Max Domi at centre has been a significant improvement for the Maple Leafs

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
7 months ago
Over the course of his career, there have been two Max Domi’s that show up. There’s been the good one that showed up his first year in Montreal and had a strong season last year in Chicago. And the other one, the streaky one that dines out on the powerplay and little else, the one that has point totals that are at best average and at worst leave you questioning why he is in the league. What is noticeable is that good one takes a lot more faceoffs, and the flaky version of Domi, not so much. History shows the best version of Domi is at centre and the Leafs have been learning that over the last 11 games.
The concept that Domi should be at centre isn’t anything new. In fact four months ago, I wrote about how Max Domi should be playing at centre with Nick Robertson (or William Nylander) on his wing. It just sometimes takes Sheldon Keefe a little longer to figure things out (I kid, when putting the pieces of the roster together it might have pointed to Domi making more sense on the wing.)
While Domi at centre is what the numbers supported there was a belief that putting Domi with David Kampf might get a bit more offence out of Kampf while adding some defensive responsibility to the line to offset Domi. I respect the intention and the optimism as it seems the Maple Leafs never concerned the opposite could occur and Domi’s offence was dragged down while David Kampf wasn’t capable of balancing out the defensive issues (largely because Kampf’s abilities might be a tad overstated.)
By the numbers below you can see the benefit of Domi at centre as opposed to the wing. Domi has now played 11 games at wing and 11 games at centre. There are some caveats to the data as the time on wing was also the first 11 games Domi played as a Leaf and the first 11 games of the season, the team also generally underperformed during that time and was generally trying to figure themselves out. Of course, the fact that the Leafs were better after the more drastic changes at the 11 game mark means the numbers aren’t entirely coincidental either.
With the exception of shot attempts for (Corsi For) the Leafs have been offensively with Domi on the ice when he’s been moved to centre. There have been significantly more goals, expected goals, and high danger shot attempts, as well as greater individual point production from Domi during that time at centre. The difference between 1.83 GF/60 to 3.54 GF/60 is especially notable as Max Domi was brought in to bring offence to the bottom six and expand the Leafs depth scoring. The combination of a natural playmaker (Domi) with a promising goal scorer (Robertson) has made a ton of sense, the perceived issue was always going to be about whether those two would create such a defensive blackhole that Toronto would never be able to climb out of it.
The reality is the 3rd line is a little worse defensively when you look at it. Despite shot attempts against being down with Domi at centre, including high danger ones, there is a definite bump up in the goals against/60, and a marginal increase in the expected goals against. As you can see by the percentage column, the offence, for the most part is outweighing the defensive shortcomings, but there are still more shot attempts against Toronto with Domi on the ice and the expect goals favour the opposition as well. There is definitely room for improvement.
What is also interesting is that since Domi has moved to centre, he has been hitting a lot more. This might be due to him being the F1 in the defensive zone more frequently, but the increased physical play from any Leaf is generally welcome, especially since the increase in minor penalties has been so marginal to coincide with that.
While higher event hockey might not be what Sheldon Keefe was hoping for on his third line, it has yielded better results. It doesn’t mean that the Leafs, a team that struggles with the team defence concept, has completely figured out their best path forward but Domi and his line brings something of value. If the Leafs organization still sees David Kampf as a player with value to them defensively and think he can handle matchups at least against 3rd line opposition, Gregor and Kampf represent what looks like two thirds of a 3B line, that is capable of taking away the defensive zone workload from Domi and Robertson. Jarnkrok, of course, seems like a fit in either situation and it may just be a matter of finding a viable replacement for Ryan Reaves to make the bottom six work for Toronto.
As for Domi, now that he has his first goal as a Leaf it will be interesting to see what comes next for him. He’s become more comfortable in his role over the past month and with inconsistency in the top six, there is a great opportunity for Max to play a bigger role.

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