Richard Morin, azcentral sports
Bombarded by trade rumors, Coyotes forward Max Domi isn’t treating this year’s deadline any differently.
Domi, who will turn 23 next week, is a de-facto veteran in his third full season with the Coyotes. And the winger-turned-center will be a restricted free agent after this season, which makes the prospect of Domi being moved before Monday’s trade deadline a distinct possibility.
“It’s not up to me,” Domi said. “I like being on the Arizona Coyotes, I like living here and I like my teammates. But it’s not up to me and whatever happens, happens.”
Domi has taken a massive step backward in his third NHL season. Compared to an 18-goal, 52-point output during his rookie campaign in 2015-16, Domi has managed just four goals and 26 points to this point in 2017-18.
For perspective, that would put Domi on pace for just 5.5 goals this season if he plays every remaining game of the 82-game schedule. It would also give him a season total of 30 points, well short of his rookie campaign and eight fewer than his output of 38 points in just 59 games last season.
Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet, who moved Domi from left wing to center in December, said the forward’s defensive game has flourished — but at the cost of his offensive production.
“It’s more about his play and staying in the system,” Tocchet said of Domi. “He’s done a nice job (defensively), and that’s something you need to do as a centerman. In my system, there’s a lot of thinking, but that doesn’t mean you just stay back.
“I think he was playing a little too defensive early on, and now I think he’s starting to get a little more active in the offensive zone.”
As a restricted free agent, the Coyotes will undoubtedly point to Domi’s significant drop-off this season during offseason contract talks. The struggles have also led to rumors that the center could be traded before Monday’s deadline.
One of the team’s pending restricted free agents — Tobias Rieder — has already been dealt to the Los Angeles Kings. But Domi said he isn’t feeling any added pressure from trade rumors.
“It’s not really a distraction,” Domi said. “It’s just part of the game, right? It’s tough to see some buddies leave but it’s part of the game. You just wish the best for your teammates and hope they go on to win something. At the same time, though, you wish you could keep everyone together.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet moment for everyone, but it’s part of the game so you can’t do anything about it.”
And although this is the first time Domi is being regarded as a trade candidate, he said he isn’t being affected by this year’s deadline any more than in his previous two.
“Yeah,” Domi said. “No difference at all.”
Still, the third-year forward was quick to mention the unstable nature of a professional athlete. Domi’s experience comes first-hand having watched his father, Tie, get traded on four different occasions during his 12-year NHL career.
“Like I said, it’s really just part of the business,” Domi said. “There’s probably not a single guy that’s not going to get traded at some point in their career. It’s very rare that someone will stay with the same organization their whole career. It’s just part of it and it’s definitely tough the first time you go through it and watch your teammates leave. You just wish them the best and hope to watch them in the playoffs. It’s bittersweet.”
Tocchet said dealing with deadline rumors is done on an individual basis as players, and that his approach as a coach is to not fill the players’ heads with thoughts related to the deadline. Instead, it’s up to the players to find their own routine.
“I’ve been involved in hockey and with the NHL for 20 years,” Tocchet said. “Every person deals differently. I’m a routine guy so if you keep a routine, and think about your routine, then you can’t worry about that stuff. If you start worrying about stuff, it affects your practice and it affects your game. It can become a distraction.
“A lot guys handle it really well, and some guys don’t. You try to give your team advice, but it’s an individual thing with how they deal with it.”
Domi said he and his teammates are going about their daily routines and giving their best efforts to ignore the outside noise.
“Either way, it doesn’t really matter to us,” Domi said of the trade deadline. “We just come to work everyday and work hard in practice. You just play your heart out for the guy next to you, and that’s all you can ask for.”