Heading into the season, it looked like Max Domi was heading towards a long-term contract. But after some struggles, what is the best course of action for the Habs to take? Our writers weigh in with their thoughts.
Allan Katz: Domi is a bit of a conundrum and there’s bound to be a fairly wide spectrum of opinion of what to do with him. As a fan, I really like this guy. He had an almost great season last year and this year he had an okay season but barely. So the question is who’s the real Domi? Max Domi is a classic example of why bridge deals make sense. He hasn’t quite placed himself in a specific niche but he’s obviously a young NHL talent. The fact is the team did poorly and Max was in the middle of that.
I understand Domi is finishing his previous bridge deal, but if they have any doubt on what he could achieve I say risk it, light a fire under him, and make him force the Habs to pay big or walk a free man. A two-year bridge deal for $9 to $11 million total might be a nice catch for him and give him breathing room to get one really great contract if his play shows he’s worthy.
Trading him would be risky since his value is low right now and he seems to have the talent to bounce back. Two pieces of info can only be guessed at. 1) Does he want to stay? (General consensus is he does.) 2) Does management believe he’s a winner? (Don’t know.) But I do have a trade package that fans will love; Max Domi, Marc Bergevin, Geoff Molson, and Claude Julien for an established twenty goal scorer and three 7th round draft picks. Now some of you might protest this as a cynical suggestion… Yup.
Brian La Rose: This may be Bergevin’s biggest question to answer this offseason. Domi has the potential to be a core player for the Habs for a while but with other centres pushing for bigger roles and his struggles on the wing, he’s also potentially expendable. (On a side note, it’s nice to have the possibility of having too many quality centres after having that position be a huge weakness for a long time.)
I don’t think he has shown enough to warrant a long-term deal so this could be a situation where a second bridge deal makes some sense. They’ve gone that way in recent years including with the player they traded for him in Alex Galchenyuk. With the cap projection dropping as a result of recent events, that may free up a bit of wiggle room as well to do some other stuff.
I’d be okay with moving him in the near future but not necessarily right away. What version of Kotkaniemi will the Habs get next season? Will Suzuki have a sophomore slump? Domi is essentially the security blanket for those. Does Danault get an early extension? Moving Domi without a signed Danault carries some risk as well. I also get the sense that Bergevin doesn’t want to move him and genuinely thinks he’s part of Montreal’s long-term core.
I could see them going the Galchenyuk route with a three-year deal that only buys out one UFA year with a price tag in the low to mid $5M range. He was trending to get more than that at the start of the season but it’s hard to justify giving a player that was iffy to get to 50 points more than that. If Bergevin’s really sold on him, maybe he adds a fourth year that puts the price tag closer to $6M. If a trade is coming, it won’t be this summer but the following offseason may be the likelier time for one to happen.
Kevin Leveille: To me, Domi is such a complex case for GM Marc Bergevin. Domi is in direct competition with Phillip Danault, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Nick Suzuki as better suited for some playing time as 2C-3C. Danault getting the de facto role as 1C until one of the other three can perhaps develop as a real 1C is fine, but Domi seems the least likely to reach that level at this point with Suzuki being the most likely. Suzuki and Kotkaniemi both improved in the dot too, whereas Domi hasn’t all that much.
Notice I haven’t even touched on other C potential options Jake Evans and Ryan Poehling? The team also has plenty of middle line wing options compared to their obvious need on defence, so even the move to the wing isn’t a great idea.
This means that Domi’s status is likely tied to two things over the offseason. The first is the salary demands of top left winger Tomas Tatar while the second is Domi’s appetite to sign a short-term deal to give the organization time to see who slots in where longer term. Tatar’s contract demands will either keep him in Montreal long term forcing Bergevin to move someone else (Domi), or Tatar will move freeing up some money for Domi. But Domi willing to sign a “prove it” deal is important too.
Too many forward pieces have higher potential than Domi and there is too significant a need on the blueline which means that if Domi wants term on his deal, it’ll be easy to find a team searching for a 2C-3C option to partner with and swing an excellent hockey trade. All in all, I think Domi ends up being the one traded here; here’s hoping the defenceman coming back will be worth giving up on a player that I think would be a clutch guy in a 7-game series.
Dave Woodward: Domi had a career year last season and regressed in 2019-20. In my view, Habs fans have been undervaluing him too much as a result.
Domi is an energetic player who gives his all every game. He also loves playing in a hockey market like Montreal. Those positive characteristics are not to be underestimated.
Domi’s lacklustre year was not surprising for a few reasons. He missed playing with Andrew Shaw and Jonathan Drouin. Also, the prior year was materially better than his previous three NHL seasons. Some regression had to be expected.
It remains to be seen what type of NHLer Domi will be going forward. His years in Arizona were more similar to his 2019-20 season. Yet, 2018-19 showed his potential when matched with linemates that developed some chemistry.
The Canadiens have some depth at centre in terms of prospects and young developing players. However, Danault and Domi are the only players who have put together strong NHL seasons at the position. To be sure, Suzuki looks to be a potential rising star. Poehling and Kotkaniemi provide us with hope that the future will not be as bleak as the recent past. However, none of these three young players have performed as well as Domi did in 2018-19. For these reasons, Domi should be signed, subject to reasonable terms being negotiated.
Given the significant variance in Domi’s performance the last two years, a bridge deal of one or three years makes the most sense (with Domi being UFA-eligible in two years). I suspect a salary of $5 million to $6.5 million per annum will be required to get the deal done.
It is important for any UFA years in Domi’s contract to exclude a no-movement clause. The Canadiens have a glaring weakness on the left side of their defence and a trade involving Max Domi may be required to address the problem. It could be that Suzuki, Kotkaniemi and/ or Poehling (or even Evans) emerge sufficiently to enable the Habs to move Domi for a top-four left defenceman. The Canadiens must keep the option of trading Domi open in these contract negotiations for this reason.