What’s going on with Sean Monahan?

Shane-McMahon

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.

  • piscera.infada

    The whole team needs an offensive jump start Pat. Except for Sam Bennett, who really has little pressure on himself to produce, every forward has underperformed. The Flames outshoot Arizona, yet the only goal scored was by a defenseman in a fortuitous position at the Coyotes net. With everyone signed and happy (presumably) why should the guys be so anemic on offense? I am certainly hoping that the players aren’t tuning out the coaches, especially Mr. Hartley. With some playoff success being achieved last spring, I would think the guys would keep responding to him and his methods. But if they are pulling a Terry Crisp type scenario (I hope not), that could explain the offensive letdown. I also hope that the team isn’t just meekly accepting losing as its’ inevitable fate. The players need to push themselves to success, period. I wonder if another culture change is in order so soon after last season’s success. I should have called in with so much to say, huh? Well, that’s my two cents. Here’s hoping for an attitude change, if needed, and a big turnaround before the season is a write-off. Thanks Pat.

    • The Last Big Bear

      The Flames outshoot Arizona, yet the only goal scored was by a defenseman in a fortuitous position at the Coyotes net.

      As an aside (but one I think is worth repeating), I addressed this in the post-game discussion.

      That wasn’t “fortuitious position”. Giordano had position at the half boards, and sat there with the puck waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting for somebody to go to the low slot. Nobody went. Nobody in front of the net.

      So after like 10 seconds of waiting for somebody to do their job, he handed the puck off to Hudler, and HE went to the slot to do the damn job himself.

      That’s why a defenceman was waiting at the goalmouth to pick up the garbage goal. Because the team needed somebody there, so the captain stepped up and did what needed to be done.

      Tying it back into this topic, as the big-bodied goal-scoring centreman with a gift for garbage goals, that should have been Monahan’s job.

  • Kevin R

    I think Monahan is going through what a lot of very talented young players go through. They take the league by storm & then teams take the summer to shut these guys down the next year. Except in Monahans case, he had 2 years before he attracted a lot of attention. Let’s be realistic, Monahan fulfilled a prospect starved organization with hope in his rookie year, but he wasn’t exactly amongst the Calder Trophy candidates. Last year, him & Gaudreau meshed & Hudler had a career year. They attracted a lot of attention. Gaudreau is, by my standards & opinion, a generational player. He took the league by storm last year & even though teams are all over him, he has so much talent, he is bar none one of our most dangerous offensive players this year. Look at Forsberg in Nashville, teams are all over that kid, as talented as he is, his numbers Im sure you will find are no where near his Calder nomination year last year either. Nashville won’t be bailing on that kid either. Building a contender is a process & even the Hawks, it still a process & challenge. It’s just so hard to consistently dominate this league year after year.

    So, what do we need to do. I think the best move is to separate Monahan & Gaudreau. Gaudreau is a WOWY machine & he will make anyone dangerous. If I’m Hartley, I would put Bennett with Gaudreau & take your pick with the other winger. Move Monahan down to 2nd line & throw these teams off his scent. This kid is going to be our Brett Hull of the future. Teams would line up for him & Calgary would regret ever letting him go, in the same fashion as Hull or St Louis. Money will be fine. It’s time for Johnny to put Bennett on the NHL map. Just my humble opinion.

    • piscera.infada

      So, what do we need to do. I think the best move is to separate Monahan & Gaudreau. Gaudreau is a WOWY machine & he will make anyone dangerous. If I’m Hartley, I would put Bennett with Gaudreau & take your pick with the other winger. Move Monahan down to 2nd line & throw these teams off his scent.

      I’ve been thinking the same exact thing. Work your top-6 thusly:

      Gaudreau-Bennett-Frolik

      Ferland-Monahan-Hudler

      Split time relatively evenly across both those lines, but give the Bennett line roughly neutral deployment, and the Monahan line more O-Zone deployment.

      That way, you have a very solid foundation to build your bottom-six around. Why not something like:

      Granlund-Backlund-Jooris/Jones (frankly, I don’t understand why whomever in the organization insists on keeping Granlund at centre, and Bennett on the wing–it angers me).

      Colborne-Stajan-Jones/Jooris

      This way, you probably ice your deepest roster. You have two “scoring lines” and you have a bottom six that can actually procure some zone time.

      For the powerplay, I’ve been thinking recently of selling out on the first unit, in an effort to get it (at the very least) making a positive impact. I would try a four-forward, one defenseman unit (at least periodically) of:

      Ferland-Monahan-Bennett

      Brodie-Gaudreau

      The general thought here is to get Gaudreau and Brodie added time and space, two big-bodies to work down low, Bennett on his off-wing (to use that unreal release). Likewise (if you really felt the need for a bigger shot on the right-side), slide Bennett to the left, and place Wideman on the right–but this isn’t as effective this season, because Wideman doesn’t seem to move on the powerplay.

  • TurkeyLips

    I don’t care about anything so long as we start scoring with the man advantage. A conversion rate of 14% is totally unacceptable and it was the difference last night. That kind of performance with our kind of Offensive-D line up? Inexcusable. We still have the worst goal differential in the league. Arguably the most predictive factor for which teams enter the playoffs. Oilers have scored more goals than us and let in less – and for Pete’s sake look at their D corp. Our team is playing no where near its potential.

  • TurkeyLips

    Do we actually expect a 21 year old to carry an NHL team. Is Monahan not leading the team in goals. I feel he’s playing just as well as last year were just not winning so everyone focuses on the negative. I feel like the top line is short handed when Hudler is with them also.

    Plus were not getting goals from our D like we did last year., which was a huge factor for our success.

  • RKD

    Lots of players go through a sophomore slump in their 2nd year, but for Mony it has skipped a year. Hudler also has not been great and maybe that’s affecting his play. He’s on the ice way too much, last season his TOI was 19:37 and right now he’s averaging a minute more. He’s not playing a two hundred foot game right now, his giveaway/takeaway differential is only 3 right now when last season it was almost 30. If Hudler ever gets going maybe it starts to turn in the right direction for Monahan.

  • loudogYYC

    I too consider myself a big fan of Mony, and now we get to see how he handles his next big challenge of performing under large expectations.

    I see Monahan as a David Krejci type player, very cerebral centreman but with a little more offense and significantly less defence, so if he can’t improve his defensive play or skating we might only have a scoring centre who needs versatile wingers to perform. Not really a 1st line centre.

    That said, he is probably 3-4 years away from his prime and seems to be able to learn and adapt well, so this current little slump in 5 on 5 play isn’t a big deal yet. Great article, Pat!

  • MontanaMan

    The eye test tells me Monahan looks slow (lacks quickness) but has retained his scoring touch and thus his stats. Problem is the game is just getting quicker which is why Gaudreau, Brodie and Bennett stand out. Monahan just doesn’t have the wheels and unfortunately it shows. Having said that, if Hudler would do something – anything – to help out his 21 year old centre, it would take a lot of heat off of him.

    • piscera.infada

      The thing about Monahan though, is that he’s always been slow–that was his only real knock as a prospect. Frankly, he has an okay top-gear, but his burst is really lacking. I know the organization has been trying to fix that, but it will take time. It might also help if he trained with Gary Roberts in the offseason.

      Monahan made a living his first two years by being in the right position offensively. Team’s are making that more difficult for him, but it’s an adjustment he’s smart enough to make.

      As many have said, it’s his relative lack of defensive zone coverage that is concerning. Again, that is something young players struggle with at times. I’m sure he’ll figure it out, but I doubt he’ll ever be that two-way juggernaut some (unfairly) billed him as.

      Kid’s a hell of a hockey player though. We’re incredibly fortunate he’s a Flame.

      • MontanaMan

        Agree. The key for all of these kids is how they develop and learn the NHL game. They have all the skill in the world and the future looks bright but some end up getting it and others don’t.

  • Just a Fan

    Nothing is going on with Monahan. He is 21 years old and developing nicely. Let’s all have patience and put the success of last year behind us….the focus is on our young prospects and they require everyone’s support.

  • RKD

    Flames got BITCH SLAPPED by the Sharks! Time to call up Colton “can’t score” Orr, Bryce Van Can’t Skate, Austin “6cent” man Carroll and Cunter “flat nose” Smith. LMFAO…….!!!!!!!!!!!! Let’s goon er up boyz!!!!!!!!!!!WOOOOO!!!

  • RealMcHockeyReturns

    Flames NEED a new goalie to give them confidence. GET BERNIER for one of Ramo or Hiller plus more (because Bernier was picked 1st round, 11th overall when drafted). Better goalkeeping = team confidence = better defence and more chances to take risks on offense. DO IT, DO IT NOW! As Arnold says in a memorable move moment.

  • MonsterPod

    Meh, so Monahan is not doing as well because he’s facing tougher opposition?

    How does that explain the end of last season when he was crushing it? Other teams just couldn’t figure out which line was our scoring line so he wasn’t facing the tough matchups? I don’t think so.

    That’s like saying Sidney is having a tough season this year because the other team’s best players are finally keying in on him.

    Monahan is struggling because the whole team is. And if we take a breath, this dumpster fire is actually a good thing.

    Last year we were enamored by the career years of guys like Hudler and Wideman — how can we ever let them go? We were worried about Monny’s upcoming contract — 7 mil plus?

    Now we can finish horribly, draft high, pitch the old chaff, and do something to secure a real goaltender. Hopefully we get better deals when re-signing Monny and Johnny.

    Coaching gets a pass for at least one season, like Roy in Denver.

    Monny will be money going forward, but may not be our #1 center for long.

  • piscera.infada

    The forward lines are pretty good. Our breakout and offensive zone patterns have to improve. Bring in Dave King as a third assistant. Our real problems are twofold.

    Every goal and I mean 90 percent results in an over the shoulder shot.
    This is because none of our goaltenders play a standup game. That is the problem.

    Our defence is very poor. We need to trade Wideman, Engelland, Smid and Russell. Yes Russell. His goals against stats are brutal.

    Wilson on a tryout this camp was a stabilizer. Get him in shape and bring him back Bring up Culkin or Kullak or both. We are toast for the playoffs so play the kids.

    Roll four lines and roll the defence. Giordano is wasted already

    Things will improve