The Habs made a big splash last week with the acquisition and subsequent signing of Josh Anderson with Max Domi and a third-rounder going to Columbus. Now that the dust has settled on the draft and the start of free agency, our writers have had a chance to offer up their thoughts on the move.
Terry Costaris: My initial thoughts to this trade were very optimistic. Then I read news of the seven-year, $38.5M contract and my jaw dropped. I honestly thought GM Marc Bergevin had lost his mind. However, if my understanding of the annual buyout costs is correct then there is not a lot to panic about. That is, based on how this contract is structured, if Josh Anderson becomes a bust after year five of this contract, the buyout scenario isn’t overly punitive compared to what happened with Karl Alzner’s situation on his final two years.
There’s no doubt that the acquisition of Anderson simply in terms of player-for-player is a bit of a risk given his shoulder surgery. Things could go very south in terms of new injuries and the Canadiens may have gotten someone who is on the verge of a very quick decline. This is possible.
I’m nevertheless putting some faith in Bergevin’s trading acumen. He must have done all the due diligence required to make sure that Anderson is not damaged goods.
I’m not a doctor but from what information I’ve been able to find, many players having undergone similar procedures such as Anderson’s have returned with little to no loss in their production. And thanks to COVID-19, he’s also getting some extra recovery time (training with the legendary Gary Roberts incidentally) that few players ever get.
At the same time, aggressive talents like him tend to have shorter hockey lifespans than midsized ones. Power forwards are the NHL’s version of Great Danes. I sincerely doubt that Anderson has any more than four good years in him so while the back end of this deal is somewhat unpalatable, it does not appear that Bergevin lost his mind.
As both a fun fact and something else to consider from a trade standpoint, this is Bergevin’s 88th trade since becoming the Canadiens’ GM. That’s a pretty huge number. And most of them have been in his favour. Player for player then, I have faith that he knows what he’s doing when it comes to trades.
I believe that Anderson will be a Mike McPhee/Sergio Momesso-type Hab. Now if Bergevin can snag a Brian Skrudland equivalent, then he will have succeeded in bringing the Canadiens back to the future -Serge Savard style.
In a 31-team league, healthy – the key word here – players like Josh Anderson are basically unicorns. They are rarely available. COVID-19, reduced league revenues, and a flattened cap with a healthy amount of free cap space were all factors that helped Montreal snag such a rare commodity.
You can’t go far into the playoffs without size, skill, speed and four scoring lines. The Habs are now one more fast, skilled, big, and beefy winger away from potentially doing significant damage come playoff time.
As Marc Bergevin is often quoted as saying,
“There are players who get you to the playoffs and others who get you through them.”
Anderson is exactly what every team needs to succeed from April to June.
Now, after discussing the seven-year contract, I also have to address the other big critique that I keep hearing concerning this trade: the loss of a 3rd rounder that was used to sweeten this deal. Again, Anderson is a unicorn. No 3rd rounder in the 2020 draft will fill this bill in the next four years. Enough said.
There’s no doubt that Domi, like for Alex Galchenyuk, whom he was initially traded for, has high-end skills but he came across as a moody personality type.
50% of athletic greatness boils down to what’s in the mind. Domi’s first year was filled with tremendous joy and excitement. And, as a result, he produced abundantly. In his second year, though, perhaps he read too many glowing tweets and started to fly too close to the sun. He seemed to have lost the emotional high that drove him to incredible success and then he came crashing down.
The simple truth is that during the ‘COVID Cup,’ Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki outperformed him. They gave their all and shone brightly. They forced Claude Julien to give them more ice time at Domi’s expense. Domi should have bettered them through sheer will as he has the innate talent to do so but he didn’t.
Domi had every incentive to perform well. A strong showing in the playoffs would have given him a better bargaining position for a new lucrative long-term contract. This was also his first chance at NHL playoff hockey, which should have gotten his competitive juices going.
I was absolutely certain that Domi would have come out of the gates this summer with all pistons firing. Instead, though, he sulked. Domi, like Jonathan Drouin, failed to win the battle of the mind.
Now maybe I’m being too hard on Domi. Perhaps it was COVID-19 and his fears of contracting this doubly dangerous disease as a Type 1 diabetic that affected his play. I would certainly have had such fears racing in the back of my mind if I had to play in the bubble. If this was the reason for Domi’s poor playoff performance, then I’m terribly sorry for my criticisms.
In summary, then, I hope that Montreal gets at least five good years out of a healthy and productive Josh Anderson. My gut though tells me it will probably be four and the Canadiens, perhaps with a different GM behind the helm, will have to figure out a way to clean up Marc Bergevin’s mistake. I also genuinely hope, for Max Domi’s sake, that he regains his game from 2019 and lives up to his potential. Overall, I see this as being a win-win deal for both Columbus and Montreal.
Allan Katz: When I first saw the trade was made I saw it was a two for one with one team throwing in a 3rd-round pick. I immediately thought, “Whoever threw in the pick won the trade since the better of the two players would come from the team getting the pick.” On that basis, Montreal won the trade. Of course, there’s much more to look at than that little thought.
ISSUE 1 – The Anderson shoulder injury: I have found over the years that serious injuries need time to heal. Due to the absurdities of our time Anderson has had and will have plenty of time to heal and both he and Marc Bergevin have said that they believe he’s fully healthy now so that one seems okay.
ISSUE 2 – He was a restricted free agent and Columbus and Anderson could not agree to a deal even though Columbus tried. With Anderson being eligible for arbitration and the deadline to file having been Saturday, there was a narrow window to get something done which they were able to do with a deal that is bigger than many being signed on the open market. I’m guessing Brendan Gallagher is next in line for an extension.
Fact is Montreal just traded for a power forward in a position they needed badly for a talented centre that they had no room for. Domi could very well deliver big time for them. I really liked the guy and wish him the best. If Anderson delivers 25+ goals the Habs will have done well. I don’t think Bergevin is done. If he can up the firepower on this team one more time, with another acquisition or two, happy days might be here again. Be forewarned: Bergevin can take his time now. He can sit patiently and then pounce on some strapped team for another upgrade. With opening day for next season not even ascertained the ‘Big Ber’ can sit back like a female praying mantis and patiently wait till even the preseason to bite the head off a helpless male suitor.
Brian La Rose: I don’t mind the Habs trading Domi. It seemed like the eventual outcome and I was expecting him to get a third deal similar to what Montreal gave Alex Galchenyuk, one that bought a UFA year but let him hit the market in his prime. From an asset value standpoint, getting Anderson and locking him up for seven years for Domi (who took two to get to the open market quicker) made sense.
I’ve never been a huge Anderson fan though. Admittedly, I haven’t seen him a ton but he was a player I often thought was overrated. Yes, he’s a power forward and there aren’t many of those around but I don’t see him as a top-liner and the contract they gave him in this marketplace is that of something can be a front liner.
Having said that, I don’t think the contract is crazy relative to value. Look at what David Clarkson and Milan Lucic got a few years ago and Tom Wilson more recently. If you’re big, physical, and have anything resembling a scoring touch, you’re going to get overpaid. Montreal’s deal for Anderson isn’t some new market benchmark, it just followed the trend.
Considering the other option was Anderson going to arbitration and hitting the market a year from now (one he indicated he was willing to do), the Habs were in a bit of a bind here but it largely was self-inflicted with the timing of the trade and the ridiculously-compressed offseason. Had this been done a little earlier, I can’t help but wonder if the end result would have been at least slightly cheaper.
Generally, dealing a centre for a winger is counter-intuitive but Anderson at least fills a vacancy that the Habs have had for a while. Both players are likely secondary fits and not top liners so I’m not all that concerned about a potential talent drop-off.
But as confident as the Habs and Anderson are in his shoulder, I’m going to be skeptical for a while about this one. This could go sideways in a hurry and the seven-year term (he’s now the player signed the longest in Montreal, not Shea Weber or Carey Price) is risky for anyone in that profile, let alone one coming off a major injury. I’ll give Bergevin credit for this though – he’s not afraid to take big swings on the trade front. We’ll eventually see if he connected on it.
Kevin Leveille: Let me start by stating that I think Montreal gave up the most skilled player in the trade. Now, many would see that and jump to the conclusion that I think Bergevin lost this deal, but I’m not so sure of that.
Domi had a great first season, but the top line 72-point producing pest was only there for 3/4 of a season. His play this past season really wasn’t nearly as good, and Domi wanted to play centre on a team that suddenly found itself with impressive depth at the position. Does Domi play ahead of Suzuki, Kotkaniemi, or Phillip Danault? If, like me, your answer to the last question is a no, then Domi was a logical trade candidate. So, Columbus is acquiring a player who wants to play centre, and they’ll likely get a year one win where Domi will play with a chip on his shoulder. But then what? Because Domi has rather quickly worn out his welcome in two NHL locker rooms already.
On the other hand, the Habs deal from a position of strength to a position of weakness in acquiring power winger Anderson. I love that the Habs acquire more size, more finish, and are once again a little tougher to play against. They likely give up some possession metrics in the process, but considering the Habs were a good possession team that couldn’t finish the plays they created last season, this acquisition makes a ton of sense, so long as Anderson can stay healthy.
Finally, pick 78. Stop freaking out about it, no, stop. The Habs have so many picks in the next two drafts that they don’t even have room to tender everyone contracts. Add to that the reported reality that up to 12 teams had inquired about Anderson. If all it took to get the deal done was a 3rd rounder, so be it. The Habs retained their top four picks so this should be a non-issue. Unlike many other trades before this one, I think who that pick is, and how Domi fares in Columbus makes zero difference to me in terms of how I rate this trade. If Anderson comes in and produces while staying healthy, this will have been a big win in team identity and taking the next step, no matter the price paid.
Norm Szcyrek: I like the trade and it stands to become a true win-win transaction for both teams. Domi fell out of favour with the Habs for a few reasons. First, his offensive production fell significantly this season. Personally, I think the Habs coaches told him to tame his act so he would not play as recklessly as he did in his first year. That affected his mindset and if I am correct also impacted his production. The second primary reason was his terrible postseason results. His decision to miss the first week of the training camp looks like it affected his play since he looked to be a step behind his teammates and the opposition. I cannot blame him for that decision on a personal level for health reasons. I am just pointing that out. The emergence of Suzuki and Kotkaniemi helped make trading Domi easier, as did Domi’s lack of productivity when he was placed on the wing. In Columbus, Domi will get a chance to play centre since their team is not deep at that position.
Anderson provides a power forward that can step into one of the top two lines right away, which is the type of player the team has needed for a very, very long time. I don’t believe his offensive ceiling is as high as Domi’s who will likely outscore Anderson through the rest of both their careers. However, the physical style Anderson will bring is significant. I remember Josh was always a tough player for the Habs to face against Columbus and he’ll now be tough for other teams to play against while playing for Montreal.
Dave Woodward: The acquisition of Anderson fills a glaring and long-standing need for size, grit and physicality up front. There is no debate that a player like Anderson ticks a lot of boxes for the Habs. But they paid a heavy price.
Even in a down year for Domi, he still had 44 points which was on pace for 51 points if the full 2019-20 schedule was completed. This would have exceeded Anderson’s point totals in his best season in 2018-19 (27G, 20A, 47P). And Domi’s 72 points in 2018-19 represents the highest point totals from any Canadiens’ forward since the days of Alexei Kovalev and Saku Koivu. That is a material amount of offence to lose for a team that struggles to score goals. The third-round pick that went to Columbus seems a little much in this scribbler’s opinion. One could credibly argue that the Canadiens got the short end if it was a one for one deal. Remember that Domi also fills a need for Columbus for a second-line centre.
Domi was expendable because of the emergence of Suzuki and Kotkaniemi in the Return to Play. Last season, Kotkaniemi was sent down to the minors and Suzuki hit a wall for the last 10 games of the regular season. Will Suzuki and Kotkaniemi likely be the Habs‘ centres of the future and have solid NHL careers? Most probably yes. Are they both done with their growing pains? Maybe Suzuki is. Kotkaniemi, not likely.
Domi, in the medium term, probably was a poor fit in the lineup and Anderson, when healthy, is a much-needed power forward for a team that is simply too small. However, the Canadiens will miss Domi next year, particularly if one or both of Suzuki or Kotkaniemi fail to sustain their Return to Play performance over a full season.
The other aspect of this deal that is of concern is Anderson’s contract. Seven years and a $5.5 million AAV for a power forward who has never scored 30 goals or 50 points in the NHL? This makes him the highest-paid Habs’ forward (tied with the enigmatic Jonathan Drouin) before he has played a game for the Canadiens and after coming off an injury-riddled year where he had four points in 26 games. We only have to look down the 401 at the Maple Leafs to see how an exorbitant contract can inflate the salaries of teammates and cause cap issues. Bergevin will have more trouble negotiating new deals for pending UFAs Gallagher, Tomas Tatar, Joel Armia, and Danault as a direct result of this contract. And Jeff Petry most likely wants to fire his agent.