MONTREAL — Ever since the Canadiens left the bubble, perception has driven the conversation around Max Domi’s future in Montreal. And the perception has largely been that he wants out and they want him out.
It’s understandable. When a 72-point producer one year dips to 44 points the next year, and then ends up centring the fourth line in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, people are going to wonder if he still has a place on the roster. Especially when that player is due a contract, when the depth chart at his position is suddenly jammed, and when he fires his agent and hires one who’s not afraid to get into protracted negotiations.
And it didn’t take much for people to jump to conclusions over something as benign as Domi changing his location on his social media accounts.
Who can blame them? It wasn’t exactly a quantum leap to take that as a sign he was unhappy with his situation. Especially since he didn’t have much to be happy about.
But Domi’s new agent, Darren Ferris, wanted to set the record straight on that, and a few other items that have contributed to speculation the partnership between Domi and the Canadiens is headed towards severance. Because, based on what Ferris told Sportsnet Friday, that’s not necessarily the case.
"Max’s desire is and always has been to stay in Montreal," Ferris said, reiterating that — as he told our Elliotte Friedman two weeks ago — Domi has not requested a trade.
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin confirmed as much a little over a week ago in an interview with TVA Sports. When Bergevin was asked if Domi asked out, he replied: "No, never."
On the sudden disappearance of "MTL" from Domi’s social accounts, Bergevin said it had been brought to his attention but that it wasn’t something he felt inclined to discuss with Domi. Meaning, he didn’t read much into it.
Ferris felt that should’ve been everyone’s approach regarding that.
"He was very distraught by the comments many made when he returned home to Toronto and his location was changed on his social media from ‘MTL,’" Ferris said. "It wasn’t a statement of discontent with Montreal; it was simply a young man on social media changing the location to where he was residing. If he were in Florida on vacation, he would’ve put Florida.
"That’s how crazy it is. It’s shameful that some in the media would portray this as a slight against Montreal or the Canadiens. This is a talented young man that only dreamed his whole life to have the opportunity to play on a Canadian team."
In fairness, Domi had simply scrubbed "MTL" off his accounts and not updated his location. But he’s since put it back in his bios, and Friday’s comments from his agent at least clarify Montreal is where he wants to be.
On the perception that Domi wants to play centre and would prefer to play elsewhere if he can’t play centre with the Canadiens, Ferris was unequivocal.
"Max will play goalie if the coach asks him to," Ferris said.
On the issue of where Domi lines up, he and the Canadiens agree he’s best suited to play centre.
Here’s what coach Claude Julien said about it during his season-ending conference call: "We, as an organization, like him better as a centreman. I think the fact that he’s a good skater, that he could move around, it suits him much better."
And Bergevin told TVA last week he still believes there’s room for Domi at that position, even if Phillip Danault is a lock there, Nick Suzuki has established himself there, Jesperi Kotkaniemi is poised to continue his progression there, and Jake Evans signed a contract extension this week to play there.
"The year he had a big year was at centre," Bergevin said. "Can he play there and produce? Yes. He had a tough season, but recently our two youngsters took a huge step forward and Max, like KK and Nick… next training camp will start and the players who play the best will get the ice time, because we’re here to win.
"So if Max Domi performs, internal competition is always good. So if Max becomes the player he was his first year, and if one of Nick or KK has some difficulty, Max will play."
But speculation Domi will play for another team isn’t going to die down, because that might prove to be what’s best for both him and the Canadiens.
They need help on the wing, he’s yet to prove he can be nearly as effective at that position as he can be up the middle, and he might have enough value to help fill that hole via trade.
And then there’s the contract situation.
Though Bergevin said back in March he doesn’t anticipate a difficult negotiation with Domi, we don’t see how it’s going to be an easy one.
Domi is arbitration-eligible and coming off a two-year, $6.3-million contract. He’s poised to argue that only Tomas Tatar has produced more than his 116 points, and that only Tatar and Brendan Gallagher have produced more than his 45 goals since he arrived in Montreal via trade with the Arizona Coyotes in 2018. He will also be able to prove he helped make certain players around him better, with players like Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen having career seasons beside him.
And Bergevin can counter by suggesting the 28-goal, 72-point output Domi had in 2018-19 was the outlier in a career that’s seen him average 16 goals and 50 points over his five seasons.
As for Domi’s 17-goal, 44-point 2019-20 season — and his three points in 10 playoff games — Bergevin told TVA the following:
"Max is a very intelligent player and he’s able to sit down, watch his games and see things. A thing that popped to my eyes — and he agreed, too — was that his difficulty this season is that Max is a player that has power and skill and, in his first year, he played more power ahead of skill, but this year he played more with skill and less with power. He needs to get back to playing with power before skill. He battled with that the whole year and I think it’s the reason he had a harder season."
It’s why Domi’s place at centre is less secure. And, by consequence, it’s not out of line to suggest his place on the team is less secure.
Would the Canadiens be willing to give him a long-term deal knowing he might not win out in the competition at centre? Can they even offer Domi one he’d accept right now?
We won’t firmly suggest the answer is no to both of those questions, but a one-year deal seems much more likely, and a one-year deal isn’t going to quiet speculation he’ll be moved — especially if it’s awarded by an arbiter rather than agreed upon by both parties.
For what it’s worth, sources we checked in with over the last few weeks say the Canadiens aren’t looking to trade Domi just for the sake of getting rid of him. And two of them said that though his name is certainly out there, there’s a general sense that’s more a function of perception than it is actual conversation.
That’s not going to change until something gives — a contract extension, a trade, something.
Meanwhile, Ferris has instructed Domi to not do any interviews, and he said he would not comment on negotiations with Bergevin "out of respect for the process."
We know Bergevin won’t, either, given his long-term policy of not publicly commenting on negotiations.
So we’re just going to have to wait and see how this all shakes out.