For the past decade-plus, the Montreal Canadiens have been without a prototypical first-line center. This has caused a repeat of mediocre seasons and an unhappy fan base. The last time Montreal had a claim on a legitimate top-line center, you would have to go back to Saku Koivu, who was never considered elite.
After getting a gift from the hockey gods, Montreal was able to sneak into the playoffs where two young 20-year-olds emerged to form a formidable one-two punch down the middle. This is the first time since Koivu’s retirement where the Canadiens look to have an abundance of talent down the middle. It has caused fans and media alike to speculate on what happens next.
Due to their lack of ability to draft and develop a top-line center; Alex Galchenyuk being a prime example. Montreal has tried to attempt to fill that void by forcing inadequate pieces on the first-line (David Desharnais) or trade for players who have been cast off by previous teams Domi and Danault. Both of whom Marc Bergevin acquired due to circumstance.
Danault was developing too slowly for a Chicago team looking to reload for a cup-run. While Domi was unable to recapture the magic of a 52-point rookie season when he realized no-one outside Arizona cares about the Coyotes.
This tactic of stock-piling centers came a decade later then Habs fans would have liked, but it has arrived. With it, a surplus of centers was created that Bergevin must capitalize on, before allowing one of them to walk without compensation in return. This would be a catastrophic error on his part as the team has many holes.
Danault is the most likely to walk away without Montreal getting a return. His contract is up at the end of next season and he has made it clear he doesn’t want his role diminished. Danault has proven to be one of the leagues best two-way pivots; finishing 6th in Selke Trophy voting. It makes sense that he wants to be valued for the player he is.
Danault has steadily improved every year he has been in a Habs uniform and would have cracked 50-points for a second consecutive season when the pandemic put an abrupt end to that. Suzuki and Kotkaniemi proved to be more dangerous players with the puck on their stick in the post-season but no one else provides Claude Julien with the level of security that Phillip does.
He is trusted to play 20 mins on a nightly basis always drawing the other teams’ toughest assignment. He kills penalties and is the best face-off man they have; trading Danault would only create a bigger hole on the roster then it could fill.
NHL fans have laughed at Montreal for years. Explaining that Danault is only good enough as the 3rd line center on a cup winning team. Danault has proved those people wrong, he might not be your first-line center on a cup-winner but he is definitely a top 30 center in the NHL proving his value to the organization.
Domi on the other hand is a strictly offensive center. His contract has already expired but Montreal owns his playing-rights and they won't face losing him for nothing. After spending a few years wasting away in Arizona, Max exploded his first year in Montreal. He had 28-goals, 44-assist, good for 72 points in 82 games. Becoming the first habs player to break 70 points since 2009/10 when Tomas Pleckanek had 70 exactly.
The issue with Domi is that he is inconsistent and that 72-point season is 20-points higher than any other season in his career. That coupled with his 13.8 shooting percentage from that year, which is 3.6% higher than his career average leads to believe this season is an outlier for Domi and not the norm.
Domi has shown a deep passion for the game and clearly sees himself as an NHL center, which is a problem. Kotkaniemi and Suzuki are penciled in, just like Jake Evans will be on the 4th line. That leaves one center spot for Domi and Danault to share. Something tells me they aren’t going to like that.
These playoffs proved a massive investment in Domi last summer would have been foolish. After being unable to replicate his previous season and being outplayed in the playoffs by two younger, more well-rounded centers, it looks like Domi is headed for a new team. That is the direction MB needs to take if he wants to build a winner.
Keeping Domi over Danault would be a mistake that could cost him his job. Selke quality players don’t grow on trees and the last time a player of Danaults caliber and age (Ryan O’Reilly) was traded, it leads to him leading a team to a Stanley cup on his way to earning the Conn Smyth.
I’m not saying that if Danault is traded, he will win a Conn Smyth but the value he will bring to an organization is incalculable. Montreal needs to keep Danault and move on from Domi, the choice is obvious.
Let's just hope they see it that way.