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Canadiens' young centres rendered Domi expendable, coach Julien says

Canadiens head coach Claude Julien  looks on from the bench during the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Aug. 12, 2020.
Canadiens head coach Claude Julien looks on from the bench during the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Aug. 12, 2020.

Claude Julien was on a video conference call Thursday to discuss the changes in the Canadiens’ roster and the prospects for the future, but he couldn’t avoid talking about a player who’s no longer a part of the puzzle.

Max Domi, who was the team’s leading scorer during the 2018-19 season, found himself in a diminished role last season and was traded, along with a 2020 third-round draft pick, to the Columbus Blue Jackets for power forward Josh Anderson.

While there appeared to be friction between Julien and Domi, the head coach said Domi’s demotion to the fourth line during the playoffs was a matter of circumstances.

“You talk about (Nick) Suzuki, (Jesperi) Kotkaniemi, two young centres that the organization really wants to succeed,” said Julien. “When we started training camp (in July), obviously Max wasn’t there for the first week, so we put our group together, and all of a sudden we see both those guys — especially Kotkaniemi — really doing well. So, for us, the first thing we thought of was, ‘Hey, we’ve got an opportunity to have four good lines here.’ … That depth we thought we had really helped us get through the first round against Pittsburgh.”

“It’s not so much that it didn’t work out (with Domi in Montreal),” said Julien, who stretched credulity when he said Domi really enjoyed playing with Dale Weise. “Sometimes this is what hockey’s all about. You end up with a situation where now Max became, I guess, a little bit expendable, because we had those guys do so well, and at the same time, we’re able to get a big player that we really needed on the wing in Josh Anderson in exchange for him. Max was such a good player we were able to get a good player in return. That’s more of a hockey move, nothing to do with the personal or anything else more than trying to improve our team.”

Julien said general manager Marc Bergevin did a good job during the off-season, plugging many of the holes in the Canadiens’ lineup.

Bergevin traded for backup goaltender Jake Allen to give Carey Price some much needed rest and provide the Canadiens with what Julien described as a one-two punch in goal. The GM also added a power forward in Anderson, some scoring with free-agent Tyler Toffoli and a defenceman with size in Joel Edmundson.

“I feel we have a real good competitive team right now,” said Julien. “A lot of things we looked at to improve our team have been taken care of.”

Julien said the additions mean the Canadiens have more depth and that means he’ll have more options when he puts together his forward lines.

One big question mark is on the right side of the defence beside Shea Weber and Petry. There’s a collection of left-handed shooters who will be tried on the right side. Victor Mete filled that role during the playoffs, but the Canadiens may want to have more size at that spot.

So where will this team finish next season?

“It’s always been our goal to make the playoffs and that hasn’t changed,” said Julien. “If anything, we’ve set ourselves up to have a much better chance and I expect us to to make the payoffs. I expect that every year and every year we didn’t, I was disappointed.”

Julien did offer one caveat.

“If, by midseason, I’ve lost half my team to injuries, those things change a bit, (but) other than that, we should definitely be a competitive team that’s able to make the playoffs.”

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