When Domi was signed, it seemed to me like everyone had a read on the guy. They were certain, absolutely certain they understood this player. The angry short declarative sentences were out in force. Me, I used to watch the Arizona Coyotes on purpose for a time, and all I knew was who he used to be.

He and Anthony Duclair were this amazing duo no one outside of of Phoenix knew about. The Coyotes were in one of their many "we're going to get better" seasons, when they weren't and they didn't, but the top line of Domi, Leafs consultant Shane Doan and Duclair were magic. Shooting percentage magic, and that special sparkle that comes on a bad team when it doesn't matter if you give back two goals for every one you score. From ice level, I bet they thought they were offence gods.

And like it was always done in Arizona, when Domi's cost got higher than they needed to hit the floor, he was gone. The interesting part, and the thing that confounded me in being absolutely sure about him was that he wandered around from team to team, traded at the deadline like a man ten years older, and never stuck anywhere. He kept signing on bad teams and playing six weeks on good ones, but never getting extended. It's very hard to make sense out of any kind of playing record.

Fan and media analysis of him took two main paths: people are little carbon copies of their parents so Domi must be truculent and physical and will bring the much needed nastiness to the Leafs who are too nice and just try to score. Or Domi has said harmful and racist things in the past and life is like a movie so he must be very bad at hockey.

He keeps changing teams. That's the thing that was significant. Dallas didn't want to keep him and Carolina didn't want to keep him – two teams with aspirations and some challenges in their lineup construction. And now we know too well why that is. He's not without skill, life isn't a movie, he isn't truculence on skates, genetics don't work that way, and when hockey people talk about players like they're racehorses they creep me out. But Domi can be very hard to fit in a lineup.

What do you see when Domi plays? He passes. Everyone knows he will look to pass first offensively. So forget him for a second and look at Mitch Marner. He plays as the setup man. He's got a better shot, and he realizes he needs to be a threat to shoot to fool goalies, but he doesn't crash the net, he hangs back and he facilitates the shooters. Because of this his shot location is poorer than someone like Nylander.

Domi shoots much less than Marner, and much less from the medium danger areas that Marner turns into gold, either directly or through generating rebounds for the net-front players. Mitch Marner plays a game that works with a shooter. Domi plays a game that's better with a shooter, but his passing isn't particularly well executed, and he is so unsubtle only the stupidest defender is going to be confused about who is going to take the shot on a two-on-one.

The other bone of contention when Domi was signed was how bad he was defensively. He looked terrible in his most recent stats by any model that attempts to isolate individual impact. Now here's a little problem to mull over: so did Klingberg. Both had played on really bad teams, and one of those was real and one was quite a bit illusion. Was Klingberg's isolated impact more reliable because it was measuring defence by a defenceman and Domi's was a lot exaggerated because he's a forward? Or is it just that team effects are imperfectly isolated.

Domi's results this year will show Domi is a negative impact on defence, but much less terrible than recent years.

Sheldon Keefe turned him 25 years old again with this one neat trick. And that's the problem. The trick has consequences.

It begins, not with Domi, but with David Kämpf. Kämpf is supposed to be the 3C who might get shoved down to the fourth line at the trade deadline. Last year he was a bargain-priced shutdown centre, and this year he is extremely dreadful defensively. He's not the biggest impact on the Leafs' very poor Expected Goals Against rate, but he is the first domino in the bottom-six decline. Over the entire Auston Matthews era this season is the worst, by far for team Expected Goals Against.

To review, Keefe tried out Domi on the wing on the top six, and then on the wing with Fraser Minten when he surprised everyone by having nearly an NHL game. For a team absolutely desperate to put someone at 3C that is. When Minten couldn't carry the line, Domi ended up in that spot with Calle Järnkrok and Nick Robertson most of the time. And boy they looked good, didn't they? Weren't they amazing rushing up the ice, Domi telegraphing the pass, but they were fast! Fun!

The Trick

The red lines are league average, the red bars are the players' own ice time. I am more than a little amazed that Keefe has been able to skew Domi's competition this much. Usually, you need a very, very low minute player to get something that looks like this for more than a dozen or so games. But this is what's given Domi and his line their offensive success. This is where the gaudy on-ice stats come from. And this is why, when the Leafs hit the road, Domi hits the skids.

In the Edmonton game Domi was outplayed comprehensively by the Oilers' fourth line. And everyone else. So even if Keefe had been able to linematch, the overall quality of the team would have rendered the trick unworkable.

Now go back up and look at that terrible shot chart with his career norm of .50 ixG/60 and remember that although Domi has a positive impact on the scoring of others – his assists are due to his own play to some extent – it's a very, very modest impact, and one aimed at modestly talented players. Why in the hell would you go to all this effort for the third line? What is Keefe doing here? There's no way loading up the other three lines to give these guys an easy ride is a viable path to team success.

It's the least worst option. If Kämpf can't be played up the lineup because he's actually a bigger defensive liability with zero offensive skills, and playing William Nylander les is a nonsensical underuse of his prodigious talent, then who else is there? Fraser Minten sticking around at all should have been a clue.

There's the unknown and unknowable tension here between Keefe, who has largely been trying to run a cheap shutdown third line because that's who Kyle Dubas gave him, and Brad Treliving who wanted the depth to chip in goals. So he paid for it. And it's the rotten core of the team that's putting pressure on the top six where Marner and TJ Brodie are already struggling in big minutes, and making all of their results worse.

You know who could use a little skew on the usage? John Tavares and co. But they get the opposite, and it shows. Kämpf is the guy really paying the freight for Max Domi, however.

Why doesn't Keefe just fix it!!! Well, in retrospect, I think his blender lines of the last two games have been triple purpose. It gave everyone something to talk about that wasn't Samsonov. It demoted some players who haven't been performing, and it let him try out John Tavares as a third line centre. Eventually the team is going there, that's inevitable. But Domi didn't get better with higher quality wingers, and under pressure in Edmonton at the end, Keefe put the band back together and ran Tavares with Nylander and Tyler Bertuzzi.

I think the carefully used scoring third line is a clever scheme. And I hate clever schemes because I'm pretty clever and very imaginative, and I've fallen in love with my own cleverness too many times. I think Keefe has done that here. Even so, his scheme is half illusion because the fourth line is often really the third line. And Järnkrok gets some shifts with the top six.

Just play David Kämpf as the third-line centre. Whatever the hell is up with him can change. He has been better. Domi hasn't. Keefe has made him the best player he's been since his one good season in Montréal. And then the rest of this is Treliving's problem to solve. But he's nearly impossible to fit into the Leafs in a way that works. Maybe it's past time to stop trying.

This is the never ending cycle. The team gets a shutdown line and the cry goes out to roll four lines and score from the depth (Justin Bourne). The team puts limited quality scoring forwards who can't defend in the bottom six and the demand is for toughness and grit (Nick Kypreos). Round and round like a radio show. My answer is this: there's a salary cap, and goals for cost more than stopping goals against, particularly with forwards. If you've spent a wad on goals for, cheap out on some defence only depth guys, and sprinkle in some judicious amounts of scoring. Don't make scoring from the bottom six your entire focus.

Oh, and another thing: if the best defender you can get in trade is really just Cake McJabe, then forget about it and get a middle-six centre who really will help the team defensively now, and as the Tavares contract plays out.