Blackhawks’ Max Domi eager for big role, reunion with coach Luke Richardson

Richardson was in Montreal for the best seasons (2018-19, 2019-20) of Domi’s career. Domi expects the new Hawks coach will bring the best out of him again this coming season.

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Max Domi will reunite with former Canadiens assistant coach Luke Richardson on the Blackhawks this season.

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

Knowing he’d soon be an unrestricted free agent, Max Domi saw in late June the news theBlackhawks were hiring Luke Richardson as head coach and decided — right then and there — Chicago was where he wanted to end up.

He called his agent, Darren Ferris, and informed him of his preferred signing destination.

“He’s someone I’m very close to and I’m just so pumped for him, the opportunity he has as a coach,” Domi said this week. “To be able to play for him is something I couldn’t pass up and I’ll try to take advantage of. I love the guy, he’s awesome, and I’m super excited to...empty the tank for him.”

Domi, the 27-year-old son of all-time NHL fighting majors leader Tie Domi, indeed inked a one-year, $3 million contract with the Hawks right as free agency opened July 13 and will move to Chicago full-time at the start of September.

His Hawks tenure might not be very long. The identical one-year deals for both him and fellow wing Andreas Athanasiou, another Ferris client, will make them easy for the Hawks to flip for draft picks at next spring’s trade deadline.

But Domi wouldn’t mind at all if things somehow aligned to lengthen his stay with the Hawks. As he joins his fifth team in eight NHL seasons, having been traded three times already, some stability would be nice.

And in the meantime, Domi should benefit from a sizable top-six role in the Hawks’ gutted forward corps. The competition for first- and second-line roles won’t be steep; beyond Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, the Hawks’ next-best remaining forwards are the underwhelming crew of Domi, Athanasiou, Lukas Reichel, Sam Lafferty, Taylor Raddysh, Philipp Kurashev and Tyler Johnson in some order.

“Obviously, that’s something that goes into your decision,” Domi said. “You look at some of the guys you’re going to be playing with, and positions and roles you’ll be playing with, and acoaching staff that I’m familiar with. Luke knows what I’m capable of and he believes in me, and that’s all you can ask for in a coach-player relationship. I’m excited to help wherever he has me in the lineup.”

Domi also knows new Hawks teammate Seth Jones from a season together in Columbus and Connor Murphy from two seasons together in Arizona.

Domi attacked Murphy in a jarring moment during a 2021 Hawks-Jackets game, exemplifying Domi’s reputation as an occasional loose cannon, but there are no lingering hard feelings. The two met up earlier this month and laughed off the incident.

“We’re actually really good buddies,” Domi said. “He was actually one of my best friends in Arizona. He knows [that] 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.”

For this coming 2022-23 season, the best-case scenario is Domi replicates his flash-in-the-pan 2018-19 breakout season, when he tallied 28 goals and 72 points in 82 games for the Canadiens.

He averaged 17:23 ice time per game that year, and while his scoring totals were somewhat inflated by a lucky shooting percentage (13.8%), his 52.8% even-strength scoring-chance ratio was legitimately impressive.

Domi’s second-best season is just 52 points, though, and that came back in his 2015-16 rookie year with the Coyotes.

He recorded 11 goals and 39 points this past season, averaging 13:25 ice time in 53 games for the Blue Jackets and just 11:59 in 19 appearances for the Hurricanes. His career shooting percentage is 10.1% and career scoring-chance ratio is 47.9%.

That year-to-year inconsistency is the main reason why Domi wasn’t a higher-profile free agency target for a contender.

For the Hawks, however, he’s a smart gamble. Richardson was there in Montreal for Domi’s best two seasons to date — he was solid in 2019-20, too —and likely knows better than anyone how to extract the most out of the fiery winger.

“[Luke is] probably one of the nicest, humble, calming guys to talk to in the game of hockey,” Domi said. “If you ask anyone on that ‘D’ core in Montreal, Shea Weber included...they all loved him. It’s not a mistake he got a head coaching job with an Original Six organization.”

Richardson earlier this month praised Domi’s speed and vision — he’ll definitely fit the Hawks’ new emphasis on skating ability — while adding he’d like for him to start shooting the puck more. His shot-attempts-per-60-minutes rate has declined from over 14.0 both years with the Canadiens to 10.4 and 11.8 the past two years.

But Richardson also sees the Hawks as a place where Domi’s career could take off again.

“Max is an energetic guy,” he said. “He’ll feed off the exciting electricity of the crowd here in Chicago. ... He lives for that. He’s not afraid of having any kind of spotlight or expectations, because he has grown up in a pro lifestyle with his dad playing. That’s going to help him come to a market like this and do really well.”

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