Montreal Canadiens: Don’t Be So Quick To Toss Max Domi Aside

TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 12: Max Domi #13 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 12: Max Domi #13 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens buried Max Domi on their depth chart for most of the playoffs. Can he find a role next season?

The Montreal Canadiens depth at the centre ice position was questioned for many, many years. Once upon a time they had Pierre Turgeon and Vincent Damphousse in their primes with a young Saku Koivu emerging. That was 1996, and they quickly decided they needed to move on from Turgeon.

For most of Koivu’s career, the team was not deep down the middle. The Finnish centre was a terrific leader and had some great seasons while he filled in as the number one centre. There was one year where Tomas Plekanec and Robert Lang lined up behind him, but the team basically fell apart when Lang was injured.

They just haven’t had that much depth at the position for decades. However, that seems to be changing.

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The Canadiens made a great trade when they sent Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise, who were both on expiring deals, to the Chicago Blackhawks for Phillip Danault and a second round pick. They made another tremendous deal when Max Pacioretty was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a second round pick. They were on the winning side of yet another deal when Alex Galchenyuk was sent to the Arizona Coyotes for Max Domi.

In the midst of all this trading, they also drafted Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall.

Suddenly, the team had to many centres. When the Montreal Canadiens joined the other 23 NHL teams who were involved in the 2020 postseason, they had tons of depth down the middle.

Suzuki was terrific against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Kotkaniemi found his game after being demoted to the AHL in January. Danault has been a great two-way threat for years now. With Suzuki and Kotkaniemi earning top six minutes in the postseason, Danault was reduced to a third line role and Domi was reduced to even less.

Returning to play at all this year was a difficult decision for Domi. He was diagnosed with diabetes as a child and this put him in a higher risk group when it comes to the coronavirus. He sat out the first week of training camp trying to decide whether it was safe or not to return to play.

He eventually did come back to play, but it seemed to surprise head coach Claude Julien who didn’t really have room in his lineup for Domi. The 25 year old son of Toronto Maple Leafs former enforcer Tie Domi, was then pencilled in as the team’s fourth line centre. This gave him minutes with the likes of Alex Belzile, Jordan Weal and Dale Weise as his wingers.

It didn’t allow Domi to play his best hockey and the timing could not have been worse. Domi is a restricted free agent who was hoping to be cashing in on a huge contract right now.

He looked well on his way to a massive payday a year ago. Domi was acquired for Galchenyuk in June of 2018 and would score 28 goals and 72 points in the 2018-19 season. Young centres who can put up those kinds of numbers have been getting paid.

However, this season did not go as well. He finished with 17 goals and 44 points in 71 games before the season was paused. In ten postseason games, he failed to score a goal and had just three assists.

His down season, and a quick change of agents in the past week, has led to speculation Domi could be on his way out of town. It is easy to look at his 17 goals in 71 regular season games and his minimal role in the series win over the Pittsburgh Penguins and think Domi is expendable.

However, centres who score 72 points at the age of 24 for the Montreal Canadiens are pretty rare. Since 1997, when Damphousse scored 81 points, only Koivu, Plekanec and Domi have reached 70 points while playing centre in Montreal.

Will Suzuki and Kotkaniemi be the next added to that list? Maybe, but until they do they won’t be able to claim they are more productive than Domi.

When Domi arrived from Arizona, there was plenty of chatter that he would fit in perfect in a hockey mad city like Montreal. He grew up hanging out at Air Canada Center and watching his father suit up for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hockey has been in his veins since he was born and it was thought a change of scenery from a hockey afterthought like Phoenix to a hockey hotbed like Montreal would invigorate Domi.

It sure did in that first season. His mixture of speed and feistiness was fun to watch that year as he tried to carry the team offensively into the postseason. They fell just two points short, but you got to see the value a skilled, gritty player like Domi could bring in big games.

Then, when he finally got to play in big games, it was under the coronavirus cloud and while he was trying to play catch up with weak wingers after missing a week of camp.

Lots of players have a down season only to bounce back later. Just a few years ago, Taylor Hall had a disappointing season for the New Jersey Devils where he scored just 20 goals and barely had 50 points. He won the Hart Trophy the next year.

I’m not saying Domi is going to win the league MVP next year. But I am saying the plethora of fans who have all but chased Domi out of town are overreacting to one mediocre season. Domi is still just 25 years old and is learning what it takes to be at the top of his game every night. He brings energy and grit that is needed on the Habs roster and would be sorely missed if he were to be traded.

Next. Potential Danault Trades. dark

The Canadiens will have a busy offseason with thier 12 draft picks, plenty of cap space for free agency and holes to fill in the lineup. Hopefully, their many changes don’t include the departure of Max Domi.