The Canadiens’ acquisition of Josh Anderson was rightly noted as one of GM Marc Bergevin’s key moves during the offseason. Anderson, an RFA at the time of the deal, was acquired by sending Max Domi and a 2020 third-round pick to Columbus. He was then promptly signed to a seven-year contract with a $5.5 million AAV, tying him with Jonathan Drouin as the highest-paid Canadiens forward (until Brendan Gallagher’s new contract kicks in next season).
In this market, the Canadiens have simply paid too much for Anderson, both in what they gave up to acquire Anderson and his contract. If one places credence in the whispers out of Montreal, Domi’s relationship with Coach Julien was strained. And the emergence of Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the Return to Play/playoffs seemed to move Domi down the depth chart and make him expendable. However, Domi is still an adequate second-line NHL centre who is one season removed from a 72-point regular season, something neither Suzuki nor Kotkaniemi (or Phillip Danault) have accomplished to date. Despite his defensive shortcomings and his difficulties last season, in 2019-20, Domi still provided a material amount of offence (44 points) on a Habs squad that struggled to score goals. Domi has, for the last two seasons, been an important part of the Canadiens’ offence.
Anderson’s offensive numbers are not nearly as impressive. After a successful year in 2018-19 (27G, 20A, 47P), Anderson struggled through an injury-riddled 2019-20 appearing in only 26 games and registering one goal and four points.
Josh Anderson, as a power forward, definitely brings a type of physicality that the feisty Domi does not. That type of power forward is something the Canadiens have lacked for a long time and no doubt was a critical reason why Bergevin made the deal. The Canadiens have been too small up front for years. In addition, in all likelihood, provided that Anderson’s shoulder injury is resolved, the 2019-20 season was an aberration.
Nonetheless, Domi, with a fresh start, is also likely to bounce back from a disappointing year. And Anderson will never score 72 points in an NHL season. This scribbler watched both Domi and Anderson in the OHL with the London Knights. Anderson’s offensive skills are not comparable to Domi’s, not even close.
Given the Habs’ organizational need for size up front, a deal to acquire Anderson for Domi straight up may have made sense. Throw in the third-round pick and the deal seems difficult to rationalize. However, it is the contract that makes this pundit apoplectic. A seven-year deal with a $5.5 million AAV for a forward who has never scored 50 points in an NHL season and is coming off an injury-riddled year.
The contract also has serious implications going forward beyond Anderson and Domi. The Canadiens’ ability to retain Danault, Tomas Tatar and/or Joel Armia could all be negatively impacted by this contract.
The Canadiens have overpaid to fill holes in their lineup in the past, sometimes with disastrous consequences. We all remember the infamous Scott Gomez deal. The Canadiens’ desperate search for a number one centre caused them to trade away a young Ryan McDonagh, Chris Higgins, Doug Janik and Pavel Valentenko for the privilege of inheriting Gomez’s bloated contract (along with Tom Pyatt and Michael Busto). One calendar year, Gomez failed to score a single goal. One season, the Canadiens paid Gomez almost $4 million per goal. While Anderson will hopefully perform better than Gomez, it is hard to imagine that Anderson will deliver value to the Canadiens under the terms of this deal.
The Canadiens have simply paid too much to acquire and sign Josh Anderson.