Since their first year in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament three years ago, the Buffalo Sabres have been one of the top teams on a yearly basis, earning a spot in the championship game each year. This year, with a deeper, more talented prospect pool than ever before, the Sabres were expected to be one of the favorites to come out on top.
Instead, today Buffalo will be playing for seventh place. Out of eight teams.
Nothing has gone right for head coach Cassidy's squad in Traverse City. They haven't been able to score, putting up only five goals in three games, and haven't been able to stop their opponents from scoring, giving up a whopping 15 goals in those same three contests. There have been accusations of middling effort, culminating with Nikita Zadorov getting benched for the second half of the game yesterday against Dallas. And top prospects Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen, Joel Armia, and Nikita Zadorov have combined for the same number of goals as camp invitee Joseph Blandisi.
It's been an ugly tournament for Buffalo, and certainly not one whose results accurately reflect the team's talent in the pipeline. And that's the good news - this really doesn't mean much in the long run, just like winning the tournament in 2012 didn't mean that Sabres would be playoff contenders in 2014.
In short tournaments like this, where practice time is at a minimum and players are thrown together from all over the world (many playing together for the first time) the results can often be based more on luck than anything. A bouncing puck here, and bad pinch there, and all of sudden you're down 3-0 in the first period, as the Sabres found themselves yesterday. Despite putting 72 shots on net in their first two games, a 2% shooting percentage meant the Sabres only put two of those shots past the goalie. If that number rises to 7%, we'd be telling a different story.
The real story will be written this season in Buffalo, Rochester, and Elmira. Let's see how these prospects look after a full training camp, or a few months of playing together in the same system. One week in Michigan shouldn't be enough to sour anyone on the future.