Auston Matthews, Column, John Tavares, Max Domi, News and Rumors, Sam Lafferty, Toronto Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Domi, Matthews, Tavares & Lafferty

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll discuss Max Domi’s addition to the Maple Leafs by highlighting his passionate and gritty style of play. So far, he’s looked as good as Tyler Bertuzzi to my eyes and has the potential to bring versatility and strength to the team. However, he’s got to stop taking penalties. 

Second, I talk about the Auston Matthews experiment with penalty killing. He’s shown promise in creating turnovers and shorthanded scoring chances, but there remain risks and questions about how to best balance his offense and defense.

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Third, and finally, I’ll report on the impressive performance of the John Tavares-Matthew Knies-Sam Lafferty line in Monday night’s (Oct. 2) game. This line showed good chemistry and a relentless work ethic.

Item One: Max Domi: The Great and a Potential Issue

Domi’s addition to the Maple Leafs brings a blend of passion and grit to the team’s lineup. He has a reputation as a player who gives his all on the ice, and that (blended with his skill) makes him a valuable asset. He’s known for diving into scrums and emerging with scoring chances. Domi’s competitive spirit also aligns with the qualities the Maple Leafs have coveted. 

Related: Vancouver Canucks’ 5 Best-Case Scenarios for 2023-24

Beyond his heart and drive, Domi brings versatility. He can play any forward position, and he’s twice been a 20-goal scorer in his career. But then, so was Michael Bunting. What Bunting didn’t have was a 72-point season on his resume. 

Despite Domi’s size (5-foot-10 and 194 pounds), he’s both quick and strong. In fact, over the weekend, captain John Tavares teased that he was built like a fire hydrant. To which Domi agreed. He blamed it on lots of squats growing up, and (perhaps more to the point) he’s like his Dad Tie. 

Whatever the case, these strengths allow him to excel in puck battles and gain little victories during the redundant physical exchanges that go on game after game and shift after shift. His low center of gravity seems to be a huge asset. He’s simply strong on the ice. 

Max Domi Tie Domi
Tie Domi poses with son, Max Domi before Max was selected by the Phoenix Coyotes during the 2013 NHL Draft
(Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

What also makes Domi a good fit on this team is his comfort and confidence with the Maple Leafs organization. I heard yesterday that one of his best (perhaps family) friends is Mats Sundin. He also seems to have fostered a positive presence in the team’s locker room. 

All of this, Domi seems to be soaking in. He loves being with the Maple Leafs and describes the experience as surreal. This is the team he’s grown up watching and admiring. It might take him some time to completely figure out his role on this Maple Leafs team; however, he already seems to have created a sense of belonging and ease among teammates, fans, and the Toronto media. All this adds a layer of positivity to the overall team dynamic.

Related: Max Domi – The Next Ones: 2013 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

However, there is one downside to Domi’s aggressive style of play. Fans saw that in Monday’s game. He has a propensity for taking penalties. It didn’t very long against the Montreal Canadiens during the Oct. 2 game. Two shifts into the game, he took a slashing penalty. That’s his second in the preseason games he’s played with the Maple Leafs. Last season, he accumulated a career-high 82 penalty minutes, and he drew eight fewer penalties than he committed. That needs to change.

If Domi’s fiery and competitive style of play can be measured with an element of caution, he’ll bring value to the team. How big of a challenge will it be for him to maintain discipline and avoid gratuitous penalties? If he can strike the right balance, he has the potential to make a significant impact on the team’s success. 

Nazem Kadri
Former Toronto Maple Leaf Nazem Kadri (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michael Dwyer)

Otherwise, there’s my creeping memory of Nazem Kadri’s “Jekyll and Hyde” personality, where he could switch between two very different behaviors, sometimes with little warning. Could that become problematic over the long term?

Item Two: Auston Matthews’ Penalty-Killing Experiment

Matthews is renowned for his scoring prowess. However, this season, he has taken on an intriguing new role during the preseason. He’s added penalty killing to his repertoire. This shift marks a significant addition to his usual concentration on being a goal-scoring dynamo. 

It’s an interesting change, and I admit my first reaction was exceedingly positive. How it will eventually work out remains in the future.

Related: Maple Leafs’ New Defensive Asset: Auston Matthews

In the entire 2022-23 season, Matthews spent only three minutes and 29 seconds on the penalty kill. Remarkably, in just three preseason games, he’s already exceeded that number. During this penalty-killing time, he’s shown a knack for creating turnovers in the defensive zone and translating these into quality shorthanded scoring chances.

However, so far it seems that head coach Sheldon Keefe is taking a measured approach with his experiment. While Matthews has generated scoring shorthanded scoring chances, there are inherent risks. The biggest is retrieving the puck from the back of the net when the penalty kill has failed. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Matthews’ growth as a penalty killer remains a work in progress. The biggest question is how the Maple Leafs can leverage his offensive abilities while, at the same time, maximizing his defensive contributions. As the preseason unfolds, this is one area of the team’s play that I’ll be intrigued to watch. I believe it will become a regular facet of Matthews’ role in the upcoming season. However, that’s going to be an interesting coaching decision.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

One standout moment in the Oct. 2 game was the impressive performance of the John Tavares-Matthew Knies-Sam Lafferty line. This trio showed great chemistry and a relentless work ethic, making an impact on both ends of the ice. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ Knies Makes Huge Impression on Easton Cowan

Tavares, in particular, was on his game and scored two goals. I loved that the coaching staff configured a line that covered a bit for Tavares’ lack of speed by complementing him with two speedy youngsters. All three share an ability to successfully battle for pucks and create scoring chances. 

This line’s positive synergy bodes well for the team. While Sam Lafferty’s roster spot might be uncertain, his contributions suggest he could be a valuable asset when the season kicks off.

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