of a team as a top-flight goaltender or shut-down defenceman.

He'll do some scouting and minor-league contract negotiations, but it's his understanding of the ins and outs of the salary cap the Pens will rely on most.

"Not just where Pittsburgh stands, but how other teams throughout the league are standing," Botterill explained. "So if Team X calls regarding a centreman, my job is to make sure my general manager, Ray Shero, understands that, yeah, that guy is a good player, but Team X also has six centremen under one-way contracts, so they're probably looking to move one."

The big challenge: how to help the Pens hang onto all their young stars, like Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Crosby, who recently signed a five-year extension worth an average $8.7 million per season?

"A big part of the job will be forecasting," Botterill said. "Right now with all the young prospects they have they're well below the salary cap. But once Sidney Crosby's new deal hits and some of these other young players come out of their entry-level contracts, obviously their value has to go up and this team is going to be a lot closer to the salary cap."

And if you're not careful, you could wind up like the New Jersey Devils, handcuffed by the cap much of last season.

It's complex stuff. And you thought former hockey players all retired to the golf course.

Botterill turned a business degree from his college days at Michigan into a masters, making a little self-discovery along the way.

"When I first went back to business school I assumed the hockey world was done with me, and I'd move into something like commercial banking or corporate finance," he said. "But I realized that I continuously, every morning, turned on Sportscenter instead of watching CNBC, and realized it was still a passion."

Botterill spent last summer in an internship at the NHL's central registry, the office that monitors the cap. Then at last month's NHL draft he made presentations to a few organizations he thought might be looking for a cap expert.

Now he's back on a team -- using the same head that won't let him play any more.

"I guess I got out in time, so these concussions didn't have too much impact," Botterill said. "I realized I can never go back out on the ice. But the big thing they always talked about in biz school is you have to go after one of your passions.

"It's pretty much a dream job for me, coming out of college. I'm going to get up every morning excited about somehow trying to make the Pittsburgh Penguins a better team."


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