At first glance, the Montreal Canadiens got fleeced.
A guy who put up 44 points in 71 games exchanged for a guy who tallied a grand total of four in 26? And they had to throw in a third-round pick to boot?
What’s the word for “larceny” in Finnish?
But there’s more to Josh Anderson than the number four, and there’s more to Josh Anderson than the numbers 6’ 3” and 222 as well. Anderson, assuming he can get over his most recent shoulder injury, can bring something to the Canadiens that Max Domi, for all his laurels, never managed: consistency.
A lot has been said about Domi’s point totals. Yes, 72 points in his first season in Montreal. Yes, 17 goals even in a down year where he was shuffled between centre and wing. But Domi’s game always ran anathema to the Canadiens’ style. Where the team strove to control the game by controlling possession and shot share, Domi took as much as he gave. During his two years in Montreal, Domi’s CF%, SF%, and xGF% shares were always below team average, making him much more vulnerable to the whimsies of the Fates.
When Domi’s game worked, it was a thing of beauty. Exhibit A: his +10% on-ice GF% share in year one. But he couldn’t shoot 13.8% forever. This year, the Canadiens saw exhibit B: what happened when Domi’s game stumbled. They saw that if he wasn’t scoring, he had no proper place in the lineup. More importantly, they saw that neither the team nor the player could predict when the forward’s game would work and when it would fail. Ultimately, Domi proved to be a liability for a team that craves consistency more than anything in their pursuit of the postseason.
And this is where Anderson enters the picture.
Setting aside his injury-shortened 2019-20 campaign, Anderson has been the picture of consistency in his three fullish years with the Columbus Blue Jackets, averaging 1.06, 0.96, and 1.06 goals per 60 on-ice minutes. To boot, he played on a new line each year. First it was William Karlsson and Matt Calvert, then Artemi Panarin and Pierre-Luc Dubois, and finally Nick Foligno and Boone Jenner. Despite this, apart from his first full season, Anderson’s metrics remained more or less in line with team averages.
Even during his abbreviated 2019-20 season, his underlying metrics remained relatively good, so it would have been difficult to imagine Anderson finishing the year on that same 0.15 point-per-game trajectory.
Perhaps more important than his offence is the fact that Anderson is reasonably responsible defensively — or at least, does not look out of place when playing with defensive-minded players such as Foligno or Calvert. This gives head coach Claude Julien more flexibility both when penciling in his top nine and deciding what line to throw on the ice in a defensive zone faceoff situation.
There’s no question that Anderson is coming off a bad year, and the 2019-20 version of him isn’t worth Max Domi, or even the third-rounder. Marc Bergevin is betting that the Canadiens have just acquired the Josh Anderson that showed steady strides from 2016-18. A player that can play up and down the lineup, with offensive and defensive players, and offer a stabilizing presence for a team that has been undone the past two seasons by prolonged losing streaks and trap games.
So let’s forget about the number four. After all, that’s only one less than the five goals that Domi scored against goalies the year prior to arriving in Montreal.