Sean Monahan – Proceed with Caution



Hype is a funny thing.

At first, it’s a sort of happy delirium, like a narcotic that smooths the rough edges of reality and suggests a future of boundless optimism and success. When it recedes, however, and the truth is rendered in cruel relief against those impossibly raised expectations, the hang-over can be…unpleasant.

Which brings us to the topic at hand. Sean Monahan has started his NHL career with a bang. Three goals and five points in just four games. He is outscoring much more celebrated offensive talents from his draft season, including Nate MacKinnon, Valery Nichushkin, Aleksandr Barkov and Elias Lindholm. In fact, amongst NHL rookies so far this year, only Tomas Hertl – he of the four goal game – has more points than Calgary’s 6th overall pick.

It’s been a very long time in Calgary since a forward prospect burst through the doors and established himself as an elite NHLer. The last guy to do it was Jarome Iginla. With him gone and the rebuild in full swing, we’re desperate for a new saviour to arrive in Flamestown. Monahan’s draft pedigree and his early success have some fashioning hero’s garb for the youngster already.

Monahan may actually become that player at some point. But the journey to there from here is a long one with many twists and bumps in the road. His early success is fun and it’s encouraging, but it’s not necessarily indicative of anything just yet. Like Sven Baertschi’s introductory three goal outburst as a 19-year old, Monahan’s team leading five points is, at best, a teaser to a much longer film. At worst, it’s a run of fortune that will cause Jay Feaster to lament the effect of impossibly raised expectations a year from now. 

Four games is a tiny sample size. And weird things happen in small numbers. Monahan’s personal shooting percentage right now is 25%, or about double what you’d expect a competent goal scorer in the NHL to manage. His one-ice SH% (that rate at which all pucks have gone in the net) at even strength this year is a mind-boggling 22% – about 300% higher than the league average (8%) and about 100% higher than Sidney Crosby or a competent PP would manage.

Which is to say, the puck has bounced right (very right) for Monahan in his first four games. As it did for Sven in those first three games. That’s not to say the players didn’t "deserve" their points in each instance – none of the markers in question were random bounces off of legs or empty-netters. But the NHL is a difficult league and scoring is notoriously fickle. Remember, on-ice SH% almost always regresses towards the mean (8%) on a long-enough time line – which means Monahan isn’t going to continue to score at will. Heck, even if he’s Sidney Crosby’s offensive equal (he’s not), Monahan’s ES goal frequency is still bound to be cut in half

That’s an easy to point to understand conceptually, but an important truth I’ve learned in writing critically about hockey is that performance almost always equals perception in the general fanship’s minds eye. With "offensive results" almost always being a proxy for "performance" (unless a guy is a role player who gets a pass for working hard and trying to hurt the opposition).

Unfortunately, performance does not always equal true talent, since factors like luck and circumstances have a non-trivial effect on outcomes in the league. Results jump up and down around the mean with the bounces, and often, so too do the general sentiments of a player’s abilities and value.

There’s lots and lots to like about Monahan’s game as teenager in this league. He’s already poised, methodical and thoughtful, which are hurdles many kids never clear on their way to the show. He’s big, strong and looks like he’ll be able to play in all areas of the ice. There are reasons to be excited about the player.

But the team and the fans need to proceed with caution. Monahan’s output has been goosed by a spike in percentages that is not going to persist. Our evaluation of his talents have therefore been similarly skewed. Very soon, the organization will need to make a decision about whether to send Monahan down to junior or burn a year of his entry-level deal in the show this season. Right now, it seems like a no-brainer to keep him, but the decision makers need to recognize the transient nature of his current output ri and try to project how they would view him if only one puck had gone in for him so far. Or How they’ll like the decision to keep him if the kid goes pointless for a 10-game stretch mid-season, which is entirely possible.

I’d suggest Flames fans also need to temper their expectations a bit, because the kid isn’t going to score 102 points as a 19 year old rookie and there are going to be rough patches at some point, be it this year if he stays up, or next year when he makes the team full time for sure. Sven Baertschi, who is probably the best pure offensive talent in the Flames pro ranks currently, is now enduring some of the unpleasant consequences of the hype that an early hot streak can cause.

As a fan, I’m enjoying Monahan’s impressive run, but also steeling myself for the inevitable downturn. He remains one of the club’s most important prospects and is likely a key contributor in the near future, but he still has a long way to go before he truly becomes that guy. 

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  • icedawg_42

    I’m glad you brought up Sven – cause this is the exact same kinda hype that I think has done some (hopefully short term) damage to the kid. Watching Monahan there is no doubt that this guy is special and I believe he will indeed be the face of the franchise – but I’m 100% on board with you in that he’ll need to grow into that, and that will take some time.

    I think the same attitude has to be taken with the team overall. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE the fact that as of this morning the Flames sit 8th overall and the cOilers sit 29th, but come-on..that’s not going to last. Hopefully the team and the individuals on it will be able to roll with the punches when they hit some adversity. In the meantime I’m enjoying the ride – which is something I can say about watching the Flames for the first time in a long time.

      • mattyc

        luck will run out, will likely get tougher minutes as the season progresses, less pp time with stajan and cammi back, underlying numbers indicate strong sheltering.

        also i can totally see a situation where he has 3 or 4 bad games in a row and he gets sat in the press box for some idiotic reason like “it will teach him humility” or some bull justification leading to a post hoc ergo propter hoc situation where nothing of value is accomplished and it just leads to him missing games.

        • Captain Ron

          Who cares if he is getting sheltered minutes right now in his development if he is contributing offensively in those minutes? What offensive minded players don’t get that when they are just breaking into the league?

          The Sedins have been making a living doing that for years.

          And your second paragraph? Holy crap dude where did that come from? Talk about pessimism that’s a whole new level for me.

          • icedawg_42

            i simply stated that because it has a huge effect on his scoring potential. harder minutes – which will come over the course of the season – will leave him beaten.

            grigorenko and matteau last year alone off the top of my head played about 25 out of 40 games, being healthy scratches for double-digit gp. it happens.

        • mattyc

          That’s fair, and I imagine a lot of that will happen. I think (if he stays, obviously) he’ll settle into the 3C role (behind Stajan and Backlund), so he’ll still get some PP time (albeit not as much as now since we’ve got enough opportunities that Ben freaking Street plays the PP). It won’t be this easy all year, but settling in the 30-35 point range sounds pretty reasonable to me.

          Worst case scenario is he sticks and gets put in a 4th line role with the plugger du jour. I have to imagine that won’t happen, given what we’ve heard Hartley and Feaster say, but who knows…

          • icedawg_42

            I would say that if Monahan starts getting 4th line minutes and linemates, I’ll be among the first storming the gates demanding he get sent down. And Schevvy – be careful there, you don’t wanna call down TEH thunder!

          • the issue is if that happens it will likely be after the 9 game mark so it really doesn’t matter.

            also i look forward to the day where people actually say why they disagree with me instead of just blindly mashing the trash button on my comments.

          • SmellOfVictory

            I think we mash that button for a good reason. I understand we need to temper our expectations and no I don’t think he will be a ppg for the rest of the year…but did you honestly think he would look this good through 4 games? Advanced stats aside, to the eye I like the way he is playing.

            I like your comments and articles. But there seems to be a condescending air to a lot of them. Is Feaster the best gm around? Definitely not. But do I think you/Jeremy/lambert would do a better job? Not a snow ball’s chance in hell. So lets be happy the flames don’t look nearly as bad as expected and get back to making fun of the loveable losers to the north.

            So there ya go. Now I will continue to mash

          • Derzie

            anybody with the amount of luck he’s had through 4 games would look this good. the eye aside, non-advanced stats show us he’s due for a downturn in production.

            I have no problem with disagreement, but i do have a problem with people who just dislike and then don’t tell me why. doesn’t make any sense and it’s cowardly.

          • piscera.infada

            …also i look forward to the day where people actually say why they disagree with me instead of just blindly mashing the trash button on my comments.

            I disagree. Better?

            There’s almost as little sense in getting so worked up about him staying as there is in thinking he’s Jesus on skates because he’s riding high percentages and got off to a hot start.

            I think the rebuild makes everyone go a little crazy. I doubt he’ll be hurt at all being sent down, but I’m also starting to doubt the perceived absolute deleterious effects on his career if he does stay. The first year of his ELC is something I care so little about that knowing his favorite color in grade 3 would be a more convincing argument as to whether he stays or goes – but that’s just me.

          • everton fc

            how much better would edmonton look next season if they spent 5 million on a #2 defenseman? they can’t now because of rnh’s contract.

            had rnh stayed in junior a year, they would be better overall: a good player on top of rnh at the same level of play. blackhawks were a perfect example of this once rocky died. that’s the type of economic impact a year of playing 12:00 minutes a game can have

          • piscera.infada

            Look, I understand the argument. I just don’t agree.

            There’s no need to be patronizing and absolutist. We’re not talking science here. Sorry if it’s just your writing style, I’m sure we could have a few beers and enjoy a lively debate, but your comments on this particular thread remind me of the episode of South Park where everyone starts smelling their own farts. How do they smell?

          • icedawg_42

            So no matter what he can’t get sent down after 10 games? (aka…fine send him down it still costs you a year of his ELC) – (and yes I realize this is bad business)….Someone suggested letting him play 6 or 7 then bring him back to finish the season – I kinda like that idea.

          • mattyc

            no, you can still send him down until he reaches 41 (?) games played but yeah it burns the first year of his elc.

            he gets 9 games – regardless in what configuration. as soon as he hits 10 gp his contract starts.

          • icedawg_42

            This may have changed on the new CBA, but I believe the 41 games is also what triggers buring a year of eligibility towards being a UFA. The contract itself burns a year at game 10, and then the UFA clock ticks at game 41.

            But I cannot find anything except old CBA items regarding that.

          • icedawg_42

            Yeah – I agree..but I was thinking of a scenario where he continues to light it up on the scoresheet for like 15 games, then drops off the face of the earth – “COULD” they still send him to junior. Jazzy answered that question.

            And let me clarify – I think this would be worse than the worst case scenario! Hoping there’s no way it comes to this.

      • SmellOfVictory

        Lots of excellent back and forth on here regarding Monahan. I have heard Justin and Lambert pretty clearly about their position. What is yours Kent and why? Also what would be the tipping point for you either way?

        Reading your article my take was cautious optimism. (does this equate to it being better to keep him or send him down?)

      • 24% body fat

        Complete player? Isnt he getting eating alive in corsi? Minus player despite being the leading scorer.

        Things are pointing to luck and powerplay here. Not consistency and even strength production.

        I think you meant to say shows signs of becoming a complete player.

        And as a non flames fan I can say I think he will be one, but this article has hit it on the head.