Canadiens pay steep price, but Josh Anderson fills glaring need

Tim and Sid look at the trade between the Canadiens and Blue Jackets that saw Max Domi sent to Columbus in return for Josh Anderson.

MONTREAL — You have to give to get, and the Montreal Canadiens certainly gave on this one.

A talented, versatile centre in Max Domi. He scored 28 goals and 72 points two seasons ago but managed just 17 goals and 44 points in 71 games before getting blanked in nine of 10 playoff games this past season. Still, the upside was there for the 25-year-old restricted free agent with arbitration rights.

And the Canadiens also handed the Columbus Blue Jackets their third-round pick in this year’s draft to acquire a player in Josh Anderson, who scored just one goal and four points in a season cut short by shoulder surgery.

He’s a player who topped out at 27 goals and 47 points in 2018-19, but also one who hadn’t collected more than 19 goals and 30 points prior to that. That Anderson hasn’t played since December of 2019 — and that he’s an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent who’s just one year away from becoming an unrestricted free agent — punctuates the risk Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin took in paying this steep price to acquire him.

But this is a high-stakes game, and it was about time Bergevin shoved his chips in. He’s all but mastered the low-risk, medium-to-high-reward trade, but the circumstances the Canadiens found themselves in called for something bolder.

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Bergevin had the assets and the incentive to make a big move, and his most pressing need was a forward with size and skill. Preferably one who would slot in on the right side of his lineup. And at six-foot-three, 222 pounds, the right-shooting Anderson checked all the boxes.

He’s an elite skater, a power forward, a player with a mean streak (212 penalty minutes in 267 games), and a player one professional scout we touched base with Monday referred to as “a freight train.”

“My only concern is Anderson’s injury history, but I’m sure the Habs did their homework,” texted another. “Good pick up for them and a good haul for CBJ too.”

Some of the risk Bergevin assumed in giving up so much is mitigated by Anderson’s current health status. His agent, Darren Ferris, who also represents Domi, told Sportsnet, shortly after Tuesday’s trade was consummated, that the 26-year-old had been training hard in the Toronto bubble this summer and that he was prepared to return to play had the Blue Jackets advanced to the second round of the playoffs.

“He’s 100 per cent healthy,” Ferris assured.

He also said he’s yet to speak to the Canadiens about a new contract for Anderson — he hasn’t spoken with Columbus about one for Domi, either — so we’ll wait to see how that shakes out before giving a more thorough evaluation of the trade.

But, on the surface, this seems like a deal that fits the needs of both parties. Columbus gets a talented playmaker in Domi, who should fit nicely with a pure shooter like Oliver Bjorkstrand, and they get a future asset in the draft pick Montreal included.

The Canadiens, meanwhile, aren’t stuck paying Domi to play where he doesn’t belong — at wing, which is the only place they had room for him. And their need for a player like Anderson was so glaring even Jeff Petry couldn’t hold back from stating it during his end-of-season conference call.

“We’re a fast team, I think, but we lack some size as well,” Petry said on Aug. 26. “Somebody who has that ability to play that fast game but also brings grit and a bigger body that can cause some havoc on the forecheck. But not a guy that’s just there for his size; somebody that has skill, and some size as well.”

You know, the kind of player who will look pretty good next to promising, young centre Nick Suzuki, or Jesperi Kotkaniemi, or Phillip Danault.

“A player who can help us for many years and can make a difference [immediately], I’m obviously going to look at that closely,” said Bergevin on Monday.

Now that player has arrived, and the complexion of the Canadiens looks markedly different.

The transformation has been gradual but steady since the global pandemic brought hockey — and our lives as we knew them — to a screeching halt in the middle of March. This team was sitting in 24th place in the standings and with no hope of participating in the playoffs, but the NHL and NHLPA’s return-to-play plan changed that.

We saw the Canadiens take what Bergevin referred to on Monday as “a big step forward” in beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the play-in round and giving the Philadelphia Flyers all they could handle in a six-game Round 1 loss. And they’ve since brought in Jake Allen to complement Carey Price, giving them what could be considered the strongest goaltending tandem in the league.

Bergevin’s move to acquire six-foot-four Joel Edmundson’s rights before signing him to a four-year, $14-million contract bolstered the depth of a defence core he aptly referred to as “big,” and “mobile.” A defence core that excelled in August, with Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot and Petry doing the heavy lifting and with Brett Kulak playing his most inspired hockey since joining the team in 2018. A defence core that will also now include Alexander Romanov, the highly-touted 20-year-old who’s expected to make an immediate difference after earning two years of professional experience in the KHL.

The Canadiens also have one of the deepest prospect pools in hockey, and a glorious opportunity to add to it with the 16th overall pick in Tuesday’s draft and nine more picks on Wednesday (including three in the second round). And they’ll have money to burn in free agency come Friday, to fill out the depth of their forward group.

Potentially it gets spent on a player like Wayne Simmonds, a six-foot-two, 185-pound winger who plays every shift like it might be his last one.

We’ll see.

Just like we’ll see what Domi and Anderson sign for with their new teams, and we’ll ultimately see how they play for them.

As of right now, both teams will feel like they gave up a lot to make this deal. But that’s what you have to do to get what you need.

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