For a brief stint after Johnny Gaudreau was hurt, it looked like Sean Monahan was finding his game on a new line with Sam Bennett and Troy Brouwer.
Last week in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Monahan played over 19 minutes, scored two points and was one of the Flames’ better skaters on the night. Maybe the 22-year-old had finally shaken the malaise that had infected his play since the start of the season?
Unfortunately the young centre followed that performance with a pair of simply putrid games on the road against the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres. His line was the worst for the Flames on both evenings. In fact, it’s arguable Monahan and Troy Brouwer were two of the main reasons the Flames lost the game in Buffalo.
So another two steps back for the kid. His struggles this year remain ongoing and apparent: his one goal versus the Hawks last week is his only marker in his last 12 games (and his only goal of November). It was an intended pass that deflected in off a defender.
Glen Gulutzan has resorted to hyper-sheltering his highest paid centre, feeding Monahan the most offensive zone starts of any pivot on the team. In Buffalo, Monahan’s ice time fell to under 14 minutes, his least since he was a rookie. Although he has always been given the high ground to some degree, Monahan hasn’t been treated with these kinds of kid gloves since his first few months in the league.
It’s a worrying and staggering regression for a guy who was expected to be one of the club’s premier players this season.
So what should the coaching staff do? There are a few options:
1.) Move Monahan down the rotation and play him in a third or fourth line role. This would take him out of high leverage situations and play him against the opposition’s less dangerous players.
2.) Move Monahan to the wing where he can simplify his game and concentrate more on offense than developing a complete game.
3.) Continue to play him as one of the team’s top centres, hoping he eventually plays his way out of the slump.
4.) Scratch him for a game or two (or more, if there is a lingering injury concern).
The first option is my preference. It keeps Monahan on the ice, but puts him into a position to work out his issues while being less central to the team’s on-ice success for now.
Here’s what it could look like:
- Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik (Hardest matchups)
- Ferland – Bennett – Brouwer (vs second lines)
- Shinkaruk – Monahan – Versteeg/Chiasson (vs third lines, offensive zone draws)
- Hamilton – Stajan – Hathaway (only defensive zone draws)
I’d restrict Monahan to 12-13 minutes of ES ice and some PP time. From a coaching perspective, concentrate on his play in all three zones, but particularly in the neutral and defensive zone, where he has looked tentative and lost for most of the season. Feed him circumstances and opposition where he can actively work on this stuff, but isn’t required to face off against the other team’s best.
I’d at least try this before moving on to any of the other options, which stake me as either indefensible (continue to play him the same way) or more extreme (move him to wing or scratch him).
But maybe we’re past this and more extreme measures are required. Calgary is a quarter of the way through the year and their newly signed $6.375M top line C is still mostly playing like he’s fresh out of junior. Maybe he simply needs to play his way out of it, or maybe more active coaching, teaching and ice time management are required to get him over the hump.
The one thing that is certain is that the Flames need to get Monahan turned around for long-term considerations. Not only has Brad Treliving opted to build around Monahan as a cornerstone player, but his seven-year, $45M deal becomes an insidious boat anchor of a deal if he can’t get back to a 60+ point forward.
So what would you do with Sean Monahan? Bump him, scratch him, move him to the wing or leave him alone?