It can take a long time for an organization to resolve a need in its range. Just look at the Montreal Canadiens’ elusive search for the top six centers that spanned a decade. The team lacked both the draft capital to select their center-of-impact player and the player surplus to trade for the pivot piece. They were forced to make the most of what they had.
Now, compared to a few years ago, Montreal is teeming with assets. Their reset gave them one of the best lead pools in the league, both in depth and quality. Fresh young talents have pushed other players to the limit of the roster. Consequently, the Habs no longer have to amputate a key element of their team to plug a hole elsewhere; they can trade in their excess to strengthen their core. They can compete with other organizations in the market, outbid them and still gain the advantage, because although the moved parts are of great value in a vacuum, they are not as valuable to the organization as they are. for their business partner, nor as valuable as a potential return.
In Josh Anderson’s trade, Montreal sacrificed a productive player in Max Domi, but who no longer fits. All the centremen in front of him are either more effective at the job or the project to be. They more often play the defensive position F1; they read and stop games more easily, and they are arguably playing a more diverse game.
Domi clashed stylistically. Montreal is neither Toronto nor Tampa Bay; the Habs play a simple offensive. Players do not keep the puck on their sticks for long and do not create elaborate rallies. They make some concessions and beat the defenders at the net. Domi adjusted to the Montreal game a bit better in his first year with the Canadiens, but also received wingers like Andrew Shaw who went the extra mile for him, who dove through traffic to catch his passes. .
Domi can carry a line into the attacking zone with his changes of speed and direction, and quick handling, but once he’s there, if he can’t immediately score the run he runs into trouble. Outside of the cycle, Domi can’t really uplift his teammates or make them top scorers by manipulating defenders to get them off the passing lanes. His wingers need to be in the right place at the right time to connect with him. Otherwise, the puck often goes under the control of the other team.
This caused problems for the coaching staff in Montreal. Domi needed specific talents around him, like a second hasty threat from Jonathan Drouin. But when those were given, the opposition also matched theirs against the center player, exposing his defensive play flaws, blind spots, urges to move his skates to the offensive zone and his tendencies to over -correct when this happened.
Ironically, in an alternate universe, Domi and Josh Anderson would likely have formed an impressive duo. The winger’s technical skills would have helped the converted center. Domi lost that kind of support when the ramshackle Shaw was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. But adding Anderson without subtracting Domi was not going to happen.
Domi can replenish another 72-point season if he finds the perfect cut. Maybe he gets it in Columbus. Even if John Tortorella has an iron grip on his players in the neutral and defensive zone, the coach lets the offensive play flow. Domi could partner with Cam Atkinson or a high profile free agent acquisition. Or maybe his ears are ringing constantly from Tortorella’s cries on the attacker’s defensive play.
Either way, due to how the team has evolved over the past year, it was hard to imagine Domi returning to his first-season form in Montreal.
Anderson won’t completely replace the center’s production over the past two years, but if he’s in full health – an important factor – the winger gives the Canadiens the physical and non-puck presence that their style of play lacked. Anderson can adapt to a variety of line combinations and complements both their centers of play and even their more defensive center, which wasn’t necessarily the case with Domi.
A balanced formation, diverse in its types of talents, can support the play of individual players. This can provide the team with more wins than a seasoned player whose production is capped by late roster minutes.