Where does Sean Monahan go from here?

When the Flames drafted Sean Monahan sixth overall in 2013, it signalled a new era in Calgary. Not only was it right at the start of the rebuild: it was the seemingly the first time in ages the Flames actually had someone who could actually be, at least one day, considered a first line centre.

Two years into his career, and that’s where Monahan was playing. But while before, the team was devoid of centres – including having to ask wingers to play down the middle – today, it’s the least worrying position.

The top three centres on the Flames are Monahan, Mikael Backlund, and Sam Bennett – with Bennett’s potential still to be defined as he enters just his second season. With Monahan firmly cementing himself in the top two at the position – and with a new contract coming up, presumably at some point – let’s talk about him.

The basics

Over 237 NHL games, Monahan has scored 80 goals and 79 assists for a grand total of 159 points. He’s the highest scorer of his draft class, beating out Nathan MacKinnon by six points (in 19 more games played), and Aleksander Barkov by 40 points, in 46 more games played.

That puts Monahan’s points per game at .67. MacKinnon beats him out at .70, but Barkov falls behind at .62. All in all, though – considering we’re talking about the guys who went first and second overall in the draft versus the guy who went sixth – everything looks great.

And besides, Monahan was fifth on team scoring as a rookie. He was third as a sophomore, and second in his third season; the only current Flame to have recently outscored him is linemate Johnny Gaudreau, who currently sits at .89 points per game and is blowing everyone else out of the water offensively.

Then again, Gaudreau’s not a centre; at the same time, though, at least Monahan spares him the fate Jarome Iginla suffered through most of his Flames career.

So Monahan is, no doubt, extremely good.

The underlyings

Dig a little deeper, and Monahan comes out looking a little less rosy.

When you compare the raw 5v5 CF%s of these four players over their careers, Monahan has the worst at 45.89. His CF60, 51.95, is also the worst; a little odd considering how highly he ranks offensively. His CA60 is only the second worst, though, at 61.25, while MacKinnon’s is 63.39.

It’s when you factor in zone starts things come out not looking so great. Monahan’s OZS% throughout his career to date is 34.01; only Gaudreau’s is higher. That means, overall, both MacKinnon and Barkov has managed to do more with less – offensively in terms of generation, and defensively, particularly on Barkov’s part. Via Corsica (click on image for a full-sized version):

2013-16 monahan gaudreau barkov mackinnon

Barkov comes out looking pretty awesome here. Sure he scores the least of the four, but .62 points per game is still nothing to sneeze at. That, and being outstanding defensively? That’s a complete two-way player right there.

That’s over three years of work, though, and all of these players have been – and still are – growing throughout their careers. So while the sample size is smaller, let’s look at just the 2015-16 season alone. It wasn’t a fantastic, percentage-inflated one for the Flames; rather, an honest depiction of a not-great team, compared to another player on a not-great team (MacKinnon) and a top-three scorer on a division winner (Barkov).

Over a full 82 game season, Monahan would have scored 64 points; MacKinnon, 59; Barkov, 73; and Gaudreau, 81. And as for situational use…

2015-16 monahan gaudreau barkov mackinnon

Now it’s MacKinnon who comes out looking rather rough: least amount of scoring, and horrid possession despite having the most offensive zone starts. Monahan and Barkov both clock in at 48.10% CF, with Barkov scoring more and getting less sheltered starts.

Still: it’s an improvement.

Year-to-year

Monahan, in his three years of NHL hockey thus far, has, for the most part, seen consistent improvement at 5v5.

Points CF% CF60 CA60 OZS%
2013-14 34 43.81 47.39 60.77 33.59
2014-15 62 45.45 53.66 64.41 31.85
2015-16 63 48.10 54.06 58.33 36.71

His points have gone up, and his possession has with it. The corsi events he helps generate have increased season-by-season, though that hasn’t quite been the case defensively.

That’s likely because his zone starts, like his CA60, haven’t followed a linear progression. He was actually less sheltered in the 2014-15 season (brought on by Monahan being forced to play in a defensive role when most of the Flames’ other centres went down), and comparatively, couldn’t handle it.

The more sheltered he is, though? The better a chance he’s going to have at preventing corsi events against. He hasn’t entered the black yet – but as he grows, it’s possible that could change.

A new coach

Coming out of junior, Monahan was lauded as a two-way player. We have yet to see that truly materialize in the NHL; if we really want to see a two-way guy out of Monahan’s draft class, well, it’s Barkov. That doesn’t mean Monahan wasn’t a two-way guy in juniors, though; not only was he really the only player of note on the Ottawa 67’s in his draft year (he had nearly twice the points the second- and third-highest scorers did), but via Eric Tulsky’s work, we can see he played big minutes and faced top competition, too.

So what happened? Was Monahan only a great two-way guy at the junior level, or can he find it in the NHL, too?

I don’t know. But I would suggest Monahan still has it in him to be a more reliable two-way guy, and I think this season (and next, allotting for adjustments, familiarity, and time) is when we find out.

Because the Flames have a new coach. Glen Gulutzan may not be proven at the NHL level, but Bob Hartley’s game was not possession-friendly. Gulutzan has at least talked about a more proactive defence. More preventing zone entries, fewer blocked shots, please. And if it works, then maybe we’ll see a more successful two-way Monahan.

That doesn’t necessarily mean giving him zone starts like Barkov’s, especially if he continues to centre Gaudreau. But if it means his CA60 can go down and his CF% can go in the black, then the Flames will have a better player on their hands. 

He’s gotten off to a good start in his NHL career, but almost exclusively in an offensive role. If Gulutzan can improve his defensive game without sacrificing 60+ point seasons, then Monahan won’t just be a first line centre talent: he’ll be one of the better ones.

  • redhot1

    Good to see those possession numbers getting better every year.

    I said the same thing the last two summers, but Monahan has to take a big step forward this year, at least defensively. Would like him to turn into a player like Jeff Carter.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Monny…. if you are reading this (and who wouldn’t want to read an article specifically about them?), please tell your agent you want to win a Stanley cup and to just get a deal done. We want you here for years to come: 5.75 x 8 = 46 million. Not quite Barkov, Mackinnon money, but close enough! This leaves us room to sign some more support around you and matches Hamilton’s AAV.

    If Johnny signs for Gio AAV (6.75 x 5) – and takes a discount on cap hit in exchange for shorter term and less UFA years, I would still be ok with this. Makes our cup window, well… 5 years which matches pretty close with some other expiring contracts (Brodie, Dougie, etc.)

    • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

      I think Gaudreau can get 7.5 ml and if you say he will sign for 6.75/year he will give up 3.5 ml over that term . Not not a home town discount . That is Gaudreau robbing himself.

  • Styxx

    Whether Monahan wears a ‘C’ or an ‘A’, or whether Gaudreau, Bennett or Tkachuk (or various D) are…is not that relevant from my standpoint.

    After 10 years out in the wilderness what Flames fans should be very happy about is having 4 great young core forwards who are all only going to get better over the next few years!

    As for comparisons for Monahan…given his poise, temperament and style my vote would be Ron Francis, Jean Beliveau, or Anze Kopitar.

  • FireScorpion

    Yeah, but he’s still the highest scoring pick from his draft class correct? And unfortunately for the stats crowd it’s still goals that win hockey games.

    So I think we’re good here..moving on

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I am starting to think that BTs hardline stance on the Johnny and Monny contracts has as much to do with setting a dangerous precedent for upcoming contracts, as it does with money and term. BT knows that these 2 contracts will quickly become the ceiling for future contracts. In BTs short term as GM he has a history of bending but not breaking.

    He did not want to give Joe a 2 yr contract , 2.5 per year. He refused to let Janko play in the NHL at the end of the season because it would burn a year off his contract. In my opinion Janko had all the leverage and was forced to settle. I would not want to be on the other end of the negotiating table with BT. However, I think he has met his match on these contracts…. He will be forced to open the vault. I don’t see him having any leverage with these contracts especially Johnny’s.

    If I am a betting man, Monny signs for 7yrs at 42M and Johnny at 4 yrs at 28M. However, have no fear Johnny’s love for the city of Calgary will grow once he meets his Calgary bride and will re-sign much to Momma Gaudreau’s dismay.

  • The Fall

    Monahan is subject to offer sheets — Johnny is not. Neither players have arbitration rights.

    Can’t see BT just gifting cap space. Given the amount of time passing, I’m thinking these are going to be a couple of the most team friendly deals in history.

    Or not.

    I’m bord.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Monahan can pot goals at an elite level, but the rest of his skill set is far behind. The only thing he can do at a 1st line level is score. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but the rest of his game is best suited to 2nd line deployment at this stage in his career.. His underlying numbers also reflect that very clearly.

    He’s young, and will almost certainly get a bit better, but I’ve always said I think he’s more of a Daymond Langkow than a Johnathan Toews.

    I’m perfectly happy with that.

    • Baalzamon

      He’s young, and will almost certainly get a bit better, but I’ve always said I think he’s more of a Daymond Langkow than a Johnathan Toews.

      You know, it’s so funny about this, because I said pretty much the same thing about Monahan when the Flames drafted him, and people were all like “we should hope for more from a top six pick!” ignoring the fact that Langkow was drafted third overall, and was criminally underrated for his entire career.