Canadiens' Josh Anderson must live up to hefty contract leverage

Columbus Blue Jackets' Josh Anderson, left, carries the puck up ice as Calgary Flames' Michael Frolik, of the Czech Republic, defends during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. (Jay LaPrete/AP)

MONTREAL — This is a gamble.

A seven-year, $38.5-million shove on the river with a promising hand, but not the nuts. Marc Bergevin risked his stack on Josh Anderson, a player who established himself as a top-end power forward in his first few NHL seasons but also one who scored only one goal and four points and was limited to just 26 games through 2019-20.

But Bergevin was pot-committed. He was locked into a deal that was going to favour Anderson the second he traded Max Domi and a third-round pick to acquire his rights from the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“You’re going to a team that wants you as a player,” Anderson said on Wednesday, highlighting one of several things that tipped leverage his way in negotiations with Bergevin.

The 26-year-old was already holding the hammer being one year from unrestricted free agency, and he admitted he had certainly contemplated how great of an opportunity that could present.

And when the six-foot-three, 222-pound, right-shooting winger was asked if he understood how rare of a commodity he is in today’s NHL, he made it clear he did.

“Obviously I know the type of player I am and I believe in myself,” Anderson said. “I guess they are hard to find in the league. But with that being said, I’m going to continue to play the physical way I play and bring that to Montreal. I cannot be more excited to join a team like this.”

Obviously the feeling is mutual, hence Bergevin’s willingness to make such an aggressive move. He outbid several other teams to acquire him, and if he didn’t believe he was getting what Anderson says he’s bringing, he’d have left him in Columbus.

And Anderson’s ask wasn’t a sideswipe. Bergevin knew it was coming.

“It doesn’t take a genius to know where the money should fall in,” he said earlier this week. “At the end of the day, we’ll be able to agree on a contract.”

Anderson used every bit of leverage he had to secure the term of it. Even with a global pandemic ravaging hockey-related revenue and creating so much uncertainty for the foreseeable future, he had enough to get what he wanted.

The annual average salary of $5.5 million is well in line with his market value on a long-term contract. And the structure of the deal featured a few minor concessions on his end that made it slightly more palatable for the Canadiens.

Most players of Anderson’s stature get signing bonuses, either at the front or back end of their deal. He got none.

Most players in Anderson’s position secure full no-movement clauses in at least some of the unrestricted free agent years being bought up in their contracts. At worst, they get no-trade clauses that are more restrictive than the eight-team one Anderson has over years 2, 3 and 4 of the deal and the five-team one he has in years 5, 6 and 7. And his actual salary goes from $7 million for the 2024-25 season down to $5 million in 2025 and $3.5 million in his final season, facilitating a potential trade at that point or making a possible buyout less punishing for the team.

But that’s the fine print.

Big picture: Bergevin made this bet because he’s long coveted this player and believes he’ll deliver. He made this bet because he believes Anderson is filling the biggest need on his roster—size and skill in one package, a player who skates exceptionally well and plays like a human bulldozer.

The Canadiens haven’t had a player of this makeup since John LeClair was in their uniform, and they traded him before his 26th birthday, right before he topped 40 goals in five of six seasons.

Hey, the Canadiens just weren’t sure about LeClair when he stumbled out to 1-4-5 totals through the first nine games of the 1994-95 season.

But enough with the history lesson.

Anderson wasn’t a player in John LeClair’s mould last season, and he’s not hiding from it.

“It was a down year,” he said.

It was way down from 27 goals and 47 points the year prior.

Anderson got hurt in Game 1 of the season. He tried to play through the pain in Game 2 and then was sidelined for just over two weeks.

The Burlington, Ont., native said he then rushed back before he was fully healthy and that it was a critical mistake he would never repeat again. One he paid the price for with season-ending surgery after two-and-a-half months of unsuccessful rehab.

But Anderson assured Bergevin and everyone else that’s all behind him now.

“I have 100 per-cent confidence in myself that I’m healthy 100 per cent,” he said. “I’ve told many people this, I’ve never been more confident in myself. I’ve been working for this opportunity for eight months now, so I’m going to thrive off it and do some good things.”

Anderson added his biggest motivation was to prove his doubters wrong.

His biggest task now is to prove Bergevin right.

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