Like just about every NHL team in 2021, the St. Louis Blues have had some ups and downs. For the most part, they have been able to depend on their top six forwards.
That statement might need to be amended to their top five forwards however. One particular winger is not pulling his weight.
Though he did not start the season on the team’s top six, Zach Sanford has continually found his way into that spot ever since the 2018-19 season. He ended up back with familiar linemates, but the results have not been there.
Sanford has one goal and an assist in his first 11 games. It’s not solely a lack of points that should spell his doom for playing time in the immediate future.
Sanford needs to be a physical, energy player that flies around and compliments his more talented teammates. In 11 games, he has 13 hits and that’s a generous number.
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Of those 13 hits, there might be one or two that were actual hits and not just pressing someone into the wall in the corner. Coming off a season where Sanford had over 100 hits in just 58 games, he’s well off that pace.
Offensively, Sanford was coming off a 16 goal, 30 point season. Nobody was really expecting 20 goals, especially in a shorter season, but there’s not been anything offensively.
While the season is still new, Sanford’s shooting percentage is 5.3%. That’s a career low.
This is all coming with two extra minutes on the ice compared to what he had last season.
His advanced stats are just as poor. Both his Corsi and Fenwick rating are three to four points below 50%. That means the other team has the puck more than half the time when he’s on the ice.
The only positive thing about Sanford thus far is that he has not been careless with the puck. He only has one giveaway so far in 2021.
It’s not a glowing endorsement of a player when you can say his highlight is not doing something stupid. Comparatively, that is better than some other guys can say, but that’s not the way to look at it.
Sanford’s biggest problem is he’s nonexistent. We’ve given a lot of grief to Carl Gunnarsson for being a ghost on the ice sometimes, but that can be OK for a defender. If a forward is having absolutely no impact on the game, they’re doing something wrong.
Even if Sanford is not contributing points, he has to be a force. Even if he’s not getting hits, he needs to be a bigger part of the forecheck and disrupting plays.
It should be said that St. Louis doesn’t have a replacement for his line waiting in the wings. However, they have talented players elsewhere that can move up.
According to the Post-Dispatch, due to an absence of Sanford in practice, the Blues moved Mike Hoffman to the second line. Then, they put Ivan Barbashev and Oskar Sundqvist as wings on the third line.
Those two are not your prototypical scoring wingers, but they would definitely provide some energy to a sluggish Robert Thomas. Their tenacity would fit with Thomas better than Sanford and Hoffman’s talents belong in the top six right now anyway.
A demotion of Sanford to the press box would not need to be anything of length. It would be nice to send a message longer than one game, but the Blues coaching staff seems to have more faith in some of these guys than fans.
The flip side is that you have guys waiting rather patiently. Jacob de La Rose and Mackenzie MacEachern aren’t going to set the world on fire, but they’ve been dependable players and they’re waiting for a shot.
Sanford is not an irreplaceable player. Take him out to send him a message and give those other guys a chance.