TORONTO – Where you and Kyle Dubas might differ is that he does not view this month’s trading of Andreas Johnsson as pure salary-shedding decision.
The Toronto Maple Leafs general manager says there was a decent market for the services of a 25-year-old winger with top-six, 20-goal pedigree — despite Johnsson’s injury-plagued 2019-20 — and that the motive for dealing his 2018 Calder Cup MVP was a calculated one.
Of course, removing Johnsson from the roster meant removing $3.4 million off the salary cap for three lean seasons. But just as important, the executive wants you to know, it meant bringing Joey Anderson into the fold.
“I mean, he's no slouch either,” Dubas said, defending the trade. “And I know people don't view it that way. But there was a lot of interest in Andreas, and we elected to go with Joey because of his combination of talent that he’s shown, his character, and his competitiveness.
“We're excited about him.”
Such bullishness over a winger who couldn’t establish himself on the New Jersey Devils, one of the thinnest offensive NHL rosters of the past two seasons, may be curious. But Dubas backed up his words Friday, inking RFA Anderson to a three-year contract extension worth an AAV of $750,000 in the show.
Anderson, 22, will be on a two-way deal the first two seasons -- a critical detail for a cap-crunched roster that intends to lean on taxiing players up and down from the Marlies to squeak within the financial rules.
Yo-yoing between the farm and the spotlight is a dance Anderson is familiar with, having appeared in more games for Binghamton (57) as he did New Jersey (52) through his first two pro runs.
Why didn’t things work out with the Devils?
“Maybe I wasn't quite what they were looking for from me, and maybe I didn't quite do enough with the opportunities that I was given,” concedes Anderson, who did not see the trade coming.
“Just one of those things that didn't quite click the way they had hoped and as I hoped. But I'm excited to get a fresh start with Toronto and see what we can do.”
Dubas has overstuffed the bottom of his forward group with players of disparate development stages and fame levels making under $2 million.
Anderson will arrive at camp to battle Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, Nick Robertson, Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, Travis Boyd, Pierre Engvall, Alexander Barabanov, Denis Malgin, Nic Petan and Egor Korshkov for coach Sheldon Keefe’s attention.
On any healthy night, fewer than half of them will wedge into the lineup. The rest will be Marlies or scratches vacillating between the border of Inspiration and Frustration.
“We need to be as deep a team as possible if we're going to reach the potential that we set,” Dubas said. “The battles in training camp and early in the season will be good to follow, and we're anxious to see how these guys compete against each other. I think it really starts now with what they're doing with their off-season, training and how they're working to set themselves up for a great camp.”
In Anderson, Dubas sees a serial winner who potted the 2017 Frozen Four championship-winning goal for his local Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and played alongside Leafs Joseph Woll and, briefly, Auston Matthews in the U.S. national program. He sees a world junior champ and a young man who scored eight times in the NHL in limited minutes without being a cog in an offensive machine.
The exec also sees in Anderson the same thing he sees in new recruits Thornton, Simmonds and Vesey -- a motivated competitor with something to prove.
“Exactly that,” says Anderson, wearing the chip on his shoulder like a badge. “I'm gonna come in and try to show the coaching staff and management what makes me tick as a player.
“If I can just consistently bring it every day with my battle level, the little details, bearing down on plays, I think I can contribute on that third, fourth line. I've had some experience penalty-killing with New Jersey, and I'm pretty confident with my abilities to do that, so if they need me to do any of that, I’m just ready for whatever they need from me.”
He’s your perfect complimentary winger that can make a line better. Knows how to play with elite guys and can play up in a lineup. Coaches kid, great hockey IQ. Played @collegehockey in a high pedigree program. Knows what winning takes.
— Dave Starman (@DStarmanHockey) October 11, 2020
Anderson comes by his competitive streak honestly.
His father, Jerry, played NCAA Division III. Younger brother Mikey, 21, is fast making inroads with the Los Angeles Kings, and sister Sami is a small college player.
“We just don’t play to lose, I guess. It’s do-anything-it-takes, and that usually leads to playing with more aggression and getting a leg up on a guy you’re going into battle with. I try to channel that in a good way,” Anderson explains.
Growing up in Roseville, Minn., Anderson loved watching Wild star Marian Gaborik’s speed and scoring ability, but he was more drawn to responsible two-way centreman Mikko Koivu when it came to emulation.
No wonder Anderson has studied the Leafs’ most honest winger, Zach Hyman, as a template for how he can contribute -- for how he might one day stick in the NHL.
“I have watched him. I think that's something I strive to be; I don't think I'm there yet,” Anderson says.
“He's a guy that does things right away. He plays hard. He's in the right spots. Doesn't take shortcuts. And that's something that I try to strive to play like. That’s definitely a player I would like to follow in the footsteps of.”
Consider that music to both a coach’s and a fan’s ears.
Will it be a challenge for Anderson to carve a niche on the Leafs roster? Absolutely.
But he sounds like a young man ready to embrace the intensity of the Toronto market.
“The history is awesome. I think that's super cool,” Anderson says. “It's pretty cool having a fan base that follows so intensely. It can be a rewarding thing when you play well and give the fans something to cheer about.”