The Toronto Maple Leafs have put pen to paper with their final restricted free agent, signing offseason addition Joey Anderson (acquired via the Andreas Johnsson trade) to a three-year, $750k AAV contract.

However minor of a cap hit it may be, this is a pretty interesting contract. Anderson (RW) has signed for three years at a $750k average annual value, with a one-way commitment in the final year and a two-way in the first two, at age 22 after flashing some upside in 52 NHL appearances split between the past two seasons, including eight goals. A three-year term on this kind of deal for this type of player is not something you normally see.

Of course, these aren’t normal times. The squeeze being felt in the uncertain economic climate — with the flat cap and the all-but-guaranteed major revenue shortfall in 2020-21, if the season does happen — certainly contributed to the player’s appetite for jumping at the guaranteed money when it was offered. Anderson has been in and out of the AHL over parts of two pro seasons, and he’s guaranteed himself a full NHL salary in 2022-23, in addition to a bump in pay he’ll receive on his two-way (compared to his entry-level) if he’s in the AHL during the first two seasons.

The deal is all upside and no risk for the Leafs. If Anderson progresses nicely as a capable depth forward who can bring some jam and chip in some secondary offense, it is great value on the margins, which is exactly where the Leafs need to be really efficient and resourceful if they’re to navigate the depressed cap successfully in the coming years as a contending team tight to the ceiling with $40 million committed to four forwards. Looking ahead to the need to secure the future of the starting goaltending position and the prospect of getting Morgan Rielly under contract in 2022, it’s absolutely critical.

Like the inking of Michael Hutchinson earlier today for two years to give them expansion draft options, the three-year term for Anderson with the one-way NHL salary in the final year is smart business (i.e. good use of MLSE resources) by Brandon Pridham and Kyle Dubas. Anderson could certainly earn his way into being a regular contributor on a bargin-bin contract in the Leafs‘ forward group over the next three seasons, after which he’ll be an RFA under the team’s control. If he doesn’t progress, there is absolutely no downside.

Of course, the team has to hit on a few of these bargain bets in the form of the player panning out in order to actually reap the benefits, on the ice and in the cap books.

Anthony Petrielli recently made the point about Anderson as a potential low-key bottom-six wildcard:

Joey Anderson is intriguing; he is at an age and games played total where he still has potential, and he understands his role based on his comments regarding Zach Hyman. He could hypothetically give the team a much-needed different look in the bottom six. I think he could become sneaky important for the Leafs given the potential element he could add.

In training camp, Anderson will be in competition on the right wing in behind Mitch Marner and William Nylander, where the Leafs also have Wayne Simmonds (signed for one year) and likely Jason Spezza (signed for one year) among the regulars.  It could be a situation this season where there is a more active rotation with the vets if we’re looking at regional bubbles with condensed slates of games. If Anderson is not an everyday regular this season, though, he is waiver exempt and there is the potential for more opportunity opening up in the future should he earn it.