The Canadiens didn’t get enough for Max Domi

Big, tough Josh Anderson is exactly what the Habs need. But that doesn’t mean the price was right. Domi was worth more. The fact Montreal kicked in a draft pick is staggering.
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The fit seems to be right for both sides. The Columbus Blue Jackets needed a No. 2 centre to play behind Pierre-Luc Dubois. The Montreal Canadiens needed some size, jam and scoring touch on the wings.

It makes a fair amount of sense, then, that the Blue Jackets acquired centre Max Domi from the Montreal Canadiens for right winger Josh Anderson on Tuesday afternoon. But if we look at the value of each asset in the deal? It looks like a win for the Blue Jackets, especially considering they also scored a third-round pick in Tuesday’s draft.

The Blue Jackets overcame a lot in 2019-20. They’d lost goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, left winger Artemi Panarin and centre Matt Duchene in 2019 free agency. They endured injuries to almost every major remaining member of their roster during the 2019-20 season at various points, from Cam Atkinson to Seth Jones to Oliver Bjorkstrand. Yet they still found themselves in a playoff position when the season paused March 12. They also beat the higher-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1 of the bubble tournament. The Blue Jackets overachieved thanks to their great team defence, superb goaltending from Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins and a selfless, hardworking system under coach John Tortorella. In the end, though, their forward group was a little bit too “lunch pail.” They needed another dangerous offensive centre to drive the play on a line other than Dubois’. That’s why they couldn’t outgun the Tampa Bay Lightning, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Domi, 25, changes the makeup of the forward group. He’s fresh off a disappointing 2019-20 campaign in which he had 17 points and 44 points in 71 games before winding up on the Habs’ fourth line in the post-season. But the fact he’d exploded for 72 points a season prior reminds of his ceiling as a slick-handed secondary scorer who plays with some feistiness. Domi smashed his career best in 5-on-5 shot rate and individual shot-attempt rate in his breakout 2018-19 season, but he actually bested both this past season. The pucks just didn’t go in as often, but his output was encouraging. Under a taskmaster coach like Tortorella, there’s always a chance Domi doesn’t jive, but it’s also possible Tortorella helps get Domi’s career back on track. A motivated Domi is a very good player.

“Strengthening our centre ice position has been a priority for our club, and we are extremely excited to add a player of Max Domi’s talent and character to the Columbus Blue Jackets,” said GM Jarmo Kekalainen in a release from the team. “He is a skilled playmaker that also brings grit and competitiveness, and we think he will be a great addition to our team.”

The Habs were loaded at centre with Nick Suzuki, Phillip Danault and even Jesperi Kotkaniemi looking physically stronger and NHL-ready during the post-season, so it’s understandable why they had to ship out the RFA Domi, an arbitration-eligible Darren Ferris client, who should land a contract with an AAV in the $5-million range, give or take. Anderson, 26, also an arbitration-eligible Ferris client, will cost less, freeing up more money for GM Marc Bergevin to chase additional upgrades. Anderson also gives Montreal something it needs. Anderson is an intimidating 6-foot-3 and 222 pounds. He can also score a lot more than your average crash-and-bang winger. Between 2016-17 and 2018-19, he rattled off seasons of 17, 19 and 27 goals. Among 393 forwards who have played 1,000 or more minutes at 5-on-5 in the past three seasons, Anderson ranks 17th in shots per 60 minutes and 64th in hits per 60 minutes. It’s the type of combination that calls to mind a poor man’s Tom Wilson. It’s thus totally understandable why Bergevin wanted Anderson.

The problem: Anderson is recovering from left shoulder surgery, which he had in March. If you’re a dangler who stays in the middle of the ice, maybe an injury like that doesn’t matter. But for a masher whose game is predicated on throwing his weight around in the corners and in front of the net? Shoulder damage is concerning. Power forwards tend to wear down quicker than finesse forwards. There’s some risk in Anderson’s medium-to-long-term profile, albeit Ferris indicated to Sportsnet’s Eric Engels Tuesday that Anderson “is 100 percent healthy” at the moment.

Does it mean Montreal shouldn’t have traded for him? No. He brings an element the Canadiens badly lacked. He might make them better than Domi in the short term given the redundancy of Domi’s skill set in that line up. But the trade looks like a loss for the Habs because they gave up too much. Domi is younger, more durable, has shown a higher ceiling and plays a more important position. A straight-up-swap still arguably would’ve favoured the Blue Jackets. But kicking in a third-rounder as well to get Anderson? It’s extremely befuddling. Domi should’ve brought a bigger return.