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Good idea or Bad Idea: The Maple Leafs should move Max Domi to Tavares’ line

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Jon Steitzer
8 months ago
A few acknowledgements to start. The first is that John Tavares, Max Domi, and William Nylander have all played exactly one game of the preseason at the time that I’m writing this. It is foolish to say what John Tavares needs on his wing definitively, and a week isn’t exactly a lot of time to know how well Domi and Nylander work together. In fact, it’s generally a good idea for both Nylander’s sake as newly minted centre and Domi’s sake as a new Leaf to let them get comfortable and find consistency. I can very much see how what I’m about to suggest is a bad idea. That’s fine. I’m a bad idea factory.
Now that all acknowledgements out of the way, I’m going to circle back around to my point, which is that Max Domi is far better suited to be on John Tavares’ wing than William Nylander’s and the argument for it is pretty simple. If we are looking at what type of offensive players they are and all three are very much dominant offensive players, Max Domi is absolutely a playmaker. It’s safe to think pass when he has the puck. In contrast, John Tavares is far more of a shooter. That’s not to say that is all he does, but he is primarily going to get low to the net and look for a puck coming his way. That brings us to Nylander, and with him you have a well rounded option that is a bit less predictable. Being less predictable is a good thing, and that is one of my issues with the Nylander line as it sits right now, it seems more predictable.
With Nylander playing with Domi and Calle Jarnkrok, Nylander has very much become the shooter on that line by default. That’s not to say that he won’t pass, Willy will still pass, but Nylander also lacks an outlet like Tavares or Matthews and that is something that has been important to his success. He’s not going to get Matthews or Tavares, at least to start, but someone like Nick Robertson (who skated with him in practice on Tuesday) or Matthew Knies are two interesting options that allow for Willy to be Willy a bit more. I’d still say having someone like Jarnkrok to support Nylander is paramount, and perhaps someone like Knies even adds a bit more defensive responsibility to the line.
When it comes to Tavares and Domi, the idea of the traditional scorer and setup man relationship makes sense. With Knies and Tavares on the same line it felt like the Leafs were doubling down on net presences, and with Sam Lafferty in the mix, it felt like the Leafs were committing to crowding the opposition’s net excessively on one line and setting up for more of a perimeter/cycling approach on the other. If that was intentional, it might be worth seeing how it plays out, but my preference would be for spreading the skillsets around. At least to start.
There is also some benefit in reunited Domi and Lafferty who both played on the Hawks last season. The two players didn’t share the ice a ton, but some level of familiarity when neither player has much with the current Leafs group isn’t a bad thing either.
Optically, this might not be what Nylander wants. If the Leafs are trying him at centre, part of that arrangement might have been that he would get the stronger veteran wingers ahead of what John Tavares is receiving. There might also be a feeling that Domi and Jarnkrok both being centres at time in the NHL gives Nylander a bit more of a “by committee” approach to his new role.
From a Tavares and Domi standpoint, I think there could be understandable concern when you put two players who recently have required powerplays to produce together for 5v5 play. And is Lafferty speedy enough and strong enough defensively to cover for the other two forwards?
The long and short of it is I think we see Domi with Tavares sooner rather than later this season. At least to me, it makes the most sense and I’ll leave it to the comment section to tell me if it is a good or bad idea.

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