Monahan – Should he Stay or Should he Go?



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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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The Flames will do the same thing for Monahan’s development, regardless of how it affects the business side of things.

Around the Nation

  • Money is not an issue. A member of the organization confirmed as much to me this week.

    Here’s the thing – it’s not about money, it’s about efficiency of spending. The NHL is an efficiency contest under a salary cap – the better value you get out of your players, the better your roster, the more chance you have of winning.

    So, in essence, if the Flames keep Monahan this year, they are trading his cheap 18 year old season for a cheap 21 year old season due to the restrictions of the entry-level deal under this CBA. And 21/22 year old Sean Monahan at $1.77M is almost certainly going to be a much better deal than an 18/19 year old Monahan. There’s also a much bigger chance the Flames could be competitive in three years time, at which point extra cap space will be a more pressing concern.

    Of course, this one decision in and of itself isn’t enough to determine the Flames budgetary position down the road. But it’s little issues like this that can build incremental value (or expense).

    If the Flames determine that his development would be accelerated to a non-trivial degree by sticking around and he’ll be a better player both sooner and long-term by staying with the team, then so be it. But for me it’s not about whether the club will be able to afford him in general down the road – it’s the efficiency of their spending that is the issue.

    • Steve Macfarlane

      Kent, I get what you’re saying and it makes sense. I’d rather have him cheap at 21 (see Tyler Seguin so far this year) as opposed to an OK season this year on a team that could struggle.
      But I do still believe that this decision should purely be based on hockey development, mostly because this will likely be the face of the franchise sooner or later. Worry about future pieces and fitting them into the right business model later but get it right with this kid right away so he turns into the kind of player they need.
      I’m not privy to how that conversation is going and whether they believe that another junior season would be good for him or not, but if they do ship him back, that’s what they will have to sell to a fanbase that’s clamouring to see him here now and willing to buy tickets just to see him.

      • Steve Macfarlane

        I should also mention that I believe this organization – in spite of finally admitting to a rebuild last season – believes the rebuild will be relatively short and that they can compete quicker than three, four or five years down the road.

    • seve927

      I think you’ve got to be able to fill in a roster efficiently, but your core guys, you can expect to pay. Next year’s first rounder could be the guy we’re looking to have on a bargain for a few years, and maybe this years first, but right now you’re still trying to put together a core. The only way Monahan’s contract becomes an issue is if we start acquiring ‘post-apex’ players over the next couple of years.

      I’ve been for sending him back, but I’m starting to wonder. I can’t really see another year of junior doing him any good. If he goes down this year, and the Flames truly do completely tank next year, I think you’d want him to spend the year in the A next year as well, because he’d still need the development he would have gotten this year.

    • SmellOfVictory

      Efficiency in spending is not that straightforward, though. High performers on ELCs are important to teams that already have an established core of players on their 2nd/3rd/etc contracts; that’s not the case with a team whose core is still being developed, none of whom are making more than 2.5 million/season (unless we consider Gio/Wideman to be core, although they’re old enough that they’ll be waning by the time the true core hits peak).

      By the time Monahan’s ELC is up, regardless of how many years they manage to get it to slide, the team will likely just be entering its competitive stage, and still well below cap. There’s no real efficiency, at any point in the evolution of this Flames team, to be gained by throwing Monahan down into the minors.

      • Parallex

        If the Hawks didn’t have Toews/Kane on entry level deals at the time they likely don’t end up getting Hossa in Free Agency and if the Hawks don’t have Hossa I believe they don’t win the Cup in 2010.

        I’d rather the Flames have the option of having the space to do something like that if need be then not have the option at all.

        Frankly, I don’t think there is any harm returning him to junior. He needs to improve parts of his game and he’ll be able to work on those just as well in junior as he can in the NHL. He’ll also have the experience of playing for the WJC and then a long playoff run after he is inevitably traded to Barrie or London. Those will be good experiences for him that doesn’t cost the Flames anything.

        • SmellOfVictory

          They had third liners (Versteeg) on 3.5 million dollar contracts, a 7+ million dollar defenceman (Campbell), etc. For every good value contract, they seemed to have a poor value one as well. I also don’t think you can structure your salary with the premise that your team is going to land big name free agents – especially not now that cap circumvention has been reduced.

          • Parallex

            It’s better to have and not need then need and not have.

            In my mind now that cap circumvention has been reduced it makes managing the cap even more important and they way to go about efficiently managing you cap is not to accelerate the timeline upon which your cost controlled guys get paid.

            A cheap 18/19 Year old Sean Monahan is almost certainly not going to make a significantly positive difference to the fortunes of the 2013/2014 Calgary Flames but a cheap 21/22 year old Sean Monahan might make a difference to the 2016/2017 Calgary Flames.

          • SmellOfVictory

            I’d rather have him develop in a league that actually challenges him and risk a minor economic issue later on than have him run roughshod over a league that he is clearly too good for in order to extend his ELC by a year.

            I love numbers, and I love finding efficiency in a cap league, but this isn’t a simple question of accounting.

        • Purple Hazze

          Actually if the Hawks didn’t have Brian Campbell signed to that horrible contract it wouldn’t have mattered if Kane/Towes were on ELC’s or not.

          Brian Campbell’s contract is the reason the Hawks had to dismantle their 2010 cup team. If the Flames can avoid those types of contracts once they start to become competitive it won’t matter what year Monahan’s ELC expires.

          • Parallex

            But almost no team (no team with money anyways) completely avoids those types of contracts. IMO we can’t expect perfection from any front office (to say nothing of this front office… this is Feaster and Burke we’re talking about here). In other words that’s a big honking “If”. 🙂

    • Truculence

      Yes, this will most definitely be an issue, as around the same time we will have a plethora of other young stars to sign. lol, if only we had that problem.

      Yeesh, it’s only one guy and we have no other big contracts after this season. If you think that the Flames are a Stanley Cup contender when Monahan turns 22, and they will have tremendous problems not exceeding the salary cap (which will be in excess of 70 million by then), then I can see the validity of your argument. Otherwise, it’s a lot of hand-wringing for no reason.

      p.s. Monahan is also 11 months older than others drafted before him like Mackinnon and Barkov.

  • One aspect of Monahan’s staying or going that no one has really brought up or discussed is how he effects those around him.

    I will label this The Monahan or Monyhands effect.

    What I am referring to here is how his emergence with the team has made his team mates around him better. Stempniak was already pretty good last year but playing on a line with Monahan and Baertschi it seems almost rejuvinated him. He has been flying the first 6 games and finding ice that he hasn’t seen in the past. Monahan’s ability to read the situation and make the right pass has allowed Stempniak and Baertschi to play more to a style that suits them in the offensive zone. The responsibility Hudler has had living with Monahan has made Hudler more of a leader on the team and he has looked like a man on an offensive mission lately.

    Next the effect all the Monahan talk has had on Baertschi has been very noticeable. Monahan has instantly become a role model for Sven. Ever since Monahan started making head waves and Burke called him out while praising Monahan. Sven has gone out of his way to use his body more in the offensive zone on the forecheck, to get his arse back on the back check. In just the last 3 games I’ve seen a side of Sven we’ve never seen. If Sven plays like that all year and realizes that this is how he needs to play he is going to become a very good all around NHL player. It took Backlund 3 seasons to figure out what Sven seems to have figured out in 1 season. And I realize it might be a little bit premature and it also may be speculative but I attribute that success to him playing with and competing for coaches attention with Monahan. Healthy competition within in the young core is a huge motivator.

    If Monahan’s development isn’t hindered playing with the Flames this year. I don’t think there’s even a question of whether he should stay or go. If he’s not a liability the mere thought that he makes his teammates better is reason enough for me why he should stay on the team ELC be damned.

  • Willi P

    Don’t think he can develop the things he needs to work in Junior. He would simply dominate against kids. In this case I think it may hurt his development going back to junior.

    • piscera.infada

      Agreed. If what he needed to work on was “offensive confidence” (the one thing people were saying since we drafted him) then sending him down would be far more palatable, from my perspective. I just feel that he needs to work on aspects of his game that would likely better better worked on at his endpoint (the NHL), as opposed to against weaker competition – those things being: speed, strength, defensive zone coverage, and faceoffs.

      That said, I agree with the premise in this article that if there’s any indication his mental make-up wont allow him to deal with the lows this season is bound to give the team, then he must be sent down. Everything I’ve heard seems to indicate that wont be an issue, but if it is, you’re better seeing what you have in other young guys.

      I also agree that it is a no-brainer that if he is still on the big club come boxing day, the organization should – and will – let him go to the WJHC. That is invaluable experience, and not letting him go is the only decision that could really hurt his development.

  • piscera.infada

    Well I guess if we are going to beat this horses head one more swing cant hurt. In my view, this is a no brainer, it’s a matter of circumstance. OHL & having Monahan dominate using half the effort is pointless & will not enhance his development. In fact, that is something we don’t want the kid to learn, achieving success with 1/2 the effort. If he were eligible for Abby, then I am all for it. It worked wonders for Brodie & I see it as being the perfect scenario for Monahan. But we don’t have that option, so get over it. Having the kid here playing his butt off under the scrutiny of Flames coaches is the best case here. If worst case he really starts to struggle by the end of November, then lend him to the WJC team.
    Right now, he is learning to play the big game & he’s learning to play it with our other big blue chip in Sven. Well you really can smell what the “Rock” is cooking with these two players & it smells good.

  • Gange

    The burning question really is:

    What will keep Monahan’s development on the upward trend? Does sending him to Ottawa do that? I’m not sure. There’s a great deal we don’t know about the kid so “we” can’t make that determination.

    It seems like he can handle the sheltered minutes at the pro level, but is that best for him?

    Ultimately “we” need to learn to expect less than we’ve seen so far. His results currently, are not sustainable.

    It’s GREAT to see though.

  • NHL93

    I totally agree with the article. The Flames will make a fact-based decision on Monahan. Personally, I hope he stays. He makes Calgary a better team even though he needs to work on faceoffs and defensive zone coverage.

    With Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Anaheim a certain segment of posters are again calling/wishing for the Flames to tank to pick in the top two or three in 2014.

    Here’s why I think it shouldn’t and won’t happen.

    First, at least so far in this young season, Edmonton, Buffalo, Florida, N.J. and Philly seem like they could finish lower than the Flames. That would leave Calgary picking 6th. The Flames could get another very good, but not elite player as this upcoming draft is less stacked than 2013.

    Second, the Flames are already stocked with talent. I’m projecting out three years to the 2016-17 season and eliminating virtually everyone from the current team who would be over 30 at the time. At Center they would be loaded: Monahan, Backlund, Knight, Arnold, Jooris, Bouma, Reinhart, Colborne, Granlund. I’m conceding Jankowski as a question mark.

    Ditto loaded at Left Wing: Gudreau, Baertschi, Poirier, Agostino, Klimchuk, Ferlund.
    Goaltending could be Berra with Gillies being almost NHL ready and Brossoit in Abby.. Ramo is a question mark in my mind.

    Defence: Brodie, Wotherspoon, Sieloff, Ramage, Cundari and Kanzig as the top 6. Maybe Gio and Wideman are also still around although they will be post-apex at around 34.

    Right wing is where they would be thin: I keep Jones who will be about 32, Stempniak (33) and Hanowski. A current center or left wing would have to make the transition to right wing.

    The lines would look something like this: Monahan- Gudrea- D.Jones; Baertschi-Backlund- Hanowski; Knight-Arnold-Agostino; Bouma-Galliardi-Klimchuk.

    Don’t take the order too literally; it’s three years away.

    Possible trade bait because there is not enough room: Granlund, Reinhart, Jooris. In my mind the jury is out on Colbourne. Ferland will be competing for a very crowded left wing spot.

    In other words, stockpiling solid NHL talent is not the Flames main concern any more although additional prospects are always great to have and the Flames will certainly have other draft possibilities in the next three years.

    I think there are five locks for 2013 in the west: San Jose, LA, Anaheim, Chicago, St. Louis. Colo is likely as is Van. That leaves Calgary fighting it out for the last playoff spot with Minn, Dallas, Phoenix, Nashville (as I reckon).

    The Flames could be buyers not sellers at the deadline. They also have oodles of cap room to make a trade and upgrade the blueline (Butler!!, Smith). Feaster has repeatedly said they want to build a winning culture. Hartley has the team playing the way Feaster said he wants them to–certainly not playing to lose. I don’t think Calgary should or will tank this year. They could even be fighting for that last playoff spot. I think Monahan’s presence throughout the year will help them do that.

    • T&A4Flames

      In your draft scenarik we’d be picking 5th as NJ has tk forfeit their 1st rnd due to the Kovalchuk contract.

      Also, Poirier is listed as a RW although he is a left hand shot.

      This draft my hopes are for a big #1D mand-Ekblad. If not I would be very excited for a top 6 potential RW- Virtanen.

    • Greg

      I agree the future looks much brighter than in years past, but I think we have to assume a non-trivial number of our current prospects won’t pan out. Excluding the blue-chip guys (Brodie, Monahan, Baertschi), I would be surprised if we got more than 2 quality NHLers at each position out of the guys you listed.

      • Here’s who I think have shown through prospect camp, or college play or major junior performance that they can play in the NHL:

        Wotherspoon, Sieloff, Ramage, Knight, Arnold, Hanowski, Agostino, Klimchuk, Berra, Gillies. There are also several maybes: Jooris, Colborne, Ferlund.

        If you read this posting I’m curious which ones you disagree with? I have 12 rather than six.

        That seems like the basis of an extremely strong core which you add in the three blue chips you listed.

        • Greg

          Think of guys like Pavel Brendle and Angelo Espisito. A prospect can look like a sure thing and still never make it. As good as the guys you listed have looked at times, it’s a safe bet several will never clear the bar, but it’s too early to identify which ones that’ll be.

  • RedMan

    Worrying about the cap implications for 2017 is kind of ‘cart before the horse’, no?

    What the Flames brass believe is best for his long term development should be priority #1. Priority #1 should not be worrying about how his 2nd contract will effect the Flames cap situation in 2017.