Cap Comparable: Canadiens pay steep price for Josh Anderson’s UFA years

Marc Bergevin talks with the media about trading for Josh Anderson.

When the Montreal Canadiens traded Max Domi and a third-round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Josh Anderson this week, the general consensus was that both teams filled a need. The Blue Jackets got a second-line centre to play behind Pierre-Luc Dubois while the Canadiens acquired a big winger to complement their smaller forward corp.

But both players were restricted free agents, meaning the full scope of the trade wasn’t clear when it was announced. Now that they have signed their contracts, things look a little more puzzling from the Canadiens’ perspective.

Domi signed a two-year contract with a $5.3 average-annual value Wednesday, walking the 25-year-old right to unrestricted free agency and presumably a bigger payday. By contrast, Anderson — who at age 26 was one year away from unrestricted free agency — agreed to a seven-year deal Thursday with a $5.5 million average annual, locking him up for the prime of his career.

Anderson’s contract is certainly a steep price to pay for a forward who has only scored more than 20 goals once and has never had 50 points in a season. The fact that he missed most of the 2019-20 season with a shoulder injury doesn’t help either. But the Canadiens didn’t acquire Anderson for his offence. He was brought in to be a tough-to-play-against presence in all situations, which is harder to quantify.

To better understand how the Canadiens value Anderson, here are some comparable contracts.

Tom Wilson, RW, Capitals

Contract: Six years, $5.166M AAV | Age at signing: 24 (2018) | Scoring totals in year before signing: 14-21-35

Wilson is the closest comparable to Anderson in terms of playstyle and both represent what the modern power forward looks like. Wilson enjoys a comfortable spot opposite Alex Ovechkin on the Capitals top-line where he helps clear the way for the future Hall of Famer, a role the Canadiens hope Anderson can fill with youngsters Nick Suzuki and (eventually) Cole Caufield. The Capitals signed Wilson to his contract the summer after he helped them win the Stanley Cup with 15 points in the playoffs.

Get all the latest signing news and updates on Hockey Central Signing Season on Friday, Oct. 9 starting at 11:30 a.m. ET/8:30 a.m. PT on Sportsnet and SN NOW as 2020 NHL free agency gets underway.

Jason Zucker, LW/RW, Penguins

Contract: Five years, $5.5M AAV | Age at signing: 26 (2018) | Scoring totals in year before signing: 33-31-64

Jason Zucker is another hard-nosed winger signed for similar value to Anderson. Zucker’s contract came right after the best offensive season of his career and the Wild traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins less than two years into it after he regressed back to his normal totals. Still, an average season for Zucker is 20 goals and 40 points, which is the type of production the Canadiens can expect from Anderson if he’s healthy.

J.T. Miller, LW, Canucks

Contract: Five years, $5.25M AAV | Age at signing: 25 (2018) | Scoring totals in year before signing: 23-35-58

The Lightning signed J.T. Miller to this five-year contract in 2018 and flipped him to the Canucks one year later after a disappointing season. At the time, the trade to Vancouver looked like a salary dump, but Miller thrived with the Canucks, scoring a career-high 27 goals and 72 points. If the offensive production keeps up, this contract could become one of the bigger bargains in the league.

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Jonathan Drouin, LW, Canadiens

Contract: Six years, $5.5M AAV | Age at signing: 22 (2017) | Scoring totals in year before signing: 21-32-53

As a final comparable, let’s look at a similar contract Bergevin himself handed out only three years ago. The Canadiens traded star defence prospect Mikhail Sergachev to the Lightning for the RFA rights to Drouin and immediately signed him to this contract with the expectation he would become an offensive leader. Drouin was four years younger than Anderson when he signed but he’s yet to score more than 18 goals in a single season and has been passed on the team depth chart by Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Needless to say, the Canadiens are betting that Anderson can produce better offensively over the course of his deal than Drouin has so far on his.

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