The Montreal Canadiens are in the midst of a rebuild. While general manager (GM) Kent Hughes has never called it that, his actions since his arrival point to that being the case. This offseason, Hughes will need to work diligently to clear salary-cap space as the Habs sit at $80.577 million in salary, just under the $82.5 million limit.
The Canadiens don’t have the cap space to sign restricted free agents (RFA) Alexander Romanov and Rem Pitlick, who are both due for raises on their previous contracts. To create that cap space, Hughes will have no choice but to unload some of his players, such as he did with Shea Weber’s contract, trading it to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.
One player who has been gathering interest is right-wing power forward Josh Anderson, who, at 28 years old and under contract for five more seasons at $5.5 million, is a desirable asset in an NHL lineup. This is evidenced by the fact the Canadiens had spent years looking to acquire a player of his skill set, but now in a rebuild, is it worthwhile to keep him?
Canadiens Face a Dilemma
Hughes has planned to build a perennial contender in Montreal. Winning the draft lottery for the first-overall pick will help in adding skills for the future. But there are several other moves and decisions to make before the team will become a contender. Every decision Hughes makes has to be in service of that goal.
“I think I’ve said since the very beginning that, with everything we do or try to do, we’ve got an objective of trying to put a team on the ice that can win on a continual or sustainable basis, and that everything that we do will be first and foremost with that objective in mind.”–Kent Hughes
Since his arrival, Hughes’ phone has been ringing constantly with teams asking about Anderson’s availability. Over his two seasons in a Canadiens uniform, if his stats are prorated over an 82-game schedule, he has averaged around 25 goals per season. This season, Anderson finished third on the team in hits with 153 and third in goals with 19.
The stats may not seem important to a club, but the 6-foot-3, 227-pound forward is a rare commodity in today’s NHL. He has the size and plays with physicality and speed. Anderson is an excellent north-south winger who likes to carry the puck, go to the net and play heavy on the forecheck, which creates space for his linemates. This skill set can be highly effective, especially in the NHL Playoffs.
Hughes must seriously consider trading Anderson, who will unlikely be able to play his game as effectively by the time the Canadiens become contenders, in return for assets that better fit the under-24 core group of players.
Anderson Trade Rumors
Hughes is open for business, and it looks as though this summer will be one of change in Montreal. It has been rumoured for some time now that Hughes has been getting calls about Anderson, but that doesn’t mean he is shopping him.
So what is the Canadiens’ asking price for his services? Judging by the transactions Hughes has made with roster players, he is likely asking for several quality assets in a package deal. Elliotte Friedman on Edmonton’s 630 AM hinted at that cost:
“Yes, I do absolutely think teams were sniffing around there, but I think the problem was the Canadiens were asking a lot,” said Friedman on the Oilers Now show. “He’s a good player, he’s signed for a while, and they’re not just going to give him away.”Elliotte Friedman
In the same segment, the host, Bob Staufer, mentioned a package of right-handed defenceman Tyson Barrie for salary cap reasons and possibly a draft pick. While adding a power-play quarterback would be helpful, that wouldn’t be a good fit for a rebuilding club. With Evander Kane’s future in Edmonton still unknown, adding Anderson would make sense, and it is more likely that Hughes would be asking for Jesse Puljujarvi in a package with one of the Oilers’ 2022 first-round pick or a prospect such as center Xavier Bourgault. Those are assets that would be more in line with the age of the Habs’ core as well as Anderson’s value.
Another club rumoured to be interested in Anderson is the New York Islanders. The idea floated was for the Islanders to trade Anthony Beauvillier and New York’s 2022 first-round pick, which is 13th overall. Islanders’ management is on record saying they are looking for “hockey trades” and likely watched the 2022 IIHF Men’s World Championships, where Anderson built strong chemistry playing with the Islanders’ top center, Mat Barzal, so it isn’t far-fetched that they might be interested even though they missed the playoffs last season after two consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Final.
The Canadiens might be willing to gamble on the Quebec-born Beauvillier having a bounce-back campaign after a down season where he had only 12 goals and 22 assists in 75 games. The 25-year-old winger’s age is more in line with the team’s core, and he has two more seasons under contract at $4.15 million, which would save the Canadiens just under $1.5 million on the cap. Also, he has proven to be a productive performer in the playoffs with 29 points in 49 games, which is almost 0.6 points per game.
The 13th overall pick could be more valuable with the possibility of selecting players like power forwards Connor Geekie or Cutter Gauthier, or they might select a dynamic forward such as Frank Nazar. Any of those prospects would instantly be in the top two or three of the Canadiens’ prospect pool. A deal involving those two assets could entice Hughes to make a deal, and he may ask for more if there is a bidding war between several teams for Anderson’s services.
Anderson’s Value to Montreal
If Anderson remains on the roster, he would provide the Canadiens with a power forward’s impact. He could be useful in helping to create space for the team’s top-six, allowing them that split second more to make a play, which could help in the further development of players such as Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. Also, Anderson wears the alternate captain’s “A” as part of the team’s leadership group. He has been open about his play, and when he has had a poor game, he has followed it up with a strong performance, a positive example that can only help the youth of the club.
If Anderson is traded, Hughes cannot afford to make an error with the return. While cap space is a commodity, as stated above the future is his goal, and the future will be best served if the players that arrive in Montreal’s system become as impactful or more so than Anderson.
Hughes is receiving calls for his power forward, but that doesn’t mean he has to move him. Anderson can have a positive impact on the Habs and the young players coming up. However, if Hughes does decide to move him, his asking price would be no less than what he got for shipping out Tyler Toffoli, Ben Chiarot, or Artturi Lehkonen at the trade deadline. He has shown he can set a high price and has the patience and business acumen to get what he wants. Trading Anderson now, at the start of the rebuild, would benefit the Canadiens.