WWYD Wednesday: Break up Gaudreau and Monahan?

It’s no secret a big reason the Flames’ lousy opening month of 2016-17 is due in no small part to the struggles of their young star forwards. Both Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau signed big, long-term deals in the offseason, driving their combined cap hit north of $13 million. Unfortunately, neither guy has been worth the money so far.

How bad has it been? Through 11 games played, Gaudreau has four points at even strength. Monahan has two. Matt Stajan has more points at even strength than Monahan. Mikael Backlund has as many shorthanded.  

The problem is, it’s not just the scoring that has been a problem for the Flames’ putative top line. The Gaudreau and Monahan duo have been arguably the worst on the team in terms of gaining possession and generating scoring chances so far. Right now, the pair are second last (Monahan at -6.41%) and third last (Gaudreau at -5.72%) on the club in terms of relative corsi.

Things are actually worse if you look at scoring chances, where they each sit at -18% relative to their teammates (by far the worst on the club). To put that in plainer numbers, Gaudreau has been outchanced 36 to 12 at 5on5 so far, with Monahan down at 34 to 11 (according to Corsica Hockey). Those are results you expect from grinders who have been fed to the wolves, not your marquee offensive weapons. 

So yeah, the Monahan and Gaudreau duo has been bad. Not just bad relative to expectations, but bad in an absolute sense. They’re the worst line on the team currently. 

Glen Gulutzan has two obvious choices:

1.) Keep playing them together and wait till they finally play themselves into game shape. We have a long history between the two players that suggests they should be much, much better than this. I get the feeling the coaching staff is giving them space to allow them to figure things out.

2.) Break them up for now in quest to get one (or both) of them going. 

To date, Gulutzan has opted for choice #1, slotting different RWers on the top line and trying to manage match-ups to give the kids the high ground. No dice. As illustrated above, the Gaudreau/Monahan pairing has been completely run over.

It’s likely time to at least consider option #2. Gaudreau looks confused and frustrated, frequently trying to do too much on his own and forcing plays that have little hope of success. Monahan, on the other hand, simply looks slow, awkward and lost. The play consistently dies on his stick, he can’t manage the puck in the neutral or defensive zones and his release (his primary weapon) doesn’t seem as quick or as accurate. 

With the two big guns struggling so utterly, its unlikely any of the stop gap measures the team has on RW is going to do anything but drag the two down further. Alex Chiasson was meant to be a merely competent third wheel on the top unit. He’s not going to fix what ails them.

So Gaudreau needs a center who can drive play and execute all over the ice a bit better and Monahan just needs to be moved out of the way until he can figure things out. Here’s how I would arrange things moving forward:

  • Gaudreau – Bennett – Brouwer
  • Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
  • Ferland – Monahan – Versteeg
  • Bouma – Stajan – Chiasson

Bennett gives Gaudreau a more persistent, dynamic presence down the middle, while Brouwer can still drive the net and finish. Monahan gets moved down the rotation so he can face other team’s third and fourth lines while he tries to sort out the things currently plaguing his game. 

What say you FN? Should Gulutzan finally break up Johnny and Sean? If so, what combinations would you go with? 

  • Könniek

    id do the same, but i would move ferland on the top line with Bennett and Gaudreau.

    a line of Versteeg, Monahan and Brouwer would definitely help, given they start in the offensive zone

  • Longshot1977

    I’d be tempted to actually move Mony to the wing, and promote Bennett, who has been the best Centre so far, besides Backlund. Then we slot FHam into #3 Centre and let the other chips fall where they may.

    Gaudreau-Bennett-Monahan
    Tkachuk-Backlund-Frolik
    Brouwer-Hamilton-Versteeg
    Ferland-Stajan-Chiasson

  • SmellOfVictory

    Yes, oh god yes. Break them up so hard it breaches the sound barrier. Doesn’t have to be permanent, but it’s awful to watch them right now. I’m fully convinced that splitting up Monahan/Gaudreau for the time being, and reuniting Brodano, would solve half of the Flames’ issues.

  • Toofun

    Those stats are eye-popping. Definitely time to make a switch. I like your recommendation.

    Also, has anyone suggested putting Gio and Brodie back together … just kidding.

  • Parallex

    That is exactly what I would do.

    Honestly, I think Gaudreau is frustrated that no one is keeping up with him. I think I’ve lost track of how many times Gaudreau is double (or triple) teamed after gaining the zone because no one is getting into position to take a pass fast enough.

    …and I wouldn’t put them back together until the Flames have someone better then Chiasson to play on the RW. Call up Shinkaruk (LTIR space be damned) or at least give Versteeg another try because Chiasson isn’t helping.

  • FlamesFanOtherCity

    Gaudreau – Bennett – Brouwer

    Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik

    Ferland – Monahan – Versteeg

    Bouma – Stajan – Chiasson

    While I am okay with the top 3 lines, I would also consider sending down Bouma and Grossmann. Bring up one or both of Shinkaruk and Mangiapane. That puts Ferland back on the 4th line and you either get a drive the net winger or another version of Johnny Hockey to play with Monahan.

    To bring up both, you probably need to send Kulak down to prevent having to place Smid on LTIR.

  • Sane Opinion

    Frolik is the best RW, Backs the best centre and Johnny the best LW. GG like to role top line vs top line and this would solve that issue. Current second line with Monahan on third with versteeg and call up shin.

    Bennett will be the best center but keep him away from top D pairing or at least make them thinking about it.

    I posted a longer explanation before not sure if it’s getting through so sorry if this is a re post.

  • Stan

    I wholeheartedly agree with the lineup you’ve suggested Kent. I think that you have to try Gaudreau with Bennett, although I think the winger on this line doesn’t matter as much – Brouwer, Ferland or Versteeg could all be good options. Experiment until you find a fit and put the other two on the third line with Monahan until he finds his game. Keep the Tkachuk/Backlund/Frolik line together.

    As far as defensive pairings go, I posted this on the Tkachuk article and didn’t get much feedback so I’ll post it here again. I know GG has gotten a lot of hate for his defensive pairings, and I agree. To my eye they have been puzzling. So I asked myself, why is he spreading the talent throughout the lineup? Does any other team do this? If so, have they had success?

    It didn’t take long to find a team that has taken this approach in the St. Louis Blues. They have Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo, and Parayko all playing on different pairings, and yet they have had success and are considered one of the best defensive teams in the league. So they have been able to find success with this approach, yet GG is considered an idiot for trying to emulate it? Why is this? Is it because the Blues depth defenseman are better then the flames, thereby making this strategy more viable? That would be my first inclination, but I haven’t had a chance to really look into it. Anyways, I just found it interesting and wanted to get others thoughts before doing a more in depth analysis myself.

  • Stan

    Another option that would be more of a drastic change would be just playing the players who have been the best in the biggest roles. Our best LW is Gaudreau followed by Tkachuk, then Ferland. Our best C has been Backlund followed by Bennett, then Monahan. Our best RW has been Frolik followed by Brouwer, then Versteeg. If we go strictly by this, the top 9 would look like:

    Gaudreau/Backlund/Frolik, Tkachuk/Bennett/Brouwer, Ferland/Monahan/Versteeg.

    • Parallex

      If you want an even more esotaric F line-up…

      Gaudreau/Bennett/Frolik, Ferland/Backlund/Versteeg, Tkachuk/Monahan/Brouwer.

      … if your wondering what the genesis of that is, it’s Wingers and Centers ordered by (IMO) footspeed. Gaudreau’s the fastest LW/Bennett the fastest C, Frolik the fastest RW etc. etc.

      NHL coaching is conservative by nature so I doubt we’d see anyone really experiment with an NBA style smallball strategy (nor do I advocate it). Jus’ spitballin’, in reality I think the line-up Kent put up makes the most sense ATM.

    • KiLLKiND

      I agree that Backlund should be given a chance on the top line with Frolik and Gaudreau. I think those three could work really well together, especially as Backlund and Frolik will be able to help generate offense, instead of having the play die on their stick.

    • T&A4Flames

      Exact thing I’ve been thinking. You want to get Johnny going? Put him with the 2 guys that already are going. Both Backs and Frolik are solid 2-way players, Johnny can go out and do his thing and not worry about a mistake costing him. It should give him confidence.

      Im ok with Mony playing with Ferland or Tkachuk.

  • Bob's Hockey Stick

    I agree with your line changes Kent. There logical and makes sense. Sadly I question our coaching ability to do so. I would also put brodano together as a pairing, put Jokipakka with Dougie on second pairing, and Kulak with either wideman or engelland on third pairing. Waive grossman. This I think might solve half the problems. One can hope.

  • everton fc

    Kent – your line combos need to be given a chance by the coaching staff.

    Gaudreau w/Backlund and Frolik would also be interesting, as Ferland and Versteeg have had good shifts w/Bennett and Brouwer.

  • Newbietwo

    This is all starts with winning face offs.. Monohan has not done so and nor has Bennet and that is the exact problem.. if we don’t win face offs our offensive players have to pretend play defence!! As much as those lines look great with Bennett in with Geaudrea what you will find is the same problem because that line would then have to defend half of their shifts every time.. so it takes us. Ack to again puck control and face off wins.. if you want Johnny to have better luck in the o zone well then you need to get him someone who can win a face off.. and in terms of puck control if you look back we had Johnny and hudler play making and Monohan shooting.. that tells you clearly that we are not patient enough in the o zone and that could either be due to chemistry or a. Rely shoot or immediate pass and shoot mentality or simply because the players lack puck control..

    My advice would be keep the lines and as the coach make one thing clear that they will be judged by nothing for next two games other than how often they hold onto the puck in the o zone more than 20 seconds a shift!!

    • flames2015

      Monahan & Bennett both have face off percentages of over 50%. Collectively as a team, we are 7th in the league in F0 % wins. To me Bennett has improved the most, given 2nd line duties and the competition he faces.

      • Newbietwo

        http://puckbase.com/stats/faceoff-percentage?team=CGY&zone=off&situation=pp

        There you go.. breakdown the situation in defensive vs offensive and especially powerplay.. monahan and Bennet both are 50 percent and below if offensive and powerplay face offs.. better at defensive.. you basically have Stajan and Backlund as your two best face off winners.. and if you have problem entering the zone while on your powerplay the obvious thing to do is go with 4 forwards and have Backlund take the face offs because then you already are in the zone! ! That is my only point here mate!!!! Seems fairly obvious

        • flames2015

          Bennett’s faceoff % is based on just 4 draws according to your site with regards to offensive pp draws, that’s hardly a sample size. Monahan on the other hand takes the most draws on the PP with 42 draws and still operates at 50%.

          I don’t disagree with you in that faceoff wins are vital in zone time, but i don’t think that is the main problem on the Pp. Even on fo wins, they are not executing and keeping the play in the zone, and once its dumped they cannot regain zone entry.

          Its the same issue for when we pull for the extra attacker. The last 3 games that we did this, we won the offensive zone fo, a turnover and a fumble at the blue line lead to an immediate goal by the other team.

  • JoelOttosJock

    I like the idea of breaking them up for now, get something going. I wouldn’t mind seeing…

    Johnny Sam Brouwer
    Tkachuk Sean Versteeg
    Frolic Backlund Chaisson
    Ferland Pylon Bouma

  • jupiter

    Would be a huge opportunity for Sam.He may just end up staying on the first line.

    BT said this last summer that GG was a young players coach, that would take them to the next level. I’am not clear on the meaning of “young players coach” although I believe it means a coach who treats players individually to maximize results. If that’s the case I don’t see that happening here.Gaudreau, as many have suggested looks frustrated with himself and his linemates.So mix it up YOUNG PLAYERS COACH.

  • Locker Room Talk

    I’ve definitely been against the split, but seeing how frustrated Gaudreau is getting has changed my mind. Johnny needs some guys who can get at the net and keep up, which means that Gaudreau – Bennett – Brouwer line looks pretty sweet. Honestly, that whole hypothetical line-up looks great. Four potentially dangerous avenues of attack right there.

    Ah, but there’s so much more than just that going wrong. It would at least be a start. Fingers crossed that we can find a way out of this darkness.

  • MontanaMan

    Backlund never has and never will be a number one centre. Period. Monahan and Bennett aren’t playing to their ability and Backlund is, but you’d never move Engelland up to the first pairing because he’s playing to his abilities and move Brodie down to the third pairing because he’s struggling. Minor tweaks are needed – I’m all for moving JG with Bennett and either Brouwer or Ferland and give it a go.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      These are all good points but Johnny has been a defensive sink hole….look how many games he has been -2 or -3. Frolik and Backland can keep up and help stop the bleeding.

  • MonsterPod

    Bennett is just playing second C this year. That is already a big jump and he’s been impressive. But hoisting him to the top line against other #1 Cs is not the best idea.

    Drop Johnny to Bennett’s line, give Money Ferland or even Tkachuk as an experiment. Let Money keep taking the big draws. Increase the ice time of the other lines if you have to, but don’t rattle Money with a 3rd line demotion.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    I like the idea of promoting Backlund and Frolik to the first line with Gaudreau. Backs and Frolik have certainly earned it, nobody watching can question that. Even against the other teams top lines (and even on the PK! Wow, guys. Just Wow) they are getting better results than Monahan/JH are getting with first line / PP minutes.

    Here’s my issue. I really don’t think Gaudreau has been playing well either this year. Everybody knows he has the potential, but nobody really would know from watching just this year. So many sloppy passes. Turnovers. Uninspired zone entries. Weak defensive play. Coasting through the neutral zone. Losing puck battles. Missing key shots. Etc. Lance “can’t dance” Bouma looked sharper than him last game…uhh, ouch :/

    Gaudreau has had his moments this year,and I have a lot of confidence that we will see him come around at some point before long. I said it earlier, but I think if I was GG I would just swap the Backlund line with the Monahan line (not split them up). One thing I liked about Hartley was his zealous belief in meritocracy. I wouldn’t single out Monahan. Both those guys need to get it together.

    Put them down to the third line until they can figure it out. At the least it would confuse the heck out of other teams…

  • dontcryWOLF88

    As a side note to the ol “spreading out the talent on D” philosophy; I notice that the Hawks dont play Keith and Seabrook together anymore. I dont follow non-Flames teams closely enough to know if thats a new trend, or a particular coaching style. Although, I think most people would say that Hitchcock and Quenville can coach a bit.

    I know im going against the grain here, but I really dont think the D have been a liability since the first four games. Are they the pairings I would pick? Well, I must admit, they are not. However, I put the current L2 trend on insufficient and timely offensive production, not on the D corp.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    Side, side note, on faceoffs and Monahan. I distinctly remember him winning one cleanly in the OZ during a PP against Toews. I hear that guy is pretty good at those 😉