On Tuesday morning, Scott Powers at The Athletic published a piece discussing what he’s hearing about Blackhawks trade rumors. The majority of the piece is about Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, which makes sense; they’re the two biggest names potentially on the trade market/populating rumor mill(s) and they’re both franchise icons.
However, there’s another player that intrigues me more as we get into trade season. And that interest is on a number of levels.
Here’s what Powers wrote about the two veteran forward additions the Blackhawks made to their top six:
The Blackhawks would love to get high draft picks, maybe even first-rounders, in exchange for Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou, but it doesn’t seem likely now. The market isn’t there, at least yet. The Western Conference executive thought Domi and Athanasiou could fetch third- or fourth-rounders.
Let’s talk about Max Domi for a moment, shall we?
According to Powers, the un-named executive told him “Domi probably has higher value than Athanasiou.” And that makes sense; he’s a center and, frankly, has been more productive this season.
The first part of this note on Domi that interests me is the relative value he’s hearing for Domi and Athanasiou, both of whom signed one-year, $3M deals this summer. The perception when those deals were announced was that they were both prove-it deals and clear rent-to-sell contracts; if they earned the prove it part, their value at the trade deadline would increase. And the $3M price tag at the deadline would be significantly easier to move than the $10.5M number attached to 19 and 88.
For his side of the conversation, Domi has been a magnificent addition for the Blackhawks. After scoring 11 goals in 72 games between Columbus and Carolina last year, he’s already put in nine through just 24 starts this season. He’s returned to the form that saw him score 28 and 17 in his two years with Montreal in 2018-19 and 2019-20, respectively. And the 17 came in 71 games in a season that was interrupted by COVID.
The biggest question/concern I had regarding Domi coming into the season was how he would perform with the Blackhawks asking him to be the team’s top-line center. He wasn’t a great faceoff guy historically, so putting him on the line with Kane to open the season set a high bar; we didn’t know Toews was going to return to form as not only the best faceoff guy in the league but also find his scoring touch early in the season.
Back on Nov. 1, I wrote about the Blackhawks’ leading the league in faceoff percentage over the first month and noted that “in 501 games to start his career before arriving in Chicago, [Domi] had won 46.4 percent of his faceoffs.”
Domi answered that question emphatically with a great first month of the season at the dot. To date, he’s winning 57.7 percent of his faceoffs and has taken 331 faceoffs; which ranks second to Toews (447) but is well ahead of Jason Dickinson, who’s third on the team with 192 opportunities.
Here’s what Domi told me back then about working with faceoff jedi Yanic Perreault:
“Obviously as a team we’re doing pretty well at the dot,” Domi said. “It’s still early but we work it for sure. When you have someone like Yanick that helps you out who was one of the best – if not the best – ever and he gives you little tips here and there about playing the position. It’s a whole game within the game. Some of it’s mental but a lot it’s pretty simple stuff – stick positioning and whatnot – he’s helped me a lot with that kinda stuff.”
With Domi playing at a pace that could make him a 20-goal guy whose winning 57 percent of his faceoffs, he could be an incredibly attractive package at the trade deadline with what’s left of his $3M cap hit. So while the un-named executive is telling Powers that Domi might be able to fetch a third or fourth rounder, that might be selling low at this point relative to what’s he’s been doing and what teams might need a second or third line center at the deadline.
Here’s what Domi said when he was introduced to the Chicago media back in July:
“I’m super happy to be in Chicago. Like I said earlier, [they were] one of my favorite teams growing up. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were two of my favorite players growing up. You look at probably the best American player of all time already [in Kane], and then you have Johnny Toews, and as a Canadian boy, it’s him, and Sid [Sidney Crosby] were the two guys you looked up to. So, the chance to play with those two guys, to wear that jersey, and play for Luke [Richardson] are the biggest reasons why I chose Chicago, and I’m super happy with my decision, and I can’t wait to get started.”
I put the part about Richardson in bold for a reason. Domi had options last summer; he was coming off a nice playoff performance for the Canes (three goals, three assists in 14 postseason games). He may not have had long-term options, but he could have probably found a two-year deal somewhere or more than $3M.
But he chose Chicago, in part, because he wanted to play for Richardson again. They have a great relationship and Domi is playing his best hockey since he was with Richardson in Montreal.
Domi is also a solid character guy who has emerged as a leader with the team. So he’s producing, playing the game the way the front office wants it to be played (read fast and with an edge), and he loves the head coach.
That sounds like a guy you might want to consider being around for the next step(s) of the rebuild, right?
Like Kane and Toews, when UFA hits this summer there’s a chance the Blackhawks have a conversation with Domi about returning to Chicago. And that could happen, whether he finishes this season in Chicago or not. He’s playing himself into a nice payday, worthy of a multi-year commitment. And the Blackhawks will certainly have the roster and cap space to make that work here.
So the question Kyle Davidson and his front office team now need to answer is if the juice is worth the squeeze. Is Domi more valuable to the roster for this complete season than what they would get back in a trade? And will Domi play himself into better assets (read: a higher pick) that makes the answer to that question harder to answer? Or do they value what he brings on and off the ice enough that they not only keep him through the deadline and offer him an extension?
For now, it’s been fun watching Domi skate for the Blackhawks. He’s an easy guy to cheer for and has engaged with the city of Chicago and the fans well.