We’ve used the word “money” in so many different ways over the last two years when it comes to Sean Monahan, and for good reason. For two straight seasons, Monahan has done nothing but exceed expectations all over the map. It’s been a different story in year three, though. For the first time in his young NHL career, Monahan hasn’t lived up to sky high expectations, at least not so far this season. I’ve got a few reasons as to why that is.
It’s not like Monahan has been awful. His point totals are more than respectable, as he sits second on the team with 15 points and tied for the team lead with seven goals. Right now Monahan is on pace for 24 goals and 53 points, which are decent totals for any 21-year-old player in this league. After taking massive steps in his first two years in the league, Monahan has levelled off a bit this year and, in some areas, taken some steps back. Let’s try and figure out why that is.
He hasn’t been as good
The eye will tell you that Monahan hasn’t been anywhere near as impactful this season as what we saw from him in a 30 goal campaign last year. The eye would be right, for the most part. Again, in terms of points, he’s been fine and that’s not really what I’m basing this article on. Instead, it’s more about the fact Monahan isn’t driving play, or driving his line, the way we’ve seen him in the past.
The underlying numbers for Monahan are somewhat alarming this year. Through 23 games, Monahan is getting among the most offensive starts on the team with an offensive zone start at 60.0% as it stands right now. That’s fine, but to see him have the team’s fourth worst possession rate at 44.7% is not. The coaching staff is giving Monahan some of the highest ground on the team, but he’s not doing very much with it.
So how does that compare to his breakout season from last year? Well, Monahan’s Corsi rate was slightly better at 45.5%, but that was far more understandable with him starting just 46.8% of the time in the offensive zone. To put it into context, Monahan has been given significantly more offensive time this year and yet has spent less time at the offensive end of the ice.
His faceoff numbers are also down. Monahan won 49.3% of his draws last year, up significantly from his rookie season. This year, however, that number has dropped to 47.8%. We’re not talking about a massive drop in the faceoff dot, but overall, it’s another indication that Monahan has been a less effective centre this year than what we saw in his sophomore campaign.
His line hasn’t been as good
What came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, in Monahan’s case, I think it’s a little bit of both. The trio of Monahan, Jiri Hudler, and Johnny Gaudreau was one of the league’s most dangerous last season. That hasn’t been the case when they’ve been together this season. Monahan’s a part of that, but that line being less effective has rubbed off on him, too.
As much as Monahan has struggled individually, Hudler has been right there with him. His 63.7% offensive zone start ratio is highest on the team while his 46.6 CF% is in the bottom half for the group. Hudler has already gotten the healthy scratch treatment this season, and there’s no question the team needs much more from him as well.
It’s tough to criticize Gaudreau too much, because he really has been a dynamo for most of the year. That said, over the last five games or so, even he hasn’t been as effective as what we had seen for most of the first quarter of the season.
The fact is, though, this line was one of the NHL’s most dangerous while it was together for the second half of last season. Much like the chicken and the egg argument for Monahan’s struggles this year, he and his line played off one another in a positive way last season. The team could really use a return to form from the trio as a unit, as opposed to being dragged along by Gaudreau.
No one is surprised
The rest of the NHL is very aware of what Monahan is. His first two years in the league have been a surprise for observers, so I don’t think it’s out of the question to say that Monahan caught some NHL teams off guard as well. In year one he was a rookie, and in year two no one expected him to make the massive impact he did. In year three, though, there are no more surprises.
Right from the get-go this season, Monahan has been matched up with the best of the best on a nightly basis. Whether it be the top shutdown line of the other team or the other team’s number one trio, Monahan has drawn next to no easy assignments. That’s not to say he got easy ice time last year, either, but it wasn’t quite to the same extent. One of the main goals for the opposition each night is to shut him and his line down, period.
You can see team’s defending Monahan differently, as well. There is far more of an emphasis on engaging him with contact and making him beat a defender, as opposed to giving him space. Monahan is not the speediest player and his skating still needs some work. Closing on him as he crosses the offensive blueline has been effective this year, and it’s now on Monahan to adjust.
You’re not going to find a bigger fan of Monahan’s game than me. I truly believe we’re looking at a potential future captain of the Flames and a guy with all the makings of a number one centre. The numbers Monahan put up in year two of his NHL career are right in line with what some of the top pivots in this league did in their sophomore seasons. So, suffice to say, I’m not overly worried about him.
That said, Calgary is struggling and falling out of the playoff race rapidly. Monahan was arguably their best forward last year, and that just hasn’t been the case through the first 23 games of this season. If the Flames are going to make this season a little more interesting, a turnaround in Monahan’s play is going to have to be a big reason why.