Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports

Should Calgary pursue Montreal’s Max Domi?

It’s increasingly looking like Max Domi might be one of this off-season’s first trade Domi-noes to fall.

Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette reported Monday that Domi, having just completed his second season as a Canadien, has fired his agent, Pat Brisson, and is potentially on the outs in Montreal as he becomes a restricted free agent this fall.

Cowan had this to say about the deteriorating bond between Domi and the Habs:

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The relationship between Domi and Claude Julien hasn’t been great and it certainly didn’t improve after the Canadiens head coach put Domi on the fourth line during the postseason … With Phillip Danault, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi at centre, the Canadiens no longer appear to have a spot for Domi down the middle. Domi certainly won’t want to be a fourth-liner and the Canadiens won’t want to pay him what he will get from his next contract to fill that role.

Domi turned 25 in March and is coming off a season which saw him fall well short of the expectations he commanded following a dynamite 2018–19 campaign. He followed up a 28-goal, 72-point debut season in Montreal by scoring 17 goals and 44 points in 2019–20.

His playoff performance left even more to be desired. Domi went goalless in 10 games and only scored three assists in that timeframe while seeing his average ice-time cut down from 17:06 in the regular season to 14:21 against the Penguins and Flyers.

Domi’s zero-goal playoff performance doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the player he typically is on a nightly basis. But can he be reliably counted on to score 72 points again, or anything even close to that? Let’s take a look.

The Phoenix connection

Flames GM Brad Treliving and VP of Hockey Operations Don Maloney certainly know what Max Domi can bring to a hockey team. In 2013, when the two executives helmed the Phoenix Coyotes’ management staff, they enthusiastically selected Domi 12th overall at that year’s draft.

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“Whether it’s making a play, his puck pursuit — he reminds me of Marty St. Louis right now, the way he’s controlling the play with the puck on his stick,” said Maloney in 2015, during Domi’s tenure with the OHL’s London Knights. “What he’s showing us right now, (he’s) somebody to get excited about.”

In advance of the 2013 draft, scouts heralded Domi as a tremendous playmaker with the ability to play with some of the truculence that made his father, Tie, a professional nuisance during his tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In Phoenix, Domi delivered reasonably well on those promises. He put up 99 assists in his first three seasons (222 games), tied with Jonathan Toews, Seth Jones, and Mike Hoffman (all of whom played more games) for 67th among all NHL players in that time span. He finished sixth in Calder Trophy voting in 2016 and got in his fair share of fights along the way.

Domi scored 18 goals as a rookie and followed that up with nine goals in 59 games the next season. But, despite playing a full season in 2017–18, Domi scored just nine goals yet again and twice went over a month without scoring a goal. He still registered 150 shots, good for sixth on the ‘Yotes, but he only capitalized on six percent of them.

The Coyotes sought more goal-scoring after finishing second-last in that category in 2017–18. With Maloney and Treliving both gone and new GM John Chayka at the helm, Arizona shipped Domi off to the Canadiens in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk that summer.

Highs and lows in Montreal

After playing primarily on the left wing during his three seasons in the desert, Domi shifted to the centre position in Montreal. The move immediately paid off for the Habs, as he exploded by expectations en route to leading the team with 72 points. For a year, Domi lived up to his draft billing and looked like a number-one centre.

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Or did he? Domi more than doubled his 2017–18 shooting percentage in his debut year with Montreal, going from six percent to 13.8%. Domi’s career average in that department is 10.2%, and both years’ figures rank as extremes at either end of the spectrum for his career.

Domi’s expected goals percentage of 52.84% in 2018–19 ranked 18th among the Habs’ 28 skaters. His Corsi% of 51.22% ranked 21st, and his high-danger Corsi% of 54.01% ranked 13th. These analytics don’t tell the whole story about his on-ice impact, but it’s important to note that, even in his most productive season, Domi’s underlying impact was pretty average.

Fig. 1: Max Domi’s career, told analytically (statistics from Natural Stat Trick)

Season Team Games Played Goals-Assists-Points On-ice xGF% at 5v5 (rank on team, min. 100:00 TOI) On-ice CF% at 5v5 (rank on team, min. 100:00 TOI) On-ice HDCF% at 5v5 (rank on team, min. 100:00 TOI)
2015­–16 Arizona 81 18-34-52 46.19 (8th of 25) 46.49 (14th of 25) 47.94 (12th of 25)
2016­–17 Arizona 59 9-29-38 41.17 (17th of 25) 45.01 (15th of 25) 38.62 (20th of 25)
2017­–18 Arizona 82 9-36-45 46.23 (14th of 25) 47.98 (11th of 25) 45.43 (18th of 25)
2018–19 Montreal 82 28-44-72 52.84 (18th of 28) 51.22 (21st of 28) 52.79 (13th of 28)
2019–20 Montreal 71 17-27-44 52.94 (12th of 28) 52.12 (19th of 28) 53.33 (17th of 28)

As you can see, Domi’s analytical impact in these three categories has consistently been middling throughout his career. Since the stats listed above are all percentage statistics based on individual cumulative offensive and defensive figures, it is possible to isolate whether these percentages are impacted by whether a player is suffering more in the offensive or defensive zone.

In Domi’s case, his defensive play falters in comparison to his teammates. This season, the Canadiens surrendered 35.04 expexcted goals’ worth of chances in Domi’s 961:39 of ice-time (2.19 xGA/60). In comparison, Domi’s teammates Philip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki, and Artturi Lehkonen surrendered 1.99, 2.04, 2.08, 1.94, and 2.07 xGA/60, respectively.

But Domi certainly possesses the offensive attributes that Arizona and Montreal have both coveted. His vision and passing are both superb. He’s a great skater and is smart about finding positioning in the offensive zone. But even his solid xGF/60 mark of 2.46 from last year fell behind the Habs’ superb first line of Danault, Gallagher and Tatar.

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Domi is a good offensive player, but he has yet to find the right combination for his skills. His initially promising-looking connection with Jonathan Drouin failed to materialize into a long-term engagement.

A Calgary fit?

From the Flames’ perspective, they might see Domi as a player who could connect with a player like Matthew Tkachuk. Both players thrive in physical situations and are both gifted playmakers with great hockey IQ. The Flames could see Tkachuk as a player who could impart some of his defensive gifts into Domi’s game. If a line with Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, and Max Domi were to come together and click, it would likely score a lot of goals and rustle a lot of feathers along the way. It certainly helps that Domi is able to play both centre and the wing.

But there’s also a fair amount of risk at play in acquiring Domi. For one, he’s a restricted free agent this fall in need of an extension. Domi is two years away from being a UFA and is due a one-year qualifying offer of $2.9 million this off-season.

If the Flames were to acquire Domi, however, both sides would probably have interest in crafting a long-term contract. Domi would probably like some stability after a second trade since 2018. And the Flames might be able to get a good value AAV on a Domi contract if they extended him after a disappointing season (buying low, so to speak). Domi is represented by Darren Ferris, the agent involved in last summer’s contentious Mitch Marner contract negotiation (he also reps Sam Bennett and Tobias Rieder).

As for what a trade could entail, well, Montreal is short on defenders and they did reasonably well before in acquiring Brett Kulak from Calgary. Oliver Kylington could be a target. It’s also easy to envision a second-round pick being involved in a deal. Domi comparable Andreas Athanasiou was dealt at the trade deadline to Edmonton in exchange for two seconds; Kylington and a second could constitute similar value for the Habs.

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Max Domi is not a perfect player, but he has offensive upside, versatility, and snarl that could make the Flames’ brass drool. Brad Treliving and Don Maloney know the player very well and it would not be at all surprising to see them return to that well.