The Blackhawks made seven signings within the first 24 hours of free agency, one of which was the polarizing Max Domi. He inked a one-year, $3 million contract and will be playing on his fifth NHL team in eight seasons.
It wasn't unusual that the Blackhawks signed Domi and I'll explain why in a minute. The real question is, why did Domi sign here? It's pretty clear the Original Six franchise is in the beginning stages of a full-scale rebuild, and the magnitude of it became real when Kirby Dach and Alex DeBrincat were traded and Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome were not given qualifying offers.
There were several reasons why Domi went out of his way to sign with the Blackhawks, the biggest of which was to reunite with his former assistant coach in Montreal.
"To be honest with you, as soon as you guys hired Luke Richardson as your head coach, I called my agent and said: 'Hey, I want to go to Chicago,'" Domi said in a video conference call on Thursday morning. "I kind of got on the horn from there and spoke to them a little bit and right before free agency started, a deal was in place and was ready to go. I'm super happy to be in Chicago.
"It's one of my favorite teams growing up, and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are two of my favorite guys growing up. You look at probably the best American-born player of all time already and then you have Jonny Toews. As a Canadian boy, it's like him and Sid were the two guys you looked up to, so a chance to play with those two guys, wear that jersey and to play for Luke were the biggest reasons why I chose Chicago. I'm super happy with my decision and I just can’t wait to get started."
Even though the Blackhawks have stripped down their roster, it's still important to have players like Domi in your lineup. Yes, he's a skilled forward and can produce offense. But just as important, he's known to be an agitator, difficult to play against and has no problem sticking up for his teammates, which is much needed on a young roster.
Look no further than to what happened with the rebuilding Anaheim Ducks during the final month of this past season. They traded away enforcer Nic Deslauriers and physical shutdown defenseman Josh Manson at the deadline for future assets, and understandably so. It was good asset management for the organization. But it came at a cost.
Two weeks later, the Ducks found themselves in a game where they were steamrolling the Arizona Coyotes 5-0 before hell broke loose late in the third period when 20-year-old rising superstar Trevor Zegras tried poking the puck in from underneath goaltender Josef Korenar. Coyotes forward Jay Beagle immediately stormed the crease and cross-checked Zegras from behind, which led to a massive scrum.
The teammate who jumped to Zegras' defense was the 24-year-old Troy Terry, who was Anaheim's leading scorer. And he got absolutely pummelled in a one-sided melee by Beagle, who has nine professional fights. You could certainly argue the officials should've stepped in right away, given it was a clear mismatch, but they didn't, and the fight ultimately ended with Terry looking unrecognizable because of a significant gash on his swollen left eye and cheek.
Why didn't anyone else come to Zegras' defense? Because the other three Ducks on the ice were 19-year-old defenseman Jamie Drysdale (who was taken No. 6 overall in 2020), 25-year-old playmaking winger Sonny Milano (a former first-round pick), and 30-year-old defenseman Cam Fowler (who was drafted No. 12 overall in 2010).
The point is, the Ducks had no one to protect their young stars and it led to franchise legend Teemu Selanne tweeting his frustration the next day, saying: "Don't like how these young Ducks stars get pushed around ... we need a couple Tie Domi's here ... now ... joke is over..."
Well, how about a Max Domi?
"Max is an energetic guy," Richardson said. "He'll feed off the exciting electricity of the crowd here in Chicago and the city. That's where he flourishes. You saw him in junior, he did it in London and the world juniors. He was probably one of the best players in the tournament, if not. And his first year in Montreal, the exciting Saturday nights on Hockey Night in Canada in Montreal, he lives for that."
And in case you're wondering, yes, Domi and Connor Murphy, who were teammates for two years with the Arizona Coyotes, have cleared the air after this incident from April 2021:
"I was waiting for that one," Domi laughed. "We're actually really good buddies. He was one of my best friends in Arizona. He knows sometimes when my switch goes like that. It doesn’t matter who it is, it's just the reality of the game. We had a good chuckle about it. I actually saw him, I was down in Chicago last week, I went down for the day, had a chance to chat with him and Jonathan Toews, so that was super cool.
"No, me and Murph are pumped to be together again. I love him to death. He's a heck of a hockey player, but an even better guy. I can’t wait."