On day one of the NHL Draft, before the first pick was announced, Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin was already busy working at improving his team. As he has often done, he sent shockwaves in the hockey world by completing another substantial transaction, this time with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Bergevin sent packing newly appointed centre Max Domi to play for John Tortorella and added a third round pick to finally get his hands on that elusive power forward with size and grit for his top-6 in Josh Anderson.
While there hasn’t been as much negative noise made in the fanbase after this trade, it hasn’t brought a lot of cheers either. There are two principal reasons for that. For one, fans are starting to understand and realize that Bergevin is an astuce GM when it comes to trades. Rarely does he lose when completing a big trade. Secondly, the question marks are tied to Anderson’s health. The big winger played with a bummed up shoulder last season, affecting his production, and he is finishing up a six-month recovery from shoulder surgery he had back in March. Anderson is a restricted free agent now, with his previous three-year, $1.8 million cap hit contract.
For us to sit here and try to determine Anderson’s bill of health would be uninformed and futile to say the least. What we can say for sure is that the Canadiens’ doctors received Anderson’s medical records and they feel comfortable with the results. Bergevin would not have pulled the trigger on that trade had they not. While there are no such thing as certainty when it comes to surgeries, it’s fair to say that due diligence was conducted and that’s all we can ask for.
Filling a need
At their year end interview, players mentioned it publicly, including Jeff Petry who agreed to a contract extension a few weeks ago. The Canadiens needed to get bigger up front. While one player won’t be enough to make a huge difference in that aspect, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Not only is Anderson imposing with his 6-foot 3-inches, 222 lbs, but he uses his body too. His 9.33 hits/60 would place him first on the regulars on the Canadiens’ forwards. Now compare that to Domi’s 1.58 hits/60 (who brings different skills set) and you have a total turnaround in physicality.
For those who like advanced stats, he fairs very well too. Even in his injury hampered season, he was a good defensive player too. Over the past four seasons as an NHL regular, Anderson has proven to be as a reliable two-way forward who can play anywhere on a team’s top three lines.
Anderson is a reliable defensive forward at this point in his career – even in last year’s ugly season. He had better defensive numbers than 60 percent of his peers. And when he has seasons with strong offensive contributions (like his 19-goal campaign in 2017-18, or his 27-goal season in 2018-19), he looks every bit the part of a capable second-line winger. Columbus’ goal differentials over the years with him on the ice – their +36 margin at even-strength (+0.6 goals per-60 minutes) – is leading Columbus after the loss of Artemi Panarin to free agency.
A trade that makes sense
Here are a few reasons why you have to love this trade if you’re the Montreal Canadiens, even after giving up a good asset like Domi:
- The Canadiens find themselves deep at the centre position. I know, right? Who would have thought after all those years without quality centremen? With Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Phillip Danault on the top-3 lines, there was just no room for Domi.
- The Habs desperately needed some size and grit in their lineup, including on the top-9 forwards. Getting a good skating, goals’ scoring, hard hitting and defensively responsible power-forward is something the team lacked. Joel Armia was the closest to that but Anderson is even grittier and a better goals’ scorer.
- Anderson’s injury plagued season and surgery has basically taken any negotiation leverage the player had for his next contract. He will (or should) come much cheaper than Domi for their next contract.
- The Canadiens didn’t need to sacrifice their first round pick to get that scoring power forward.
So Bergevin traded from a position of strength to fill yet another huge hole in the team’s lineup. Coming into this off-season, Bergevin had three or four glaring needs to improve his team and so far, he’s address three of them:
- Backup goaltending: Fixed by the Jake Allen trade.
- Strengthening top-4 LD: The addition of Joel Edmundson.
- Top-6/9 power forward: The Domi for Anderson trade
- Size and grit for bottom-6 forwards: Still to be determined.
Whether you like Bergevin or not should not blind you to the fact that since 2018, he has done an absolutely fantastic job. He has filled the prospect pool with not only numbers, but quality. He has gone with a good mix of veterans and young players. He has brought in toughness without sacrificing playing ability. He has made this team competitive again, and fun to watch. And he’s not done folks. I bet you anything, Geoff Molson doesn’t regret his decision to approve “the plan” in the summer of 2018.
Karl Alzner buyout
As it’s not worth an article of its own, I figured I’d add it to this one. I want to touch on the Karl Alzner contract buyout. Personally, I wasn’t expecting that. I thought that the team would wait one more season in order to minimize the number of years affected by the cap hit. Come to think of it, I understand why Bergevin decided to do it this year instead. You see, the first year of a buyout is the year you are penalized the most on the cap.
Bergevin gave Petry a contract extension which doesn’t kick in until the 2021-22 season. He’s negotiating with Brendan Gallagher who is due for a raise that same year, and Phillip Danault also only has one year left to his contract. Those are substantial raises to the cap hit coming up in two years. So biting the bullet and eating up the biggest chunk this upcoming season makes all the sense in the world.
By buying out Alzner, Bergevin is taking steps to fix and put behind him his biggest mistake since taking over the GM position in Montreal back in 2012. Not bad. Go Habs Go!