Canadiens mailbag: How likely is a Josh Anderson trade before the deadline?

Montreal Canadiens' Josh Anderson skates prior to an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers in Montreal, Thursday, January 19, 2023. (Graham Hughes/CP)

MONTREAL — A big thank you to everyone who sent in questions for this Canadiens mailbag.

Let’s dive into it right away, starting with this double-whammy from Jordan:

Hey Jordan!

I don’t mind that you jammed two questions in here because both of them touch on the most popular water-cooler topics in Montreal right now.

I also like that they came together, because there could be a connection to both subjects. A connection I’d like to explore.

But let’s tackle that first one before getting to that.

I think a more accurate portrayal of how Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes feels about trading/not trading Josh Anderson right now would be to say that he isn’t actively shopping him.

The idea that Anderson (who’s got a $5.5-million cap hit through 2027) is an untouchable for Hughes is inconceivable to me. If there was a team out there that could put together an appealing enough package while absorbing the full weight of Anderson’s contract, I don’t think there’d be too much hesitation to move him.

For instance, a 2023 first-round pick, a good prospect and a roster player on an expiring contract would be really hard to turn down.

While I do think there are a number of teams who love the idea of having the player in their uniform, I’m not sure how many could afford to pay that much while taking his full contract. And short of any of them stepping up to put that type of offer on the table, Hughes might feel he has more incentive to keep Anderson—and not just because he’s the type of player that’s hard to replace.

That the Canadiens have Juraj Slafkovsky, who could develop into a power forward in time, slightly eases the burden on that front anyway.

But what if Hughes wouldn’t move Anderson by this deadline for anything short of a monstrous return because he sees him as a key trade chip in a future package for Pierre-Luc Dubois?

I’m still of the mind the Canadiens are more likely to wait for Dubois to walk right to them as a free agent in 2024. I think they’d have the patience to do that because a) they believe he’ll come, and b) they absolutely see Dach as a centre and love the idea that they’ll have him (at $3.36 million per through 2026), Nick Suzuki and Dubois up the middle for at least two seasons as they’re coming out of their rebuild and into their competitive window.

But if Dubois is willing to sign with a team outside of Montreal this summer and the Canadiens feel they’ll lose their chance at him if they don’t trade for him, having Anderson at their disposal for such a trade could be crucial.

Now, when I said “there could be a connection” to both topics, I put the emphasis on could for a couple of reasons. The first is that it’s a galaxy-brain thought if there ever was one, and the second is that Anderson has an eight-team no-trade list and could very well make this all moot by blocking a trade to Winnipeg.

But man, would the Jets ever be a great landing spot for the 28-year-old Burlington, Ont., native to be the very best version of himself—as a team that plays a direct style that suits his game and as one that could continue to challenge for the Stanley Cup even without Dubois.

Not only would Winnipeg appreciate having that type of player if they have to lose Dubois, but they’d also appreciate having that type of player under contract for years.  

Anderson wouldn’t get the deal done on his own, but he would be a key piece of it if he was willing to go.

Anyways, even if none of this has crossed Hughes’ mind, the GM isn’t looking to just dump Anderson’s contract and trade him for the sake of it before this deadline. He knows how rare players like Anderson are in this league and he’s not going to sell him short for space he doesn’t even need any time soon.

Hi Chris!

I don’t really think it’s likely at either point, because the sample of Samuel Montembeault’s strong play is too small to make a such a decisive move by this deadline and all I have is that sample to go on for now to predict what’ll happen by the off-season.

Maybe he keeps playing great all the way through to the end of the season and turns this scenario into something Hughes really needs to contemplate this summer.

But even if Montembeault does, what’s the rush to push Jake Allen out? He’s under contract for two more seasons at $3.85 million per and is much more likely to provide more value to the Canadiens—in a tandem and as a mentor—through 2023 than he is on the trade market, which is rarely fruitful for any goaltender (let alone a soon-to-be 33-year-old one who isn’t suited to be a starter on a top team).

This brings us to our next question…

Hey Mark! Thanks for the kind words.

I think Hughes and Gorton are two of several executives in the league who see it as a key priority to add young goaltending talent.

They’re hoping Montembeault can prove he can turn into a starter, that Cayden Primeau can deliver on the promise he showed as a younger prospect, and that any of Jakub Dobes, Frederik Dichow, Joe Vrbetic or Emmett Croteau develop into NHL goaltenders.

But like any team that doesn’t have an Igor Shesterkin, or an Andrei Vasilevskyi, or an Ilya Sorokin, or a Connor Hellebuyck, or a Jake Oettinger, the Canadiens have to keep looking for one.

I’m not sure they’ll feel the need to draft a goaltender in the first round of this coming draft. Unless a can’t-miss elite netminder was available—and judging by Sam Cosentino’s latest draft rankings, I’m not sure one is—it would be surprising to see the Canadiens go that route.

But I wouldn’t discount the possibilities they attempt to draft one in a later round, or pry a developed prospect away from another team, or sign a college free agent.

Hi Karine!

It sure would be cruel to send Rafael Harvey-Pinard down now, after he’s produced five goals and six points in seven games since being called up from Laval.

I can’t guarantee he’s here uninterrupted through the end of the season, though. There are salary cap considerations prior to the deadline that could complicate the issue, especially as certain players return from injury.

The good thing for Harvey-Pinard is that he’s already proven he deserves a fair shake. If he has to go down at some point, I don’t think it’ll be long before he’s back up with the Canadiens. I expect him to be with them after the deadline, regardless, and he’ll have a great opportunity to prove he’s a full-time NHLer moving forward from there.

Hopefully for the 24-year-old, he’s playing every Canadiens game he’s healthy enough to play from here to the end of the season and beyond.

Hi Rita! Hi Lori!

I’m grouping these questions for obvious reasons.

Rita, I’m a big believer in having quality veterans around to insulate and shepherd the young, talented players you’re referring to, and Sean Monahan definitely qualifies as that type of player who can do that.

But I don’t believe the Canadiens should—or will—keep him if they’re able to get a good return for him in a trade between now and the deadline.

That said, I do think it’ll be hard to obtain good value if Monahan isn’t back to not only playing soon but playing like the player he was showing he could be before he got hurt.

Lori, if Monahan can’t do that, your question certainly comes into focus.

I wish I could answer it clearly, but Monahan’s uncertain status at the moment makes that somewhat impossible.

I’m not saying the 28-year-old won’t come back and pick up right where he left off at some point this season, but I can’t say for sure that he will. And if he doesn’t, I’m not sure any team—even the Canadiens—could afford to pay him much more than the league minimum on a one-year deal, even if he’s guaranteed to make a full recovery before next season.

Let’s assume, though, that Monahan returns after the deadline for the final 20 games and produces at the same clip that saw him score 17 points in his first 25 games, and let’s also assume that the Canadiens wait on Dubois until July 1, 2024, I could see them trying to sign him to a one-year, bonus-laden deal (based on a minimum amount of games being played) that gives him an opportunity to top out around $4.5 million and guarantees him at least $2.5 million.

I think that would still give the Canadiens a chance to capitalize on Monahan’s value to them—and also on the trade market before the 2024 deadline.

I’d be surprised if they were willing to sign the player for longer than a year under any scenario, which could mean they lose him for nothing if he doesn’t return from injury prior to this year’s deadline. Because if Monahan can come back after the deadline, play as well as he did to start the season, and secure himself more than a year on a reasonable contract with another team, I don’t know that he can turn away from that opportunity after all he’s been through injury-wise over the last three years.

Hi Richard!

I don’t know if I’d pick five players and put them all in the same category.

But I think you can count Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Kaiden Guhle as untouchable pieces of the core.

Slafkovsky and Arber Xhekaj both have great potential to join that group if they keep developing at the expected rate.

I know you asked for five, but I would suggest Dach, Montembeault and Jordan Harris are probably here to stay for a while, too.

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