As training camp draws ever closer, the biggest storyline for several teams isn’t who will be in attendance, but who won’t, as a number of this summer’s highest profile restricted free agents remain unsigned. And with all eyes on the current crop of RFAs who have yet to put pen to paper, the Montreal Canadiens have had some early-stage discussions with one of their pending RFAs in hopes that they won't find themselves in a similar situation next summer.
Speaking Monday at the Canadiens’ annual golf tournament, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin was asked about the status of 24-year-old Max Domi, who is set to enter the final season of a two-year, $6.3-million pact he inked with the franchise last summer. And while the Habs’ GM wouldn’t go into detail about negotiations, he did drop one tidbit: the Canadiens and Domi engaged in discussions about an extension earlier this summer.
Of course, Montreal talking contract with Domi, who became eligible for an extension on July 1, isn’t shocking. Acquired in an off-season icebreaker last June from the Arizona Coyotes, Domi was an out-and-out revelation for the Canadiens. But as the summer winds on and Domi inches closer to the second round of free agency in his career, there are a couple of reasons for him to exercise some patience.
With several of the most notable RFAs yet to sign, there’s potential for an already rapidly changing market to see an even greater uptick in salaries doled out to those high-scoring youngsters who are being locked down by their clubs. And one player in particular who could help set the market for Domi, Winnipeg Jets winger RFA Kyle Connor, hasn’t yet inked a new deal.
While the two play different roles, broke in at different times and differ in bargaining power – Domi stepped into full-time work as a pivot last season, is nearly two years older than Connor and will possess arbitration rights once his current deal is up – there are some statistical similarities between the two that could help Domi earn some extra cash on a long-term pact. Of note, while Connor has eclipsed the 30-goal plateau in back-to-back seasons, his career .72 points per game rate is in the same range as Domi’s .68 rate, although Domi’s career-best .88 mark last season is the best rate of either of the two skaters.
With Connor setting some parameters for a scorer of his kind, and potentially setting it higher given the current RFA market, there’s no real rush for Domi to ink a deal that might see him earn less than a statistically comparable skater who didn’t have the same negotiating power. There’s also no real rush for him to sign a deal when there’s potential for him to grow on last season’s output, which would also see him earn a heftier raise than what he’d be likely to receive right now.
Consider that Domi, after failing to build on an excellent 18-goal, 52-point rookie campaign with the Coyotes, proceeded to have the best campaign of his young career in Montreal last season. His 28-goal, 44-assist and 72-point outputs were career-best marks across the board, and coming on the heels of a two-season run in which he had accumulated 18 goals and 83 points in 165 games, it represented something of an early career resurgence for Domi.
Now, as he heads towards another season under coach Claude Julien and one in which he’ll have established greater chemistry with linemate Jonathan Drouin and could very well skate alongside Brendan Gallagher, Domi has potential to take his offensive production up a notch. That’s especially true if Domi, who finished 11th in the NHL last season with 53 points at 5-on-5, can benefit from a Canadiens power play that aims to improve on its nearly league-worst 13.2 percent conversion rate last season. If both come to fruition – or if he simply maintains his even-strength output while adding several points with the extra attacker – Domi can negotiate not as a player who has some 37 goals and 153 points over his past two his seasons, but one who has back-to-back campaigns of nearly 30 goals and 70-plus points.
That’s not to say patience has no potential perils.
Last season, Domi, who was a career 8.7 percent shooter upon arriving in Montreal, was one goal shy of shooting upwards of 14 percent. He also saw his point rates far exceed what he had managed during his time in Arizona. At 5-on-5, he scored 1.16 goals per 60 minutes, a significant increase from his previous career-best of .77. His points per 60 minutes rate was also roughly three-quarters of a point greater than his past career high at five-a-side. Granted, he was playing on a much more possession heavy Canadiens side than those Coyotes teams of the past and the effects were reflected in his own expected goals and on-ice scoring chance and shot percentages, but his statistical output to this point in his career is enough to suggest Domi’s long-term scoring rates might fall somewhere between last season’s and those in the past.
But Domi wouldn’t be wrong to bet on himself, not at a time when scoring is up across the league, when RFAs of his caliber are set to earn more money than ever before and when he’ll enter his next round of negotiations with arbitration eligibility. If he can replicate or better last season’s output, he’ll be happy he waited. And if consistent 30-goal, 70-point production is what the Canadiens can come to expect, they’ll be more than happy to pay up.
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