Since the season ended, and even before, the Montreal Canadiens knew they had a hole to fill on the right side of their forward group, especially their top six. They decided to fill it by acquiring Josh Anderson for Max Domi and a 2020 third-round pick (77th overall).
They also knew that they had a log jam at centre, Max Domi’s best position, and he likely wouldn’t have wanted to be paid like a winger as he approached his next contract with a new agent.
You could argue that this trade says as much about the player the Canadiens are trading away than it does about the player they are acquiring.
Going into the 2019-20 season, Domi was coming off of a season where he was the team’s leading scorer. He had a huge turnaround season after being acquired for Alex Galchenyuk. By the end of the year, Domi was in a no man’s land with no organic spot to claim on a team with limited forward spots.
Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi laid their claims to the centre spots behind Phillip Danault. Both had great post-seasons, and will likely continue to improve. Domi’s effectiveness is limited in a fourth line role. At left wing, Jonathan Drouin, and Tomas Tatar are the top six players. Drouin’s success with Nick Suzuki is worth exploring, and now Anderson can play on the right of that duo instead of Artturi Lehkonen, Paul Byron, or Joel Armia being forced in that spot. This has the dual impact of improving the top six while solidifying the bottom six.
There are questions about Anderson’s health, but he has an extended off-season to rehab after an injury-riddled season that saw him limited to 26 games. At his best he’s a scoring power forward, with 27 goals in the 2018-19 season where he played 82 games. The good news is that on the Canadiens, he’s not going to be asked to be the top line right winger with Brendan Gallagher in the fold. With Anderson, they have more balance, and yes, more size in their top six.
Marc Bergevin will now need to negotiate Anderson’s new contract, but it’s likely to be lower than Domi’s would have been to fill a needed spot.
In Columbus, Domi will likely play centre behind Pierre-Luc Dubois, and it will be a good opportunity for him compared to the role he would have played in Montreal.
The biggest move of Bergevin’s off-season to date is less about the specific players involved and more about what they represent and how they fit in to the lineup puzzle.