Team Identity: Should MTL Sell Their Unicorn

Why the Habs should think twice about trading Max Domi

With trade rumors swirling around the Montreal Canadiens’ Max Domi, Corey and I took at deeper look at his tactical impact on the Habs since arriving via trade from the Arizona Coyotes.

Domi: Elite Offensive Creator

In Corey’s tracking data, Domi shows up as the Habs’ most active neutral-zone puck carrier this season:

In addition to his high-end transitional abilities, Domi also ranks as MTL’s most dangerous playmaker in the offensive zone.

His ability to complete passes into the high-danger area in the OZ is on par with that of Johnny Gaudreau, who is allegedly on the Calgary Flames’ trade block.

On a team with plenty of speed and hustle but precious little finish, Domi represents an X-factor: a lateral thinker able to manufacture grade-A chances better than 90 percent of NHL forwards.


Domi: Agent of Change

The 25 year old has been a top offensive weapon for the Canadiens on an individual level, but his presence also seemed to have encouraged teammates to attempt more high risk/high reward plays themselves.

Corey notes the following regarding the change in MTL’s statistical profile over the past three seasons:

“I never would have expected this systemic shift from a Claude Julien team. Phillip Danault was good in transition as a center but the whole team seemed to take it to another level when Domi arrived.”

2017-18: 46.2% Controlled Entries

  • 15th in the league in even-strength xG differential (Evolving-Hockey.com)

  • MTL employs a dump-and-chase style and a 1-2-2 trap

  • Brendan Gallagher leads the team in scoring with just 54 points in 82 games

    Domi is acquired for Alex Galchenyuk in June 2018

2018-19: 55% Controlled Entries

  • 5th in the league in even-strength xG differential

  • The entire team embraces a fast, dynamic style based on quick transitions and NZ lateral passing

  • Domi leads the team with 72 points in 82 games.

2019-20: 52% Controlled Entries

  • 2nd in the league in even-strength xG differential

  • Domi slumps to 44 points but still finishes 3rd in team scoring

  • MTL upsets the favored Pittsburgh Penguins in the play-in round before pushing the Philadelphia Flyers to six games

In under three years the Habs went from boring bottom-feeders to a dominant force at 5v5.

Their top offensive center in the midst of this revolution: Max Domi.

Domi is by no means a perfect player - his defensive impacts are poor, he has a tendency to get out-muscled along the wall and he may not get on with every one of his colleagues.

But he is undoubtedly a driver for change, whose particularly effective way of playing seems to rub off on his teammates.

This factor makes him the rarest and most valuable of players, those who are able to drive a cultural shift within a team.

Will the Habs sell him? For how much?

Regardless of the outcome, Domi’s modus operandi - attacking the middle, looking for space and making quick passing plays - is a way of playing worth embracing for his future teams.

Want more unique analysis of unique player attributes? 

If you enjoy this newsletter and want to see more free content, consider ordering a copy of my e-book Hockey Tactics 2020, edited by a legendary journalist and illustrated by an artist whose work you have surely already seen. Eight chapters, more timely insights, more timeless principles. Get it now