After an offseason in 2021 that saw the Columbus Blue Jackets primed for a rebuild (even if they won’t call it that); the team entered the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline with a handful of chips to deal off for the future. After hours of watching and waiting, it was announced that only one move was made by the Blue Jackets: sending forward Max Domi to the Carolina Hurricanes, at first glance for a low market value return. But in the end, things are still looking up. Let’s dive in.
To get a real feel for the return on Max Domi, we have to roll back. Way back, all the way back to June 28, 2011, when the New York Islanders traded their fourth-round pick in the 2012 NHL draft to Vancouver, for defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. Vancouver then flipped that pick at the following trade deadline to acquire forward Sami Pahlsson from the Blue Jackets, in exchange for the Islanders’ pick, which wound up being the 95th selection at the draft that summer – used to select towering forward Josh Anderson from the London Knights.
Most Blue Jackets fans know the name Josh Anderson well, as he would go on to spend parts of six seasons with the Blue Jackets, playing 267 games, scoring 65 goals, 115 points, and adding 212 minutes in penalties. Josh quickly became a fan favorite, checking in at 6-4 and over 220 pounds, playing an up and down, physical style, willing to drop the gloves, finish a check, or block a shot. All the while, he was one of the fastest skaters on the team and had a surprising finishing ability. When healthy, he was a core player for the Blue Jackets.
But Anderson’s final season in Columbus was one shortened by shoulder injuries that would eventually require surgery. Couple that with a contract dispute and worries about how he could be affected by his injuries in the long term, and the team sought to trade him in the summer of 2020. Indeed, on October 6, 2020, still unsigned Josh Anderson was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens, in exchange for forward Max Domi and a third-round pick in the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft.
At a glance, the trade looked pretty fair, maybe even with a slight edge to the Blue Jackets, acquiring a player who posted 72 points just two seasons before – but also getting a third-round pick in the deal. The team immediately signed Domi to a two-year contract extension with an AAV of $5.3m, while the Canadiens came to terms with Anderson on a seven-year contract. After two seasons, the trade still seems pretty even: Anderson with 32 goals and 49 points in 102 games with Montreal; while Domi would score 18 goals, and 56 points in107 games played with Columbus.
Unfortunately for Domi and the Blue Jackets, the fit just never seemed quite right. At the time of the trade, it was believed that Domi would be able to slot in as the team’s #2 center behind Pierre-Luc Dubois (later dealt to Winnipeg); but Domi’s two-way play left plenty of room for concern and the team felt he would be better suited on the wing. Further stressing the situation, the Blue Jackets already had pretty good depth on the wings, with no fewer than four players ahead of Max, making him an expensive, somewhat one-dimensional option for the third line.
With the team “reloading”, Max joined backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo as a prime trade candidate at the 2022 deadline. With rumors of plenty of suitors for Domi, many fans and followers of the team had dreams of a potential first-round pick as the return. After all, General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen found first-round picks for aging veterans Nick Foligno and David Savard, just 12 months prior. But holding out until the very last second, we finally saw Max dealt for just one piece – a player picked 94th overall at last summer’s draft, Aidan Hreschuk. Elite Prospects touts him as an all-around defender:
"Hreschuk looks to jump into the rush, takes passes in motion from the point, and brings some defensive value. He’s a strong single variable defender, thanks to his mobility and physicality. He drives the play to the perimeter and throws the odd hit. Physicality translates across the defensive end."
While landing just a recent third-round pick for one of your more productive forwards may not seem like much (Domi’s 32 points had him 7th on the Blue Jackets in scoring), you have to consider the whole picture. While productive and a good teammate, Max’s cap hit was simply too much for his role, and he was passed up on the depth chart by too many players in Columbus, with his ice time dipping below 11:00 per game this season. It’s highly unlikely that he would have been offered a contract extension, particularly with the improving play of rookie Yegor Chinakhov, and the potential for prospects Kent Johnson and Kirill Marchenko to make an impact next season. In the end, you have to get something for an expiring asset, and the Blue Jackets did that. Just as they did with Sami Pahlsson in 2012 … the trade that set all of this in motion.
This brings me to my last point on the topic: this kind of trade is extremely non-linear. If we look back to the beginning of the article and compare it to today, the Blue Jackets traded an aging veteran for a fourth-round draft pick. That pick turned into an exciting young power forward, who gave the team no less than three really good, productive years. In return for that pick, they picked up a player picked in the first round one summer later in Max Domi, who gave the team two more productive years. In the end, the franchise comes away with two third-round picks (#78, 2020 – Samuel Knazko; #94, 2021 – Aidan Hreschuk).
In the end, it may be another 10 years before we can fully judge the outcome of this trade. Perhaps one or both of these players becomes an NHL defenseman? Knazko looks like a good prospect, which should be noted here. Or, maybe one or both of them are used as trade chips in a future deal, that branches this tree out even further. Time will tell. But for now, we should take a step back and see how things play out.