Zach Sanford has become the go whipping boy of Blues Fans
Judging from the recent press Zach Sanford has received on the fan blogs, you would have thought he was kidnapping toy poodles or something.
Why do fans hate this guy?
At least one local Blues fan site blogger is not Keen on Sanford, going as far as to suggest he should be benched for “not pulling his weight.” The blogger – who will remain unnamed – has walked some of his comments about Sanford back recently. That only comes after Sanford has caught fire – scoring in three straight games during this most recent road trip.
“If he was not on the ice so often with Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron, you would not know whether he played or not,” the blogger wrote in mid-February.
It would not be fair to point out the blog because nearly every blog in town offered the same sentiment about Sanford not contributing to the team’s overall success. At least on the score sheet.
Whatever fan site you visited in recent weeks; it did not matter. There have been countless posts and discussions about Sanford’s production and the team’s recent offensive struggles. Typically, fansite bloggers regularly anoint a whipping boy of the week, and 2020-2021 is no different.
Sanford has been no stranger to that role this year. Vince Dunn has similarly been in that same place – either fairly or unfairly.
So, why do fans seem to dislike Zach Sanford so much? Why have Blues fans made Sanford such a pariah?
All he does is score clutch goals.
You could argue that these opinions come down to the player’s performance. While No. 12 has been lighting the lamp recently, he endured some tough ice time early in the season. In his first 11 games this year, he had a lone goal and an assist. That clearly fell below fans’ expectations.
Fans demand a fast start from their players, and when things do not click right away, the leash is always so short here in St. Louis.
You can change the league, change the sport, change the player, change the season, it does not matter, when St. Louis sports fans turn on a player. They not only gossip terribly about that athlete, but they also banish that player to the depths of DFA hell (designated for assignment).
Fan blogs are quick to trade off key talent and if they were running the team, no doubt they could multiply the number of Cups we have won. Remember, these people consider themselves The Smartest People in the Room.
Today’s NHL has become a world of “what have you done for me lately?” Up to this point this season, not many results from the Sanford camp.
But time heals all wounds.
Sanford is starting to produce, and his goals have come at key moments. His acrobatic flip shot past Anaheim’s John Gibson on a rebound, for example, gave the Blues a 3-1 lead in a game they would win 3-2 over the Ducks.
So often, when the Blues really need a big goal, No. 12 is right there. Three of his goals this season have been game-winners.
In his 22 games so far this year, Sanford has 10 points – eighth on the team. He has notched a respectable 7 goals with 3 helpers while averaging 15:38 of ice time.
In his career, the 26-year-old former Boston College forward has played in 179 NHL games with 35 goals, 33 assists, and is +20.
Earlier this season, he sat out games due to flu-like symptoms – reported to not be COVID-19. He started off slow and only recently has gained his footing on the ice. It has been a long time coming, but No. 12 is finally doing what he was brought here to do – score goals.
The Blues style of crashing the net and keeping a net-front presence will surely benefit a player like Sanford. He is big enough to maintain his position on the ice, but also possesses great skating skills and is gifted with tremendous hands.
That is a deadly combination in today’s NHL where rebounds, wraparound, and lucky bounces are the soup du jour. Trash goals, we all know, count just as much as those dazzling wristers from 30 feet out. They do not ask you how, they ask how many as the saying goes.
The Auburn, New Hampshire native has five points in his last two games, bringing him to nine points in 21 games overall. I do not think he ever wants to leave the West Coast!
This road trip has been especially fruitful for Sanford, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for both the player and the Blues.
Sanford scored twice on six shots, dished an assist, and added three hits in last Monday’s 5-4 win over the Ducks. The next night, he scored one of three St. Louis power plays by being in the crease. Also adding a shorthanded empty-netter in the third that ended up being the game-winner. He was given an assist on Jordan Kyrou’s timely goal in the last minute of the first period to open the scoring.
Coach Craig Berube has been tough on the budding star, but the coach is also giving Sanford some respect, his just due.
“He’s just using his strength right now and his size, moving. And he’s making really smart plays,” Berube told Jim Thomas of the Post-Dispatch following the 3-2 win over Anaheim.
“He’s competing really hard on pucks and hanging on ‘em and doing a good job of finding ways to get pucks to the net. You know, he’s getting to the net. He’s at the net a lot,” Berube stated.
David Perron is also backing his linemate.
“It’s net-front,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “When he’s net-front he gets those goals, makes those plays. I knew he was gonna do that. We support him in this room, we think he’s a great player. That’s great to see him do that right now.”
Sanford admits being the pesky presence in front of the net is part of his game.
“It’s getting to the net front, taking the goalie’s eyes and being able to get a stick on it,” Sanford told the Post.
O’Reilly, the captain, has taken note of the work ethic of players like Sanford and others.
“Playing with them, it’s fun. Their energy, the plays that they’re making. It’s exciting hockey and it’s exciting for them. They’re taking another step and that’s huge for our team.”
Acquired from Washington in 2017 as part of the deal that sent fan-favorite Kevin Shattenkirk to the Capitals, Sanford’s breakout season was in 2019-20 when he had a career-high 16 goals with 14 assists, 30 points, and a plus-minus (13). The plus-minus was the second-best on the team.
Scouts have long raved about Sanford, who played at Boston College for just a year before being drafted by the Capitals. He was the New Hampshire high school player of the year in 2011-12. The same year, he helped Pinkerton Academy win the New Hampshire high school state title. At BC, he quickly ascended in the ranks by posting 24 points (7 goals, 17 assists) in just 38 games in college.
“Sanford is a big (6′ 3″) forward, with even more muscle on his frame, would be an intimidating winger. The scouting reports say that he holds onto the puck well, and has many upsides offensively. Consistency will be important for Sanford, as it is for all NHL prospects,” one NHL scouting service wrote.
The Capitals also had high hopes for Sanford who was named by The Hockey News as the Caps’ eighth overall prospect.
“He has very good hands that allow him to carry the puck through traffic as well as make him dangerous around the net. He uses his long reach, strength, and frame to protect the puck from defenders. He sees the ice well and makes crisp, accurate passes to teammates,” wrote draft guide service Future Considerations about Sanford in 2013.
Sanford possesses excellent vision and playmaking skills and has shown an ability to make those around him better. He has all the makings of the gem the Capitals envisioned when they took him in the second round back in 2013.
Sanford is under a two-year, $1.5 million dollar deal, a contract he signed with GM Doug Armstrong in July 2019. His previous contract with the team paid him $875,000 per season. He avoided arbitration by signing the deal.
Fans should remember that Sanford’s 8 goals and 12 assists in 2019 helped guide the Blues to the postseason. During that magical run, Sanford sat mostly and played only eight games in the playoffs. In Game 3 of the Finals, teammate Oskar Sundqvist got suspended. Sanford stepped right into the lineup.
He would never leave his line-mates for the rest of the Finals.
The bottom line is fans should stay the course with Zach Sanford, as he is on the verge of becoming a truly special, truly elite goal scorer in this league. Perhaps we should give the guy a break.
He is giving effort and more importantly, he’s scoring big, big goals for the Bluenote.
“You’re seeing what we want to see or what his potential is,” Berube told reporters last year. “He’s a big guy that’s got great hands, and when he wants to be, he’s a strong guy. He’s playing a strong, heavy game right now and his talent’s coming through.”
Thanks for reading … Now let’s get back to full strength …
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Brock Banner is a hockey writer, podcaster, social media content creator who offers analysis and perspective on the NHL, and the St. Louis Blues.