How Max Domi could fit into Craig Berube’s system

Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
1 month ago
Max Domi is a pending free agent but he’s also on board with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ offseason vision, at least behind the bench. Domi provided new head coach Craig Berube with a ringing endorsement over the weekend, stating that Toronto’s new tactician would help the team get over the proverbial hump.
Domi told reporters he hasn’t made up his mind about returning to the Maple Leafs, but it’s compelling to figure out where he could fit into Berube’s system. After a dormant first half, Domi morphed into one of the NHL’s best playmakers in the second half, where he tormented opponents with picturesque lateral passes from the left wing, while featuring on Auston Matthews’ line.
Although he’s much better suited to play the wing, Domi’s positional flexibility is always intriguing. Toronto effectively used Domi in Matthews’ injury-related absences against the Boston Bruins and dominated the shot share, which unfortunately culminated in a seven-game first-round loss.
“When I talk about heaviness, it’s not about running guys through the boards and fighting and all that stuff. The game’s changed. But you still have to be strong on pucks, you have to win puck battles. Those are priorities for me,” Berube said during his introductory press conference in May. “Structure is huge. You’ve got to have structure in all three zones. And that’s going to be a priority.”
How will Berube incorporate Domi into his system, provided that he re-ups with his boyhood club? We have some preliminary ideas, based on how Berube’s previous St. Louis Blues teams played from 2019-2024.

Domi will almost certainly feature exclusively as a wing with emphasis on puck battles 

Domi is a ferocious, undersized player whose value comes his playmaking, rather than his physicality. He’s not afraid to take on opponents and get into a few post-whistle skirmishes, but he’s not going to function as a Michael Bunting replica. If Domi is effectively going to be used as a top-six winger exclusively, he’ll need to work on winning battles in the corner — which he did with increased frequency during the playoffs — getting the puck to Matthews or John Tavares and tracking back through the neutral zone into the defensive third.
Positional flexibility is an asset in the modern NHL. Tampa Bay threw out unconventional lineup combinations to great effect en route to consecutive Stanley Cup victories and three Final appearances from 2020-22. It can be a luxury to play either centre or wing, but Berube appears less inclined to put his team through the blender as opposed to his predecessor Sheldon Keefe.
Domi can play centre and through a two-game sample — albeit, the most important games in recent Maple Leafs history — the veteran forward proved he can anchor a line and dominate shot opponents while playing a defensively responsible game. It’s just not in his character and Toronto basically abandoned all semblance of its high-octane offense in an all-out attempt to suppress Boston’s chances through Game 5-7 of the series.
At this stage of his career, Domi is most effective as a top-end playmaker who can punish teams in transition due to his surgical lateral passing. He’s not going to be considered as a plus-defender, so there needs to be a concerted effort to track back and play to the three-zone structure Berube is focused on, rather than hunting for offense at all costs.

Domi will almost certainly average more time at 5-on-5 due to superior playmaking

If you haven’t heard the gospel before: Domi finished 5th in the NHL in 5-on-5 assists during the 2023-24 season via Natural Stat Trick! Yes, you’re reading this correctly! Domi’s 36 assists at 5-on-5 were only bested by Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, Nathan MacKinnon and Leon Draisaitl, so it’s not hyperbole to consider Domi as an elite playmaker when given top-line opportunities.
Considering that Berube isn’t prone to making sweeping in-game changes, Domi’s usage will likely increase, especially when he’s providing key value to Matthews, teeing up the 2022 Hart Trophy winner for optimal chances. It’s far too early to speculate on what the lines could look like, especially ahead of a free agency period where Domi may leave Toronto. This thought exercise only works under the premise of Domi returning but if he does, it’s likely that he’ll get another opportunity with Matthews on the top line, or he could move onto a line with John Tavares and William Nylander. And this will set the tone for Domi’s first quarter of the season as Berube is often more patient, despite an overblown reputation for calling his stars out in the media.
We’re not sure if Berube is a major proponent of advanced stats but surely, being among the NHL’s elite in primary assists is certainly one hell of a calling card. Berube doesn’t need Domi to run through opponents, he just needs him to win pucks back, excel as a playmaker and track back with more consistent effort. It’ll be his ticket to more playing time during his age-30 season.

Brayden Schenn could be the closest replica to Max Domi

If we’re drawing parallels to Berube’s past, Brayden Schenn may be the player who comes closest to approximating Domi’s player profile. Schenn has averaged .68 points per game, while Domi has averaged .63 points per game, so it’s not a direct parallel but given that they’re both offensively-minded left-handed shots who can play either centre or wing, the Blues’ captain may be the model to follow.
Schenn and Domi posted nearly similar outputs during the 2023-24 season: Schenn finished with 20 goals and 46 points in 82 games, the eighth 20-goal campaign of his career, while Domi finished with nine goals and 47 points, showing marked improvement as the year progressed. They’re not identical players but they both play with physicality and it appears likely that Domi will respond well to Berube’s firm, candid instruction behind the bench.
Domi isn’t in line for a letter on his jersey to be clear — if a very unlikely John Tavares trade occurs, anything goes — but it’s interesting to parse through Berube’s evaluation of Schenn’s leadership upon being named St. Louis’s captain last September. Berube lauded Schenn for his winning efforts but also cited the committee approach, so it could be extrapolated that Toronto’s room could also take on a leadership-by-committee approach this fall.
We’ll have to wait and find out if Domi returns to the Maple Leafs next month but if he does, there’s reason to believe that he’ll thrive under Berube’s supervision.

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