When forwards Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou signed identical one-year, $3 million contracts with the Blackhawks in July, they knew roughly what they were getting into.
They’d seen the trades the Hawks had made, and they understood what the scorched-earth rebuild would likely mean in terms of on-ice team success.
But they also saw a general manager that wanted them, a roster with vacant top-six and power-play roles and an organization that still offers arguably best-in-the-NHL player accommodations and resources.
So far, their individual experiences have roughly matched what they expected and hoped for. In spite of the Hawks’ 7-14-4 record, which tied them with the Coyotes and Ducks for fewest wins in the league entering Wednesday, they’re glad they made the free-agency decisions they did.
“That was a no-brainer on my side,” Domi said Tuesday. “I knew what the situation was. I was dealt a hand in Columbus which was unfortunate, and it is what it is. I battled through that and now I have an opportunity to actually play hockey again. [I’m] just enjoying the moment.”
“I was fortunate enough to get this opportunity here,” Athanasiou said Sunday. “Obviously we had a stretch there where it wasn’t too fun, but at the start of the season we played some good hockey. Even in the stretches where we were losing quite a bit, there were some good things we were doing.”
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Domi scoffed at the idea that he’s proving himself this season. Realistically he proved himself four years ago, when he tallied 72 points in 82 games for the Canadiens. But re-proving himself? That’s a more accurate description.
With 19 points through 25 games, Domi trails Patrick Kane by only one point for the Hawks’ scoring lead and is on pace to finish with 62 points this season, which would be — by far — the second-best of his career. He tallied just 24 and 39 points the last two years, but that was while receiving just 15:13 and 13:25 of ice time per game, respectively, from the Blue Jackets. His time-on-ice average is 18:35 this year.
“It’s a good match for both of us — for the team and for him at this point of his career,” coach Luke Richardson said Tuesday.
Added Domi: “Listen, if you’re going to get ice time, you better produce. It has been a minute [since I did], and I’m really enjoying it right now. I’ve got to work hard and find ways to be consistent. [I’m] trying to maximize everything we’re doing.”
Athanasiou, who has tallied nine points (including six goals) while averaging 16:06 of ice time through 25 games, hasn’t been quite as productive as Domi. But he’s still on pace for 30 points, which would also be the second-best season of his career. He has also generated 62 scoring chances, which trails Kane by only two for the team lead.
Most importantly, Athanasiou has re-proven his ability to stay healthy after injuries limited him to 28 appearances for the Kings last season. He admitted he doesn’t feel completely perfect health-wise — “I don’t think anyone ever feels 100%” — but he hasn’t missed a game yet.
The other part of understanding what they were getting into in Chicago is the trade likelihood. They’re both pending unrestricted free agents, in the primes of their careers, on a basement-dwelling team. All ingredients line up for trade-deadline flips to contenders for second- or third-round draft picks.
But the deadline remains nearly three months away. At the moment, that hasn’t crept far into their minds.
“I like the group here, I like the staff here and the organization has been unbelievable,” Athanasiou said. “You can’t really think about the business part. It’s [about playing] your game and letting the rest take care of itself.”