Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Should Traverse City results matter that much to Sabres' fans?

Reprinted with permission from

Not really. But it sure seems as if those results matter to Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray and Traverse City bench boss Chadd Cassidy. And they should.

Mike Morreale of just wrote of Murray at the tournament, "[He] is the one standing on his bench in the last row, scribbling notes on a clipboard and every so often shaking his head and yelling to his players with the hope of gaining their attention."

A big chunk of those players are his guys, the ones he's either drafted, traded for or gave a tryout to.

His draft picks include 2014 2nd overall pick, Sam Reinhart and four others from that class--2nd rounders Brendan Lemieux (31st overall,) Eric Cornel (44th,) and Vaclav Karabacek (49th) up front and Brycen Martin (74th) on defense.

William Carrier (2013, 57th, STL) and Jordan Samuels-Thomas (2009, 203rd, ATL) were traded for in separate deals. The team invited six players to Traverse City--goalie Francios Brassard; defensemen Ryan MacKinnon and Jared Walsh; forwards Joseph Blandisi, Michael Joly, and Jack Rodewald.

Murray is entering his first full season as Sabres GM and it's his first Traverse City tournament. It's only the third time Buffalo has been a participant. The Sabres won it all in 2011, their first year, and were runner-up in 2013. The results on the ice, no matter what the team make-up, is a reflection of him and if Sabres owner Terry Pegula wasn't so busy buying the Buffalo Bills, you might see quizzical eyebrow raised at the results.

The Sabres finished 0-2-1 in the round-robin portion and will play St. Louis this afternoon for 7th place.

As a scout, Murray can't like what he's seen. The team fired 72 of shots on net in the first two games, but failed to get to the areas where NHL-goals are scored and finished with only one goal in each game. Yesterday's three-goal "barrage" came after the Stars made it 4-0 early in the second period.

The "tougher to play against" edict from Murray and the Sabres also was blown up in the process of those three games. Two of the three losses were blowouts--the 6-1 shellacking in Game-1 by Carolina and the 7-3 drubbing at the hands of Dallas.

One could blame poor goaltending which certainly was a major factor. One could also blame special teams, most notably the penalty kill, to which little time was afforded. And perhaps you could add in the frustration of dominating puck possession in the first two games yet only going 0-1-1 as a reason why they didn't seem to be putting in the effort against Dallas.

Regardless of the mitigating circumstances or the excuses, Cassidy was not a happy guy as the team's performance is a direct reflection on his coaching.

Cassidy ended up benching highly-touted d-prospect Nikita Zadorov (2013, 16th) for the last half of the Dallas game. And when Cassidy was asked what he didn't like about Zadorov's game, he didn't mince words, "effort-level," was his tort response. He continued, "Not good enough. We've got a lot of guys here trying to make an NHL team coming up in the next week or so. I wouldn't specifically say [Zadorov] was the only one, but maybe the biggest offender."

The Rochester Americans head coach who recently signed an extension has been in charge of the youngins, beginning with the Sabres development camp in July. He had the look of a guy who didn't find the team's 0-2-1 record as meaningless and looked ticked-off post-game as Paul Hamilton jumped right in with the Zadorov question.

Cassidy softened up a bit as the interview went on, though. He would end up saying that he liked the effort-level overall and thought it got better. But that effort-level was only after going down 4-0 on a Dallas powerplay goal that went virtually uncontested. "We were actually ready to play the second period," he said, "then they scored that goal on the powerplay where we messed up coverage down low. I thought we were ready to play the second period."

What it came down to for Cassidy, and what he eventually just came out and said in so many words, is that the team lacked compete. It's something that sounded eerily familiar to Sabres fans. "I didn't see enough of what we needed to see. Again, too much individual effort. We talked before the (Dallas) game about our entries into the zone and how we needed to get pucks behind their big d-corps, and for whatever reason we didn't want to get pucks deep behind them. Too many turnovers. We made the game easy on them."

If you are of the opinion that these games are meaningless, it's ok to think that way as a fan. But to those who have their asses on the line, these games do have meaning.

Granted, Traverse City is a tournament for evaluating prospects to see where they stand at this stage of their development. In no way, shape or from do the results in this tournament mean that a player will or will not make it to the NHL. But based upon the results thus far, any expectations of a Reinhart (zero points in three games,) Lemieux (demoted to the fourth line in Game-2) or Zadorov (benched) making the jump to the NHL should be severely tempered.

What Morreale witnessed of Murray "atop a bench in the last row" is the new Sabres GM doing what he's always done as a scout--watching and evaluating. But Murray was also investing emotion as he watched the genesis of a team that will eventually be a direct reflection of him as general manager. 'They are being evaluated every shift, so I've got certain expectations for certain players,' said Murray. 'Sometimes when they don't meet those you get a little perturbed at things and get excited when good things happen. We're trying to assert expectation and to play a certain way. When we don't play a certain way it bothers me.'

Methinks that Murray, unlike Sabres fans, may be a bit perturbed and somewhat bothered by the way things have unfolded thus far.


A quick note.

It was good to see Kevin Devine being quoted in the Morreale piece. Murray had restructured the management team and Devine is still with the organization as the Director of Player Personnel.

Devine was an Assistant General Manager/Head Amateur Scout before the move. Based upon the chain of command as listed in the front office staff directory, it would seem as if Devine will be heading the entire scouting department, a notch below Murray.

Mark Jakubowski is listed as Assistant GM above Devine, but based upon his past contributions, Jakubowski looks as if he'll be dealing mostly with contracts and numbers.

The one-two punch up-top when it comes to players would seem to be Murray-Devine.

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