Max Domi, the Canadiens’ Next Big Decision

With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching on Feb. 24, the expectation now that the Montreal Canadiens are sitting 10 points out of a playoff position is for general manager Marc Bergevin to become a seller.

Marc Bergevin
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

Bergevin has been clear from the start of his reset, he will not mortgage the future to make the playoffs. With recent rumors suggesting that Max Domi could be used as a trade chip, should Domi be part of the team’s future or used to bring in assets?

The Rumor

Normally, rumors begin from Twitter handles like the “insiderrrr” or random musings on post-game shows where analysts play armchair GM. One in particular is from a respected journalist who floated this idea, an act usually done if he has heard rumblings from the team he covers. In this case it is Michael Russo of The Athletic who covers the Minnesota Wild.

In his latest article, Russo states:

“The Canadiens would likely part with center Max Domi, maybe in a trade for Brodin because they have a surplus at Domi’s position and could use a quality left-shot defenceman,”

from ‘Russo: Wild’s latest blown lead shows why Bill Guerin has tough choice ahead,’ The Athletic, Feb 14 2020.

Is it Viable?

It’s true, the Canadiens have been in search of a left-handed partner for Shea Weber for three seasons. At 26 years of age, Jonas Brodin would fit that role perfectly. He has one more season left at $4.166 million, he can play heavy minutes in all situations reliably, and is very mobile.

Jonas Brodin
Jonas Brodin (Photo: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports)

Also, for the first time in over 20 years, the Canadiens have depth at center. Domi, Nick Suzuki, Phillip Danault, Ryan Poehling, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and even Jake Evans are the future of the Canadiens’ center depth. Does this make Domi expendable? Of course it does, but that doesn’t mean his offence is expendable from the top-six either.

Related: NHL’s Best Farm System Rankings – Midseason Update

Despite not having the season he had in 2018-19 when he put up 28 goals and 72 points, Domi is still in line for a respectable 50 points. Respectable as a winger that is. He is also one of a handful of players who enjoy playing in the Montreal spotlight. That type of attitude is not easy to find.

Domi’s Contract

Domi signed a two-year bridge deal immediately after arriving from the Arizona Coyotes in the Alex Galchenyuk trade, which now looks to be a slam dunk for Bergevin as he still has a young forward who is producing points.

As mentioned, Domi’s first season was electric and highly productive. Fans on social media were buzzing last summer that he should be signed immediately to an $8 million per year long-term extension, but Bergevin, and more so Domi’s camp, decided to let this season play out; the team was looking for a more reasonable contract, the player to get as much as possible on a long-term deal. 

Max Domi Montreal Canadiens
Max Domi, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Now, with a dip in production and some discipline issues causing inopportune penalties, his value has dropped to the Jonathan Drouin value level, which is somewhere around $5.5 million per season over six or seven seasons. If he signs that, however, it means he will be moved to the wing, mostly due to the team’s depth. If Bergevin plans on doing this, it could also make Tomas Tatar expendable this summer. If he doesn’t, it could make Domi the trade chip to fill a gap on defence.

Looking Ahead

Fans have been hoping for that mythical top pair left defenceman and some feel Alexander Romanov is the player who will fill that role. However, even if Romanov does come to North America and earns a spot on the roster in October, at only 20 years of age, he shouldn’t be seen as the solution on the top pairing. That level of expectation and pressure is too high for a rookie. 

Alexander Romanov Team Russia
VANCOUVER, BC – DECEMBER 28: Alexander Romanov #26 of Russia skates with the puck in Group A hockey action of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship action against the Czech Republic on December, 28, 2018 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

That being said, it’s advantageous that the Canadiens’ prospect pool is highly rated by the hockey community. In this case, ranked top two in the NHL by Scott Wheeler, who stated:

“They blended a top-tier prospect with legitimate depth at every position,”

from ‘Wheeler’s 2020 NHL prospect pool Rankings: No.2 Montreal Canadiens,’ The Athletic, Feb. 11 2020.

Having many prospects on the rise at left wing and at center at his disposal will allow Bergevin to fill the gap on defence, perhaps even without sacrificing the future. After missing the playoffs four of the last five seasons, and including a first-round playoff exit, Bergevin may see this summer as his final chance to remain as GM for the Canadiens.

If he does see it that way, the rumor floated by Mr. Russo is not that far-fetched and may be Bergevin’s best opportunity to solidify a defence that is in line with the new NHL requirement of a more mobile one that moves the puck quickly, especially for a team built on speed.

This leaves Bergevin with a difficult decision: keep Domi as a winger and hope he can continue to produce in that role, or trade him in a pure hockey trade to finally solve the top-pair defensive issue on the left side.

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