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No, the Devils should not be interested in Josh Anderson

It’s not officially hockey season until someone speculates on a Josh Anderson to the Devils trade. This article explains why this never-ending rumor continues to make no sense from a Devils perspective.

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NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning
Josh Anderson battles for a puck
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There are three certainties in life. Death. Taxes. And apparently, “The Devils are interested in trading for Josh Anderson” rumors.

I don’t know where these rumors keep coming from, but they need to stop.

Actually, scratch that. That’s not true.

I do know where those rumors keep coming from. They keep coming from someone in the Habs organization who keeps feeding them to their mouthpieces in the Montreal media who carry water for the team. This is how you get a throwaway line like this in a recent mailbag on The Athletic.

“I know the New Jersey Devils showed interest in (Anderson) last season, and I don’t know if that’s changed with the acquisition of Timo Meier, but they can serve as an example of how an Anderson trade to a contender could work. The Devils have been slowly giving more and more to Alexander Holtz – the No. 7 pick in the 2020 draft – but unless he takes a big leap this season, the Devils might come to the conclusion he doesn’t quite fit their window, which is right now. If the Canadiens could leverage Anderson as a win-now proposition into a young player with growth potential, they will surely do it. It might not be Holtz, but it would likely take someone like him to convince the Canadiens to move Anderson because I don’t think he is viewed as someone they absolutely have to trade.”

This is a hilarious paragraph in read in print for a lot of reasons, and not just because whoever wrote it knows nothing about how the Devils actually used Alexander Holtz last year.

Because this was written, you get the keyboard warriors that comprise Habs Twitter who continually float the “Anderson to NJ” proposed trades that would get laughed off of HFBoards forums. Remember how a lot of us laughed a year ago at Dawson Mercer’s name supposedly being thrown out there for Timo Meier. Get excited for more of that as you roll your eyes. Add in a Habs-centric blog who runs with this ‘story’ and turns it into a hypothetical Alexander Holtz trade and it pours more gasoline onto the fire. Even though there is apparently nothing there.

I’ve worked in sports media for a long time, so I’m familiar with the game that professional sports teams play with the media. Teams will use the media as a test balloon to float ideas out there. They’ll use the media when they want to say a certain player is available via trade, or which coaching candidates they’re speaking to. They use the media to get the public on their side on a particular issue. They use the media to put out the information that THEY want to put out there, and then will guard other information like its a matter of national security. People say the media may have an agenda, and they’re not necessarily wrong to think that, but make no mistake when I say the team has their own agenda as well.

It’s something every team and every GM does to an extent, including Tom Fitzgerald. It’s not a coincidence, for example, that Elliotte Friedman had this nugget about the Devils potentially trading Damon Severson’s rights, only for that trade to actually happen days later. These things happen for a reason. Conversely, we have seen plenty of examples of Fitzgerald striking out of nowhere on players he was actually interested in, from Ryan Graves to Tomas Nosek and everyone in between.

I have little doubt that the Anderson rumors have always come from Montreal-centric media and bloggers trying to connect dots that aren’t there. Here’s the problem with this. Just like the last half-dozen times these rumors have popped up, there’s no logic behind it from a NJ perspective.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room, and the biggest reason why the Devils would not be interested in Anderson. Four years and $5.5M AAV remaining on his bloated contract.

I can understand why the Habs wouldn’t want anything to do with that contract anymore. The current regime in Montreal had nothing to do with that mistake. That deal was one of several mistakes handed out by former GM Marc Bergevin that Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes inherited. Its not ideal as the Habs would surely like that number off of their books so they can use that money in a different manner as they navigate a multi-year rebuild. Unfortunately for them, wishcasting a trade doesn’t just make a bad deal vanish into thin air.

If Montreal wanted to move the contract bad enough, they can do it. As much as we say contracts are untradeable, we have seen time and time again where if there is a willing partner and the executives involved are creative enough, anyone can get traded, regardless of salary, term, and even no-trade clause.

That said, the cost would be fairly high for someone to take on four years and $5.5M AAV. It would likely consist of Montreal surrendering a first round pick plus another quality pick. The Habs would also likely need to retain a portion of his $5.5M salary as well. But that all seems unlikely at this stage of the offseason with so few cap dollars available around the league. It’s certainly not going to be the New Jersey Devils, who currently have $1.9M in cap space. If anything, its far more likely Montreal buys him out with a year or two remaining since there is no bonus money on the deal.

Furthermore, why would anyone who has watched how Tom Fitzgerald has managed the cap for years now think that all of a sudden he’ll splurge on a scoring winger who doesn’t score on a contract that runs four more seasons? The reason Fitzgerald has been able to make moves like trading for and extending Timo Meier, extending Jesper Bratt, and trading for John Marino is because they’ve managed the cap as well as they have and have gotten players like Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Jonas Siegenthaler, among others, to take team-friendly deals. Now, we’re to believe that Fitzgerald is going to take those savings and blow up his cap structure for $5.5M of Josh Anderson for the next four years? It’s far more likely if Fitz has a splash move in him that would compromise the Devils salary structure, it would be to address arguably the biggest need on the roster in goaltender. something I’ve written about earlier this offseason. We have a large enough body of work from Fitzgerald that we, as Devils fans, know he’s much smarter than that.

Why trade “Holtz for a 3rd and Anderson” when you can, say, trade spare parts for a better player in Tyler Toffoli at a smaller cap hit and not be locked in long-term instead? Why tie up precious cap dollars in future years on Anderson when you know Dawson Mercer needs a new deal after this year and Luke Hughes needs one after the following season? Is Josh Anderson doing something that, say, Nolan Foote couldn’t do at 1/6th of the price if you gave him 70+ NHL games this season?

If you’re a Devils fan reading this, you know all this already and you know that Fitzgerald won’t be duped into a mistake like this. If you’re not familiar with how the Devils operate.....please use your heads, people.

There are no logical answers to these questions because there is nothing logical about Josh Anderson becoming a New Jersey Devil.

There’s also the question as to whether or not Anderson is actually a good hockey player. To which I tell me.

Here are his counting stats, courtesy of Hockey-Reference.

Credit: Hockey-Reference

Here are his advanced stats, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

Credit: Natural Stat Trick

And for good measure, here’s his JFresh card.

Credit: JFresh

I’m not an expert, but it looks to me he’s a 30-ish point winger who is bad defensively, bad on the power play, and takes way too many penalties.

Sounds awfully similar to a right-handed version of a player the Devils just let walk in free agency in Miles Wood, doesn’t it?

How does any of this help the Devils?

The answer is it doesn’t.

Now, that’s not to say that Anderson is an awful player. Far from it. He does do some things well. He has a good combination of size (6’3”, 218 lb) and speed, which theoretically would be something the Devils would want. He’s a righty shot. The Devils forward group lacks righty shots. He has a reputation for being a good forechecker. Go back and re-watch both the Rangers and Hurricanes playoff series and tell me whether or not forechecking matters. Anderson is solid on the penalty kill, and even though the Devils are probably set with capable forwards down a man, there is value in that.

Back to Wood for a second though, there’s a reason the Devils let him walk in free agency. They know what their cap situation is and knew that keeping Wood would prevent them from keeping a better player down the road. They knew Wood was a flawed player, one who fell out of favor in the playoffs because he couldn’t stop taking foolish penalties in the offensive zone. They knew it wasn’t worth paying him what he could get on the open market or giving him serious term. Wood got a very good (for him, anyways) contract from the Colorado Avalanche and I will never hate on a player for securing the bag. Careers are short. Get paid as much as you can when you can.

But the Devils are supposedly interested in a similarly flawed player with a similar skillset who also has a more expensive contract?

Again, use your heads, people.

I can accept the argument that Montreal isn’t a very good team. I can accept that their blueline is bad, that they don’t have a goaltender with Carey Price effectively retired, and that their players might look worse than they are as a result. I can accept that his two most common linemates last year at 5v5 were Nick Suzuki and Jonathan Drouin. Drouin is a former 3rd overall pick who might be one of the worst forwards in the NHL and is no longer on the Canadiens. As talented as Suzuki may be, he’s not good enough to elevate inferior linemates. Perhaps Anderson is caught somewhere in the middle of a bad situation and he’d be a better fit in a different environment.

It’s also possible that Anderson is what he is at this point. Entering his age 29 season, he’s a player who has only topped 40 points in a season once. He’s also a player who has a reputation for being a big game player, even though his career playoff numbers do not back that up. Yes, Anderson is big and can forecheck. He’ll hit people and block shots, but is that really worth four more years at $5.5M?

Absolutely not. It’s certainly not worth “Alexander Holtz with a 3rd” as a sweetener, and this is coming from someone who is very skeptical on Alexander Holtz and wouldn’t hesitate to move him tomorrow in the right deal. As flawed as Holtz might be, he’s still on his ELC for two more seasons and is a far more valuable asset than Anderson. I’m not sure its worth it if Montreal paid you a bunch of draft picks and assets to take Anderson on, which doesn’t make any sense from their end considering they’re one of the five worst teams in the NHL. I don’t know that he would be worth it at 50% retained. And even if Anderson was worth it, I don’t think with where the Devils are that he’s worth taking a chance on.

The Devils should not be interested in Josh Anderson, regardless of what the cost is. But I suspect this isn’t the last time we hear these parties linked. It’s the middle of the hockey offseason, people are bored and are putting anything out there for the clicks. I certainly took the bait where I thought it was worth writing 2000+ words on why this makes no sense. My advice to Devils fans who are annoyed that this continues to be a thing would be to do what I didn’t do. Fade the noise. Not just now, but again six months from now, or a year from now, or two years from now when this story inevitably pops up again. Because ‘the noise’ will continue to pop up time and time again until Anderson is ultimately traded elsewhere, bought out, released, or he announces his retirement.

If and when that ever happens and Anderson is a veteran-minimum salary player, perhaps there’s a conversation to be had about whether he makes sense for the Devils. Until then, fade the noise.