Max Domi, the new Columbus Blue Jacket, spoke to media Wednesday morning, big smile on his face, tattooed arms on a desk, engaged, talkative and happy. Change is good in this case. It was clear Domi’s time as a Montreal Canadien was likely finished when he changed agents from Pat Brisson to Darren Ferris in September. There was smoke to the fire, and a deal got done Tuesday, with Domi and a 2020 third-round pick heading to Columbus for his good friend, right winger Josh Anderson.
Domi’s enthusiasm Wednesday was palpable – above and below the surface. You could take plenty away from his 25-minute interview about his eagerness to play for Columbus, but you could also read between the lines and get a sense of why he was no longer a fit in Montreal.
Domi, 25, joins a Columbus Blue Jackets team that, by most accounts, is a mid-range playoff contender at the moment, and he’s expected to be the No. 2 center there. After a career year in 2018-19 in which he busted out for 72 points, he slipped to a 17-27-44 stat line in 71 games this past season, but his shot rate and play-driving metrics actually set career bests a second straight year. He’s excited to contribute in a major role with the Blue Jackets. He rhymed off nuggets of knowledge on half the team Wednesday. He thinks Seth Jones is one of the toughest if not the toughest defensemen to play against in the league; has heard amazing things about Nick Foligno’s leadership; already has a family friendship with Cam Atkinson; and is impressed with Oliver Bjorkstrand’s skills, having come up with him in the same major-junior cohort, both drafted in 2013. Domi spoke about the satisfaction of feeling wanted and how he’s always at his best when hungry, and that could make him a good match for fiery coach John Tortorella, at least in the short term. Since Domi and Anderson are so close and even share an agent in Ferris, Domi was able to get a lowdown from ‘Andy’ on what to expect from his new bench boss.
“He loved Torts,” Domi said. “He says he’s a great coach, he’s a coach that says it the way it is. He’ll never play any head games with you. If you’re playing hard, you’re playing good, you’re going to keep going back out there, and if you’re not, you’ll hear about it. To be honest, that’s how I was raised. That’s the way my dad (ex-NHLer Tie Domi) treated it. There were never any games or anything like that. That’s all a player can ask for. I had maybe 12 or 13 guys reach out to me that said you’re going to love playing for Torts. So I’m super excited about it.”
So it’s clear Domi can’t wait to suit up for the Jackets. As for the reading-between the lines factor: note his mention of head games. By the end of the 2019-20 season, Domi found himself demoted to Montreal’s fourth line, passed on the depth chart by centers Nick Suzuki, Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. And while Domi was insistent in his presser Wednesday on not dwelling on his past, he left a few crumbs to diplomatically imply there were some messaging problems between him and coach Claude Julien.
“At the end of the day it’s part of the business,” Domi said. “The coach has his decisions and makes them. Everyone is trying to do what it takes to win and what’s best for the team. That’s just part of the game. It is what it is. The playoff situation was tough. Not a lot of communication there. I wasn’t really sure where I stood and what I had to do to help the team. I wasn’t really told by anyone.
"It’s unfortunate, and I wish the Canadiens the best. That group of guys in there is remarkable top to bottom, and they got a hell of a player coming back the other way and an even better guy in Josh Anderson. So I’m really excited for the team and the city of Montreal. They were so good to me, and those fans were truly incredible. It was a privilege to wear that jersey for only two seasons. It felt like a lot longer than that – for good reasons. It was such an honor, and I definitely didn’t take a day for granted, that’s for sure.”
Domi had nothing but good things to say about the experience of playing in Montreal and about the fans and his teammates, but he tapdanced around the questions about coaching as best he could. It’s clear he sees the Blue Jackets and, specifically, Tortorella, as the right fit. Domi is still an arbitration-eligble RFA, of course, likely to land an AAV in the $5-million range, so it remains to be seen if his stay in Columbus will be short or long. He said Wednesday he hadn’t thought that far ahead and that he didn't believe the contract talks had really gotten going yet between his camp and GM Jarmo Kekalainen.
“I’ve been traded after both my contracts were expired now,” Domi said, referencing Tuesday's deal and also the June-2018 swap that brought him to Montreal from the Arizona Coyotes. “So maybe (this contract will be) a little bit longer. But you know what? If it’s just a one- or two-year deal, I totally understand that as well. And whatever happens happens. I’ll just let my agent do his thing, and he and Jarmo can work together. I’m certainly excited to be there. I want to be there. And I’m looking forward to getting down there.”