Calgary Flames centre Sean Monahan was arguably the most talked-about member of the team over the offseason. Not for what he would bring on the ice this year, but for who he might bring to the Flames in a trade.
The most excitement many fans could muster for Monahan is the idea – borderline infatuation – that he would be part of a package for Buffalo Sabres superstar Jack Eichel. Nothing has come to fruition with that NHL trade rumour … yet … although it is frequently reported that the Calgary Flames are indeed among the teams still bartering with the Sabres for Eichel’s future.
But we’re not here to talk about Jack Eichel’s future. Instead, let’s explore Monahan’s.
To do that, you should start with a peek at his past. Scoring 20 or more goals in seven of his eight NHL seasons, Monahan’s 204 regular-season snipes rank second among those drafted in 2013, just six behind Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon’s 210. Monahan was actually the first in his draft class to net 200, but his last couple of seasons have put him on a very different path than MacKinnon.
It’s easy to forget he only turned 27 on Tuesday.
Pandemic effect and injury led to ineffectiveness
The pandemic-shortened 2019-20 campaign saw Monahan post his lowest totals since his rookie season. That could be an anomaly, a sudden lack of confidence or the mental strain of playing through previous injuries and multiple surgeries. But his numbers during last year’s COVID-condensed season made it a downward trend.
Johnny Gaudreau, his ride-or-die linemate who has assisted on more than half of Monahan’s NHL goals, also suffered a statistical dip – although not nearly as deep as his sharpshooting partner. Their success has always been heavily linked, but they may have to find ways to produce under head coach Darryl Sutter. He split them up late last season and looks poised to start them on different lines on Saturday, too. The coach is expecting them both to be strong offensive contributors without the defensive lapses they’ve experienced in the past.
Why Monahan may resume scoring ways
For those believing in a bounce-back year for Monahan, it is interesting to note the hip injury he suffered last season was hindering him for much longer than most outside the dressing room knew. He was injured about six games into the season, but wasn’t shut down until May. Off-season surgery seems to have taken care of that.
“I feel good. I happy with where my body’s at,” Monahan said after his second and final preseason game. “It was a good test for me.”
Although he suited up for just the two games, Monahan showed improvement from debut to finale. His coach said he was “sluggish” in his first one. He finished with no points and was minus-one on the night in just over 14 minutes of ice time. But Mohanan played nearly four more minutes in his second preseason game – including significant time on both special-teams units. Killing penalties wasn’t a big part of his portfolio prior to Sutter arriving to coach the Calgary Flames mid-season last year. His lifetime average of shorthanded time per game is 30 seconds. But it’s part of “making him a little more responsible,” as Sutter said after practice on Tuesday.
Also in that second game was a trademark top-of-the-crease goal.
“He has to be that again in terms of a shooter. That’s really important,” said Sutter, who believes the extra few days of practice will benefit Mohahan as the Flames prep for Saturday’s season-opener.
“I’m glad we have this week for him to take another step. Quickness is paramount for Sean. Playing with fast guys, he needs to be really productive five-on-five and a 200-foot. guy. I think he really works at that.”
Calgary Flames centre confident in faceoff circle
Sutter specifically mentioned Monahan’s efforts on the details of faceoffs and his positioning on the ice in certain situations. His work in the faceoff circle in the last preseason game shows that effort is paying off. The more competitive performance included an impressive 75 per cent success rate on draws against his Winnipeg Jets counterparts. His lifetime record is 49 per cent.
“Having that confidence in the circle; you want to take important faceoffs, you want to win faceoffs. You’ve got to bear down. That’s when you use your hip a lot. It’s a different feel,” Monahan said of his surgically repaired hip. “The way your hip moves and the way it functions, it’s a lot different. It’s a lot more mobile and you have to get used to it. It’s something I’m still doing. I’m getting real comfortable with it.”
If Monahan returns to his pre-pandemic offensive output and becomes a more well-rounded player, the Calgary Flames top six forwards could rank with the league’s best. If not, Monahan’s value won’t be high enough to be attached to juicy Jack Eichel NHL trade rumours next year.