The quest for the Stanley Cup doesn't begin on the ice, but during the offseason as general managers build their teams for the upcoming campaign. The Caps have made a number of moves this summer to try to make their team better and get over the playoff hump.
Let's break down and grade each move the team made this offseason to help figure out whether it was the right move for the team.
Today's move: Signing Zach Sanford
Every year at development camp there is always one or two players who stand out. This year, it was Zach Sanford. Not only was his physical prowess on display, (6-foot-4, 191 pounds), but his skill was as well. He looked comfortable with and without the puck and was miles ahead of most of the other prospects in terms of development.
Even so, it was a bit surprising to hear the Caps were pushing to sign him to an entry level contract. He still had two years of eligibility at Boston College and the Caps' roster is loaded. Why push for him to sign just to spend the season in the AHL?
The reason why the Caps did it most likely has something to do with Jimmy Vesey.
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Vesey was drafted by the Nashville Predators in 2012. By staying in college for four years without signing with Nashville, he will become a free agent on Aug. 15 and looks set to test the market. The same thing may be playing out between Washington and Thomas DiPauli, the Caps' fourth round pick from 2012 who remains unsigned. This type of thing is rare and it certainly seemed to catch Nashville off guard, but it did serve as a reminder to teams: sign your prospects before they have the chance to leave.
Sanford was drafted in 2013 out of the Eastern Junior Hockey League. The rules for players drafted out of junior leagues are similar to those drafted out of college. Full disclosure, I do not speak legalese, but based on my understanding of the collective bargaining agreement that sets the rules for signing players, by playing one year in juniors after getting drafted, Sanford could have become a free agent in August of 2017. It does not technically matter that he will have played only three years of college, all that matters is that it will have been four years after he was drafted.
So what does that mean for him this season? The Caps are set at center with Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle. Plus, Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky can play if need be. Barring injury then, Sanford will spend the season in Hershey.
Brian MacLellan has hinted at trying to keep room under the salary cap open for prospects to cycle in and get some NHL experience throughout the season. Sanford will have to adjust from playing in the NCAA to the AHL, which is quite a jump, but don't be surprised if Sanford gets his first taste of the NHL later in the 2016-17 season.
Vesey may have changed the game when it comes to prospects. Teams need to get these guys signed when they can or risk losing them. The Caps may well lose DiPauli and they didn't want the same thing to happen to Sanford.
This gets an incomplete, however, until what position Sanford plays this season. He played wing and center in college. Considering his size, he could be a good power forward and someone the Caps are tempted to call up to plug into the bottom six, but I absolutely do not want to see this unless it is at center. You can never have enough centers and it would be better for the team in the long-term to commit to developing him as a center rather than rushing him as a wing.
Granted, I am not a scout. If the Caps have determined he has no NHL future as a center, then they should ignore this and develop him as a wing. That's not what I saw at development camp, however.
If Sanford spends the season in Hershey as a center, then this move is a solid A. If the Caps try to rush him into their lineup as a winger this year, however, that would be a mistake. Patience is a virtue.
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