Happy Belated Festivus, Citizens, hopefully your various feats of strength did not include powerful muscle pulls. Mine most certainly did.
I want to talk about something that happened during the ho hum, run of the mill Flames victory over the Kings on Monday, something that many have been calling for since the days where we were making ebola jokes in place of mumps jokes, and nobody was talking about North Korea: your Calgary Flames finally, FINALLY put Sean Monahan on a line with Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler.
And Johnny Hockey scored a hat trick, so…
You know as well as I do that sample size is everything, and that results are not typical, but I’m here to make the case that this is a line that would thrive with regular playing time, and if the Flames are serious about turning their season around after this MacTavishian slump, keeping this trio united would go a long way in doing that (as well as playing Gio and Brodie something to the tune of 60 minutes a game, but that’s a story for another day)
We’ll discuss this in greater detail in this here article today, but here’s a spoiler alert for you tl;dr crowd out there: this is a good thing that needs to be more permanent. Like “never not doing this” permanent.
You are a regular reader here at Flames Nation. You are a smart, educated hockey fan, with a discerning nose for talent, and a keen intellect when it comes to pertinent hockey analysis. You are a dandy.
You are overqualified to judge the efficacy of a Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler line. All you really need is a pulse and at least one working eye to see that this line is and is going to be effective.
The big key here is Monahan. The sophomore center was certainly well regarded last season after putting up 22 goals and 34 points in 75 games last season, his rookie campaign. That’s all well and good, but the underlyings (I like saying underlyings because I’m a #hip #dude) proffered that Monahan was an extremely sheltered forward, and in fact, when he played against the opposing team’s top players, he was buried like Kane in a casket match against his brother (you’re welcome).
But of course, the bones of a top line center were there. As Flames fans, we’re used to that. “Oh, yeah, sure, another high end player with a ton of potential. They all end up being Dan Ryder, so whatever”. This franchise has spent the better part of two decades trying to find a top line center, what makes anyone think we’ve found one now?
Well, it turns out that Monahan is progressing just splendidly, you damn cynics. (I was one of the ones saying he should have been sent back to junior last season, and while that is still absolutely true, his level of play this year maybe justifies last year being his first full professional year) Sean’s quality of competition through 35 games this season is more than twice as hard as he had to deal with through the majority of last season (1.635 vs 0.725 in 75 games in 2013-14), and despite the harder assignments, is still producing at a consistent clip and is looking to match, in fact quite likely improve upon, his offensive output from last season.
Without getting into the specifics too much, the general point here is that Monahan is ripening. He’s on his way to becoming a reliable center, one who is relatively defensively sound, but will also put up numbers, because that’s what he’s there for and why he’s needed on the ice. And outside of a really slow go of it to start the season (where he was perhaps handicapped by a pretty devastating bout with the flu), his play has been as consistently amazing as his hair is.
Seriously, Sean, what do you do to that glorious mane, and can you teach me?
This is all to say, this is not Daniel Tkaczuk.
And neither is Johnny Gaudreau
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) December 23, 2014
He is so gosh darn cute, but deadly as hell if you look at him the wrong way. He’s like the Dilophosaurus who annihilates Newman in Jurassic Park. He’s like Predator if Predator were made of plush. He’s Johnny Gaudreau.
Oh, and Jiri Hudler is there too. No big deal.
If the game plan is to turn Monahan into a go to offensive target, needless to say you’d want to flank him with some effective, dynamic players who all complement each other. With all due respect to Curtis Glencross, Joe Colborne, David Jones, or whoever has been lashed to Monahan’s hip over the course of this season, these are very limited players. They maybe have all seen the odd spike in production this year, but having Monahan on the ice has much to do with that.
Gaudreau, who as we all know is used to being a part of juggernaut offensive combos, is proving with each passing game that he belongs in the NHL and will probably in fact own the whole damn league someday. He’s not going to end up in the conversation for the Calder, but he’s a pretty enterprising little forward, and he’s got the tools to do a lot of things in this league. He’s already doing them, and it’s hard to pinpoint what his limitations are (outside his size, but that has yet to prove to be a factor).
Meanwhile Jiri Hudler continues to invariably make us all feel like a bunch of damn rubes for ever doubting if he was worth the $16 million contract he inked two seasons ago. All he’s done has been a consistent producer, and is on pace to have the best season of his NHL career. Sure he’s riding a 1020 PDO this season, but he finished last year with a 1028, so maybe he just has some magic hands. I’m willing to believe he does.
It seems to me putting the talents of all three forwards together would really enrich the top line, and if the Kings game is any indication, it’s possible the three of them could start scoring at will.
The X Factor
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) December 20, 2014
WHAT IF YOU COULD SHELTER THAT LINE?
Because here’s the thing: we haven’t seen him in a long time, but Mikael Backlund is coming back. And in case you’ve forgotten (I won’t even blame you if you have), Backlund is your undisputed tough minutes center. Yeah, Monahan has done very well in that role, but no one knows how to shoulder the load on this squad like Mickis.
And that’s not a knock on Monahan at all, it’s actually a very good thing for him. Why would you not want to put Gaudreau/Monahan/Hudler (if I get my way and that line remains throughout the season, we’re going to need a nickname. You guys came up with Brodano last time, I know you’ve got something good in the tank here) against some lesser schlubs on the opposing team, giving them free reign to skate circles around them and laugh at the poor goalie, shaming him for being able to beat him with impunity? It develops an unhealthy jerk complex personality wise, but if it gets results, you just do it. Especially when you have a guy sheltering you in Backlund who has proven he can cut wood and carry water and…slice bread?
Monahan scored 22 goals as a fresh rookie when he didn’t have to worry about who was defending him. How much could he score against those same fools now that he’s a bona fide NHLer? Gaudreau and Hudler make a better team than Woody and Matt in True Detective.
The potential greatness has just been sitting there, unused, in front of our faces all season long. Kent’s been pleading for this for a while now. Pike as well. One assumes if we could find where Witness Protection is keeping Azevedo he’d say the same thing. Our pals at Matchsticks and Gasoline are all over this too.
Hopefully, HOPEFULLY, Bob Hartley is on top of this too. It might be the one change he cooks up that makes his recent contract extension look like the smartest business decision ever.
Merry Christmas, jerks!