Max Domi has been an interesting player for the Montreal Canadiens every since they acquired him two offseasons ago from the Arizona Coyotes. In his first preseason game on Sept. 19, 2018, he knocked down Aaron Ekblad with an unsuspecting punch. That act would suspend Domi for the rest of the preseason.
He followed that up with a career season with 28 goals and 72 points in 82 games. It was the season people in Arizona expected him to eventually have after a rookie season of 18 goals and 52 points in 81 games.
This season has played in three parts so far. After a promising start of 10 points in 10 games, he only produced three points in the following 12 games. The next 17 games have seen him put up seven goals and 16 points in 17 games, including goals in the past five straight games.
As his current contract ends at the end of this season, one of the main things on the Canadiens agenda is to re-sign Domi. The question is what that contract should be, as it is currently difficult to identify what player they’ll get.
Domi the Coyote
When he was going through his dip in his production, Domi was showing plenty of similar signs to when he had two subpar seasons in Arizona before the Canadiens traded for him. As he only mustered a total of 18 goals in his second and third seasons, it was questionable when the piece that went the other way was Alex Galchenyuk, a player who scored 30 goals at one point.
When he struggles, Domi visibly demonstrates less passion and less drive in his game. His physicality diminishes, he is less engaged and does not find himself in a good position to create scoring chances.
Contrarily, an effective Domi is one who displays passion, drive and skilled hands. When he had his breakout first season with the Canadiens, it was evident in his play that being a part of the Canadiens organization was something he took great pride in. He always dreamed of playing in a big NHL market as his father did. He showed that he enjoys playing in pressure situations and that was a big reason many thought he would not suffer a dip in production this season.
When signing the next contract, the Canadiens will have to consider which version of this player to expect.
Not Domi-nant, but Talented
He may not ever reach elite status, but Domi is currently the team’s most skilled centreman. His importance to the team in this way may grant him some leverage in negotiations. Domi can argue that no other centre on the team, that has lacked skilled centres for so long, has his abilities.
If we were to project this season’s totals by looking at his current point-per-game pace, Domi could finish with 60 points. It would be reasonable to believe that his ceiling is somewhere in the middle of this and his 72 points from last season.
In terms of comparables across the league, there are a few examples that come close to Domi. First is Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets. The two players currently have the exact amount of points in the exact amount of games since the beginning of last season. Also similarly to Domi, Connor was a restricted free agent who didn’t sign in-season; he signed this past September a seven-year contract with an average of just over $7 million a year.
Because Connor is a winger and is not the top offensive threat on the team, Domi may have a compelling argument for a larger contract than that. Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings is perhaps a better comparison. Just one year apart, the two players are top centres on teams that don’t have an exceptional amount of talent on offence (from “In search of balance, Red Wings put Zadina on top line with Larkin, Mantha”, The Detroit News, 12/20/19). Larkin is currently playing with a five-year contract with a cap hit just over $6 million. However, he signed that contract after completing his entry-level contract.
Somewhere between Larkin’s and Connor’s cap hits would be ideal from the Canadiens’ perspective. Given his importance to the team, Domi’s camp may argue to give him a higher cap hit than Connor. At this point, there may be no negotiations until the end of the season.
If Domi can find the consistency to have this season be similar to the previous, he may be able to have a more solid case to make closer to $8 million per season. Perhaps a $7 million cap hit over five or six years would make both sides happy.