Sean Monahan was a massive piece of the last Calgary Flames rebuild.
His trade was an integral piece of avoiding the start of another one.
The mandate from Calgary Flames majority owner Murray Edwards has never changed. Playoffs are the goal every year. An opportunity for a Stanley Cup.
There’s little doubt the Flames’ chances for the trophy are better with Nazem Kadri than Monahan, who has had the past two seasons ended by hip surgeries. On opposite hips. But that doesn’t diminish the legacy the 27-year-old centre leaves behind in Calgary.
Monahan’s time with the Flames started at the end of the Jarome Iginla era. The last time the team truly was forced to face an uncertain competitive future, with an injection of youth.
Drafted sixth overall in 2013, Monahan made the transition to the NHL from major junior look relatively easy. He scored 22 goals as a rookie. That same year, another young addition made his debut in the last game of the season after signing out of Boston College. The addition of Johnny Gaudreau gave Monahan a partner on the ice and a best friend off it. They helped the Calgary Flames snap a five-year playoff drought and shock the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the post-season.
They wouldn’t get that deep again until this past season. Monahan wasn’t on the ice for any of it after seeing his season cut short by hip surgery for a second year in a row.
But Monahan was involved in a touching playoff moment, congratulating his friend with an embrace in the tunnel after Gaudreau scored the overtime winner against the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the opening round.
In between, the two worked magic together for many years. Between 2014 and 2019 before COVID started messing with scheduling, Monahan ranked 13th in NHL goals scored. Alexander Ovechkin, John Tavares, Vlad Tarasenko, Nikita Kucherov, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski, Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin … and Monahan.
He ranked third in game-winning goals behind only Ovechkin and Marchand. Nine of his 150 goals were in overtime, which was third behind Marchand and Tarasenko.
As goal-scorers go, he was a dominant one.
Which might make the end of his tenure as a member of the Calgary Flames a challenging concept for those who haven’t seen everything Monahan has gone through to get there.
There has been a steep decline the past two seasons.
His first hip surgery ended the 2020-21 season early. He finished with a career low 10 goals and 28 points in 50 games. Hoping to come back from the injury feeling better than he had in years, he ended up with the same surgery on the other hip. His final line with the Flames was eight goals and 23 points in 65 games.
But there were plenty of injuries before that. And he played through them. To his detriment, certainly. And perhaps the team’s, too.
“I probably could have got these things fixed a long time ago, it was my personal choice to play through it, and it finally took a toll,” Monahan said in a Zoom with Montreal media after the trade. “Getting it fixed and I guess prioritizing myself, getting myself back together, it’s a good feeling.”
Monahan is an enigmatic case. Is he brave or heroic for playing through constant pain, or a dope for not taking better care of himself? He could have allowed a healthier player to put 100 per cent of himself out there in his place.
Wherever you land on that personally, no one could speak negatively of his character or leadership qualities. His serious nature made him an unpopular interview and spawned a hilarious Boring Sean Monahan Twitter account (run by anonymous teammates poking some fun at him). But he was also one of the most trusted and well-liked people on the team.
In the community, maybe even more so. He was a regular visitor to sick children, a generous supporter of philanthropic causes, and the most caring of teammates.
When Calgary Flames defenceman TJ Brodie had a seizure on the ice at practice, it was Monahan who made sure his wife, Amber, heard about it from a friend. Not the internet. He left the ice to call her, and when she didn’t answer, he had his wife knock on the Brodies’ door.
“You’re not going to find many better kids than him,” Flames GM Brad Treliving said via Zoom after the trade was announced. “You know, this kid played through a lot of things a lot of people don’t play through, and he didn’t say a whole lot.
“He’d just go out there and play, and that shows you the type of kid he is. I hope he continues on and plays well for Montreal. They got a great kid.”
Is he still a great player?
That’s to be determined.
But the fact the Calgary Flames – the team that drafted and developed him, and loves his character – wasn’t willing to wait and see if this was finally the year he is fully healthy and bounces back tells you a lot.
I asked Treliving about Monahan’s health, and he suggested all signs point to a healthy return.
But they did last year, too, and Monahan was most effective on the power-play. He scored a handful on the man-advantage, but earned few minutes as a fourth-liner and an occasional healthy scratch.
At 27, there are no guarantees for Monahan’s year. The league is getting faster and younger every year. Treliving didn’t hesitate to give a first-round pick as a pot sweetener to create the cap space to sign Kadri.
Nor should he have.
But it was a worthwhile gamble for the Canadiens. If Monahan is healthy, he’s certainly motivated.
“I think this summer is a big one for me,” Monahan said.
“I got the surgery earlier than I did the year before. So I’ve put in a lot of work this summer. Right now I’m back on the ice four times a week. It’s been a long time coming for me to feel healthy, so I’m excited to play hockey again at a high level.”
Even the Calgary Flames can cheer for that.