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?