October 18 2013 08:54AM
Only one thing is certain as debate continues over whether Sean Monahan stays with the Flames past his ninth game or heads back to junior to resume his role as captain of the Ottawa 67s - whatever the Calgary Flames braintrust decides, it will be based on Monahan’s development as a hockey player, and not the team’s financial bottom line. It will have nothing to do with a contract that is at least three years away from being negotiated.
All this talk about sending him back to junior just to avoid burning the first year of his entry-level deal is utter nonsense.
The Flames ownership group is willing to spend to the salary cap ceiling every season. They have only two contracts costing more than $5 million at the moment, and one of those comes off the books this summer.
There’s no reason to look at Monahan as anything but a future cornerstone for the franchise. If the team keeps him and has to shell out big money three years from now instead of four, five, or six, they’ll do it happily — the same way they’ll gladly pay top dollar for T.J. Brodie’s services in two years after inking him to a more affordable bridge deal this offseason.
Money is not an issue. A member of the organization confirmed as much to me this week.
Monahan becoming a money player is the only concern. Hockey is the sole factor in the club’s consideration of what to do with their impressive asset. They will do whatever they believe to be in the best interests of Monahan’s continued development as a key piece of the franchise's future.
That doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to stick around this year, though. If general manager Jay Feaster and president of hockey operations Brian Burke — in consultation with their coaching staff — decide that another year dominating at the junior level is better for Monahan in the long run, they won’t hesitate to ship him back to the nation’s capital despite his early success on the scoresheet in the NHL so far.
Early Season Returns
There’s no doubt the sixth-overall draft pick is a long-term keeper. He already looks the part of a professional.
Earning points in the first five games and netting goals in his last four prior to both of those streaks coming to an end in Anaheim Wednesday night, Monahan’s hot start to the season seems to indicate that he can contribute.
Advanced stats don’t necessarily support sustainability right away, but history dictates the kid is pretty clutch when needed most. However, some doubts may finally be creeping in.
The thrill of making the roster out of training camp is wearing off, the travel is getting tougher, and so are the opponents — which means Monahan’s production is bound to level off.
He played a little more than 15 minutes against the Ducks and didn’t take a single faceoff in the dying minutes of the third period with his team trailing by a goal. It was clear head coach Bob Hartley decided to shelter his prospect. That’s all normal for a teenager trying to jump to the NHL from the junior ranks.
These are valuable teaching opportunities at the game’s highest level. There will be plenty more to come this week as we approach the nine-game threshold.
The Ingredients for Success as a Young Player
Strength, intelligence, maturity, skill, mental toughness. physical endurance. Each of these assets contributes to the evaluation of whether or not a young player can hack it in the NHL early on.
At 6-foot-2, 185 lb., Monahan has the physical attributes to withstand a yearlong beating with the big boys. His skill and on-ice intelligence are obvious, as is the maturity he displays in front of and away from the media. He is a young leader in the making.
If he sticks, there will be some serious ups and downs in both his play and the team’s performance. The organization has to decide quickly whether or not he has the mental toughness to withstand the highs and lows of a full season on a potentially struggling squad, without having his confidence and development affected.
There’s also the Sven Baertschi Syndrome to consider. His early success in a brief appearance two seasons ago led to a sense of entitlement for the young Swiss playmaker, and he didn’t work hard enough to duplicate the results last year. He’s come around a little more recently, in part because of his pairing with Monahan. If you chalk up Baertschi’s struggles to mild immaturity, you probably don’t believe that will be an issue with Monahan.
The Decision Within the Decision
If the Flames do keep Monahan for the duration of the season, it doesn’t mean he won’t have a chance to wear the Maple Leaf across his chest at the world junior tournament come Christmas.
Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Brett Connolly, and the Ducks’ Devante Smith-Pelly are a couple of the most recent players to be loaned toe the world junior cause by their NHL clubs.
Lightning GM Steve Yzerman didn’t see it as a step back for Connolly.
"It's important for these young guys to play in these big events in pressure games. They make you better,” Yzerman told the St. Petersburg Times at the time. “We still want him here, but what's best for Brett Connolly in the long run is best for us all. I'm confident this is the right thing for him."
The Flames will do the same thing for Monahan’s development, regardless of how it affects the business side of things.