The Montreal Canadiens potentially have a very difficult decision to make. With two centers possibly on the trade block, there’s some debate about which one of Max Domi or Phillip Danault the Canadiens would prefer to move?
Both are talented. One is being asked to play in a position he doesn’t like as much, while the other is being asked to play more defensive-minded role in and make way for the youngsters on the team. Neither player seems terribly happy about what that means moving forward and the Canadiens are going to need a plan.
Are the Canadiens Preparing for Life Without Max Domi?
When asked about next season’s lineup and possible changes, head coach Claude Julien noted that Max Domi was a better player down the middle than he was at the wing (a quote translated from French). The comments have suggested the Canadiens don’t potentially see Domi on the team since the emergence of their young players down the middle leaves him in a spot that doesn’t warrant paying him what he’s about to get paid.
“We prefer Max Domi at centre. His production has been decent but he’s been shooting at the net a lot less this season. He likes to make plays more than shoot on goal. We put him on the wing sometimes in the playoffs because the other centres were playing very well.”
Domi himself would also like to play center but if Montreal has Phillip Danault, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi down the middle, where does Domi fit? The Canadiens certainly can’t be ready to qualify him with a $3.1 million annual salary and arbitration rights as a fourth-line center.
Instead, reading between the lines seems to indicate that Domi will be traded to a team that wants him at center in a more elevated role. He scored 44 points (17 goals + 27 assists in 71 games), and during the 2018-19 season, recorded 71 points in 82 games. There will be a team that sees him as a top-six on their team.
Phillip Danault a Possible Trade Chip Instead of Domi?
There could be an interesting twist here with the Max Domi saga. This year’s playoffs saw both Suzuki and Kotkaniemi’s responsibilities increase and Phillip Danault wasn’t exactly pleased since it leaves his future in question.
Speaking with reporters after the Canadiens exit from the postseason, Danault didn’t really hold back his feelings on the matter and where he sees himself with the team. He told Marc Antoine Godin:
I saw my role change in the playoffs but with what I have proven, my role should not change in Montreal (translated).
Then, when speaking with Etienne Ferland, after being asked if his role with the team would have an influence on his desire to stay in Montreal, Danault simply answered: “Yes”.
Understandably, Danault does not want his role to change if he sees himself as a No. 1 center. If he thinks he’s being squeezed out of that role, he’s likely particularly on edge and putting his guard up. And, if he’s so concerned with losing his spot, he may consider walking away as a UFA when next season ends.
If so, the best bet might be for the Canadiens to trade him sooner and while his value is high. His $3.083 million cap hit and ability to play a top-six role as a center shouldn’t make him hard to trade. And, if the Canadiens decide to package one of the many draft picks this year together with Danault, they could get a decent return.
This won’t be an easy decision for Montreal. Trading either player means having the confidence that both Suzuki and Kotkaniemi will continue the strong play they showed in the short playoff run. Should they not, and the Canadiens have traded their one of their highest-scoring centers, they are right back where they started needing a top-line pivot.
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