Hours after announcing a bolster of organizational goaltending depth via the return of Michael Hutchinson, the Toronto Maple Leafs have successfully signed the last of their restricted free agents. On Friday afternoon, the team announced a three-year deal with Joey Anderson.
The contract is part two-way, part one-way, with his third season being paid for in full NHL terms. The annual average value comes in at $750,000; just barely over the current league minimum salary of $700,000.
Anderson was acquired by the Maple Leafs on October 10th, in a trade that saw Andreas Johnsson head to the New Jersey Devils. While the deal was made primarily to create salary cap relief for a team shuffling around the ceiling, the Maple Leafs rejected offers of draft picks in the upper-mid rounds to specifically acquire the 22-year-old winger.
Drafted in the third round of the 2016 entry draft by the Devils, Anderson spent his first two post-draft years playing for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, putting up 64 points in 75 games – very respectable totals for a player of his age. He also represented the United States at the World Juniors in each of those years, including as their captain in 2018.
Anderson went pro in 2018/19, and has split time between New Jersey and their AHL affiliate in Binghamton. At the highest level, he’s put up 15 points in 52 games, to go with slightly positive team-relative possession numbers, with his best impacts coming in the defensive end. Down in the minors, he’s scored 40 points in 57 games, including 34 in 44 this past season.
The hope that the Leafs organization has with Anderson is that he fits in a similar mold to former Devil, and current Tampa Bay Lightning forward Blake Coleman, who emerged from the Devils system to be come a high-quality support forward – one who can get under your skin, contribute some offence, and has strong defensive IQ. They even have very similar builds, both standing at 5’11 and about 200 pounds. Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has made efforts to get players like this in the past – like Coleman and his current teammate Yanni Gourde, and while those efforts didn’t come to fruition, he did hit paydirt in 2015 when he made a similar bet on then-Panthers asset Zach Hyman, who Anderson has compared himself to.
Whether or not Anderson gets to that point in his development remains to be see, but the combination of his qualitative and quantitative assets lead one to believe that a distinct possibility is there – especially since he’s showing this potential years ahead of the three aforementioned hit their strides. I would expect that he starts the upcoming season with the Marlies (or whatever AHL equivalent gets decided on), playing heavy minutes to round out his play both on and off the puck.
An extension at this price is a huge win for the club, in that sense – it gives them a year to develop him and two years to have him play for the team at next to no cost. Anderson took well under his potential Year 2 and 3 value to get this deal done – likely made possible by the one-way nature of the third year, which gives him a premium payment for his services if he doesn’t pan out, but still not one that hurts the Leafs from a salary cap perspective. It’s the sort of risk that a big-budget organization can take, and one that can pay large dividends here if all goes to paln.