Sean Monahan is sticking around. Now what?
When Jay Feaster announced that Sean Monahan would be staying with the Flames past the nine-game window, the nearly unanimous reaction has been relief; incredulous Flames fans have been asking for weeks how on earth Monahan could possibly be sent down, especially after his torrid offensive start to the season.
However, there is a strong and persistent body of opinion that suggests that Monahan should have been sent down, not necessarily because his play at the NHL level has been sub-standard but for other reasons (contractual for instance).
NHL prospect guru Corey Pronman indicated that one of the most important metrics of Monahan’s usefulness at the NHL level is the opportunity (ice-time) that Monahan will receive with the Flames.
This is an extremely prescient consideration for Monahan’s future with the Flames. A large contributor to Monahan’s success so far has been the situations that coach Bob Hartley has used him in. Monahan has played over 15 minutes in each of the nine games he has played (averaging 15.5 minutes overall) so far and in the past two games, Monahan played over 19 minutes. Pronman noted that if Monahan could be given upwards of 17 minutes per game, he felt he should be kept at the NHL level but otherwise Pronman was less enthusiastic of keeping him.
As far as situational play is concerned, Monahan has also been fairly sheltered by Hartley, starting in the offensive zone roughly 58% of the time when he is on the ice at even strength. On the power-play, Monahan plays 34% of the time, including a pair of goals. In the faceoff circle, Monahan is not exactly setting the world on fire. In 127 draws, Monahan has lost 75 of them putting him at just under 41% overall. I am not overly concerned about this as it is hard (see: impossible) for a 19 year-old centreman to enter the best league in the world and dominate in the circle. Hopefully, as a part of his overall development, Monahan can become reliable in the faceoff circle as the Flames have not had a dependable faceoff guy since Stephane Yelle jettisoned Flames silks.
Quite significantly, Monahan has also been playing with good linemates, something the Flames did not do enough when bringing Sven Baertschi into the fold over the past few seasons. Monahan is playing with Baertschi and Hudler, the latter of which is enjoying a career-best start to the season. To Hartley’s credit, this line has stayed relatively constant while all other lines seem to be in a state of constant flux. If Monahan is going to continue to be successful at the NHL level, he will likely need this continuity of competency in order to become more comfortable at the NHL level. As far as the Flames are concerned, even if Monahan struggles, he should not find himself playing with Brian McGrattan under any circumstance.
Pronman also includes that any NHL team should consider firstly and most obviously the performance in the nine-games, but also the realistic consideration of the team’s likelihood of contending for a playoff spot (which he characterizes as “projection of NHL team”). This is perhaps the most damning indictment of the Flames decision to keep Monahan up. As this most recent road-trip is revealing, it looks as though the Flames will struggle mightily in this new Pacific division this season and are likely to be near the bottom of it come April, or perhaps much sooner than that. While the Flames are lapping up praise for not being the Buffalo Sabres, this Monahan kool-aid is a welcome distraction from the grimmer realities likely awaiting Flames fans in the coming months.
Another relevant question is that of where Monahan’s devleopment will be best served. Though hardly the oracles of absolute truth, Aaron Ward and Mike Johnson voiced their opinion that the best place for Monahan to learn is in “on the job” in the NHL. Alternatively, there is the belief that there is an inherit risk of exposing Monahan too quickly to this high level of competition may stunt his growth as a player. To my way of thinking, there is no possible way of knowing for certain whether or not Monahan is best served in either league. The only way to know is by letting the season unfold and not being afraid to make difficult decisions, even if it means having to double back on the call the Flames have made today.
Present to this discussion is the fact that the Flames organization can still choose to send Monahan back to the OHL after say 20 games, and retain his RFA rights for five years, arguably at least equally as important as a year on his entry-level deal but this is only likely to occur if he falls off a cliff here in the next few months. Also, the Flames mentioned that they may allow Monahan to play in the World Junior Championships but that again would largely depend on their position in the standings come Christmas time.
The decision to keep Monahan in Calgary is surely an important moment for the organization. The Flames are desperate to expedite the rebuilding process and Monahan’s NHL readiness would appear to be a good omen in this regard. However, Flames fans should hope that this does not morph into impatience as Sean Monahan alone will not turn this team into a cup contender.