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Josh Anderson’s contract is the price of a young power forward in today’s NHL

Anderson’s contract may look scary at first glance, but that’s just the cost of doing business in the modern NHL.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Boston Bruins - Game Five Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

“Players who play that style of game, a big guy who skates very well, who has the scoring touch, and who plays physically ... there are not a lot of those in the NHL. So when we kicked the tires and saw that he might be available, that was someone who, for the needs of the team, was important to acquire.” Marc Bergevin

On Thursday night, Montreal Canadiens fans found out just how much general manager Marc Bergevin valued the attributes he saw in Josh Anderson when the newly acquired winger inked a seven-year deal worth a total of $38.5 million. Initial reaction was mixed. Some eagerly anticipated the long-term presence of a power forward in the Tricolore, while others expressed concern about what they perceived as excess term and AAV, particularly with Anderson’s injury history.

“Fair AAV for Anderson, Canadiens gave big on term.”Arpon Basu, The Athletic

The thing is, while no one should call this a bargain, Bergevin is right in noting that players made in the mould of Josh Anderson are rare, and their scarcity also dictates their market value. The 10 closest contract comparables to this Anderson extension, courtesy of CapFriendly, include some pretty heady company, such as Kyle Connor and Teuvo Teravainen. Nevertheless, while he is low on the leaderboard when it comes to points, Anderson’s goal-scoring prowess prevents him from being a fish out of water. The Burlington native has put up a goals-per-game tally just behind Tyler Johnson and Jason Zucker despite his annus horribilis in 2019-20.

Moreover, it’s important to look at how the newest Canadien stacks up against players who play like him. Among this top 10, the closest to Anderson in playstyle would be Tom Wilson, Alex Tuch, and to a somewhat lesser extent, Travis Konecny. In this smaller group, Anderson is essentially at the top when it comes to goal-scoring, especially considering the differences in offensive styles between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers. If one wants to talk about risk, Anderson’s track record far exceeds Tom Wilson’s palmarès when the Washington Capitals splurged on their power forward-cum-goon extraordinare.

Anderson’s new contract also compares reasonably to Bergevin’s prior track record with the Canadiens. The winger’s goal-scoring tally is roughly equal to that of Brendan Gallagher and Max Pacioretty when they signed their long-term deals, and so naturally, Anderson’s contract slots right in between the two when it comes to cap percentage. When one factors in that Anderson is sacrificing many more years of unrestricted free agency than his younger colleagues, the deal may even appear to be a slight bargain.

“I love the Josh Anderson acquisition. I like the contract a lot less. Anderson will be 33 at the end of this seven-year deal. Players of his mold—Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, Kyle Okposo, David Clarkson—often ‘break’ at 30 years old.”Mathias Brunet, La Presse (translated from French)

Whenever a power forward receives a long-term contract, it’s not long before the C-word rears its head — Clarkson. The concern, on a surface level, is not unjustified. Clarkson and Milan Lucic are just two examples of general managers becoming infatuated with the idea of a player rather than the player himself. Bergevin, of course, has not been immune to this in the past (see Drouin, Jonathan and the quest for the holy first-line centre).

But Anderson and Clarkson and his ilk are not proper comparables. Anderson’s contract, signed as an restricted free agent, is significantly cheaper in terms of cap percentage than the UFA deals inked by those before him. Statistically, Anderson is already on par with the likes of Lucic and Andrew Ladd despite not having his stats boosted by superior offensive teams or his prime years. Even discussing length, there is a big difference between signing a 26-year-old to a long-term contract and signing a 28-year-old to the same term.

“This is a spicy extension. Could be worth it if Anderson bounces back to the level he was at in 2018-19 — but it’s a helluva gamble.” Dom Luszczyszyn, The Athletic

In the long run, Bergevin will not be judged on the Anderson contract, but rather the Anderson acquisition. Whether the player fits with the team, whether he’s can stay healthy, whether he can score 20 goals a year on a consistent basis, those are all questions for Bergevin the talent evaluator and not Bergevin the capologist. Having already declared his interest in the player and spent assets to acquire him, the general manager was hardly in a position to play hardball and pinch pennies. As such, he has done reasonably well to get market value for his new acquisition, and if extended term was the bargaining chip necessary to avoid an excessive immediate cap hit, so be it.