53Sean Monahan
Photo Credit: Candice Ward / USA Today Sports

Sean Monahan is a legitimate #1 centre

The centre ice position is one of the most important for an NHL hockey team. For several years, teams have coveted having depth at centre, and are willing to invest significant cap dollars to fill this need.

Of all players with an AAV greater than $7M at the start of next season, 15/40 will be centremen, the highest represented position on the list. This doesn’t include Joe Thornton, Paul Stastny, and Henrik Sedin who currently have cap hits of $7M+ and whose contracts expire this season, and John Tavares who is bound to receive a significant raise from his current $5.5M AAV.

GMs consistently say that to find success, it is imperative that a team is strong down the middle, and it’s no secret that when thinking of the best players in the league, centremen come to mind.

Finding a number one centre, however, is no easy task. It seems the only way to pry an established centre from another team is through a blockbuster trade, and they do not come cheap. The draft is the only proven way to get top players nowadays; 21 first line centres were drafted by their current team.

The Flames’ number one centre, Sean Monahan, is one of these 21. However, his AAV is below $7M, he hasn’t challenged for any scoring awards in his career thus far, and it’s his wingman, Johnny Gaudreau, who gets most of the Flames fanfare.

On the surface, Monahan doesn’t appear to be a player who would be in the conversation for the best players in the league or even the best centres in the league. In his young career so far, his status as a number one centre was in doubt; Sam Bennett was once-upon-a-time expected to usurp Monahan on the top line, and the status of Monahan in the league’s long list of elite centremen is still a hotly debated topic.

The numbers, however, don’t lie. Over the past three seasons inclusive, Monahan has improved in all three zones and ranks among the best players in the league in a number of key offensive categories. The 2016-17 season was a down year for Monahan production-wise, but he still improved his overall game.

The following ranks are for centre-eligible players who played a minimum of 800 minutes and took a minimum of 500 faceoffs, prorated for the current season through 24 games. Stats shown below are for all situations. 

2015-16

2016-17 2017-18

Value

Rank

Value

Rank

Value

Rank

G/60

1.04

27

1.12

21

1.89

2

P/60

2.43

28

2.41

39

3.51

7

FO%

51.0%

45

51.5%

41

52.9%

40

CF%

54.3%

62

56.5%

47

61.2%

9

SCF%

54.4%

63

58.4%

38

64.2%

3

HDCF%

53.3%

70

55.4%

58

63.9%

10

Monahan’s scoring prowess has been well documented. He is, without a doubt, one of the league’s best snipers and knows how to put the puck in the net. His goal scoring rates have steadily increased over the past three years and currently sits at 1.89 G/60 this season, good for first in the NHL. Granted, his shooting percentage is a whopping 21.2% which is likely to regress back to his career average of 15.3%, but most of his goals have come from the slot so his totals aren’t overly inflated. He’s just been shooting from extremely high danger areas. His point production paints the same picture. Despite a dip in production last season, Monahan is scoring 1.08 more points per 60 this season than in 2015.

His ability to create offensive chances has steadily improved as well. His CF% has gone up by 6.9% and SCF% up by 9.8%. Not only is Monahan spending more time in the offensive zone, but he’s also generating more scoring chances every season. He has become more responsible with the puck and can be relied upon in all situations. Granted, Gaudreau is a big reason why Monahan’s line is able to dominate in the offensive zone, but Monahan’s contributions cannot be ignored either.

What is really impressive is Monahan’s HDCF%. Increasing by 10.6% over the three-year period, Monahan has been able to put himself in prime scoring areas at a much higher rate. His jump in production isn’t too surprising when you consider the fact that he’s generated much more high percentage scoring opportunities.

Monahan’s improvement goes beyond scoring, too. His faceoff percentage has also increased each season. Centremen are required to constantly adapt to changing rules in the faceoff dot and Monahan has only gotten better. Winning faceoffs is important, it’s no coincidence that the top teams in the NHL also have the highest FO%.

Monahan’s current 48-goal, 89-point pace will likely reduce as the season progresses, but there is no doubting that right now, he is not only among the NHL’s best centremen, but among the best players overall.

Even with a decrease in production inevitably looming, the Flames clearly have themselves a rare commodity: a legitimate number one centre.

  • everton fc

    Monahan is, indeed, a #1 centre. He’ll get 30+ goals again, this season (Ferland will clear 20!, ditto Gaudreau)

    Absolutely related, at least visually… I wish we’d go back to those ’89 jerseys! Why do we hang on to the Western-inspired ’04 “kit”? I never liked it. Burke/BT/King: Please bring back the truest Flames jersey!!

    • Flint

      One of Nieuwendyk’s most outstanding assets (ie what made him unique) was his skating, the same can not be said for Monahan. That’s like saying Gaudreau reminds you of Fleury. That’s not to take anything away from Sean or Johnny, but Joe Nieuwendyk was an incredible skater, and Theo Fleury was no Lady Byng candidate.

      • Sven

        in that

        Joe Nieuwendyk was a shyly spoken, 6’2 195 pound center from Oshawa, who starred with the Whitby Warriors in lacrosse before moving up to the Flames where he became a 50 goal scorer

        while

        Sean Monahan is a shyly spoken 6’3 195 pound center from Brampton,(77 km from Oshawa), who starred with the Brampton Warriors in lacrosse before moving up to the Flames where he now is on pace to become a 50 goal scorer..
        .
        other than that
        .
        not much alike at all-
        😉

  • Crazy Flames

    Monahan has such a high scoring percentage because he either scores or misses the net…. I’d be curious to see what his shooting percentage is when compared with both shots and shot attempts.

    Gotta give him credit for being able to get open in the high danger scoring areas.

    • oilcanboyd

      You said it – he gets into the high danger areas. It is hard to miss the net when you are almost on top of the goalie! He finds the open area of the net easily.

  • Southboy

    Almost in the same way Backstrom is underrated due to Ovechkin, SM is underrated due to JG. But at the same time i believe JG helps Monohan far more than the other way around.

    • Better than Crosby, Malkin, McDavid, Matthews, Backstrom, Tavares, Stamkos, Koptiar, Toews, Seguin, and MacKinnon?

      He’s awesome, but it’s a stretch to argue he’s top ten, let alone top five.

      • BurningSensation

        He’s been markedly better than MacKinnon and Toews (who has cratered the last few years offensively), Stamkos is really a winger now, and I wouldn’t trade him for either Kopitar (age/offence), or Seguin (headcase), so IMO he’s definitely top 10.

      • Tyler

        Crosby, Malkin, Mathews, Backstrom, Kopitar, Toew, and Mackinnon. He is better than. Right now. Would I have preferred Crosby when he won the scoring title last year? Ya. Would I take Monahan over, well everyone I just listed right now, yes. He is a top 5 center right now. I doubt it will last his whole career, but what where saying is he is better than these people right now.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      It took ten posts before we got to a post trashing Gully!!! TBH I thought it would be five. Well done!!

      Anyways, on to the article, Monahan is a true sniper, something many in the league would love to have. He may turn out to be the best.

      Which is an awesome positive for our team.

  • buts

    I can’t believe at the beginning of the year there were guys dissing SM. Ron Francis, Phil Esposito and many others were not smooth skaters but could put the puck in the net. This guy is a sniper, has the knack to put himself in the right position around the net and has a quick release. Flames are blessed to have him.

  • Lucky 13

    No question Monahan is a #1 Centre. You don’t break a record for the youngest player in franchise history to score 100 goals. He’s a great player and a humble person.

    Here’s something funny I found in an interview with him early in the season:

    Q: It seems like you two (Johnny)are inseparable. Do you ever get sick of each other?
    MONAHAN: We don’t get sick of each other. We give each other a hard time sometimes, but we’re good friends. It’s fun. When we come to the rink or if we’re away from the rink, we’re hanging out all the time. We’re good friends, and I think that carries over onto the ice. You want to help each other and help each other be better. We’re always pushing each other, and I think that relationship benefits the team. We give it to each other — if Johnny had an open net and hit the post, I’d be all over him for months and still talking about it. We have fun. We play cards on the plane and text almost every day. I’m trying to convince him to get a dog now, too, so we can go to the dog park together.

    Q: What might people not know about you off-the ice?

    MONAHAN: I like to have fun, and I like to laugh. Everyone thinks I’m really serious and boring and monotone. I think my voice is monotone . . . but I like to have fun. I like to lay low.

    What a gem!

  • Atomic Clown

    You don’t become the highest scorer of your draft year, the one before, and top 5 in the one before as well by accident. Monahan is a deadly shooter, and has the highest hockey IQ on the flames. You don’t get rebound goals by repeatedly whacking at the goalie; you get them by knowing where the puck will end up before it does. If Bennett’s production was even half of Monahan’s, the flames would be in a much better position

  • Baalzamon

    Disclaimer: Karim and Bill failed to mention that the numbers above are all situations (meaning, including PP), not 5v5. Still impressive though.

    One thing about Monahan is he’s improved steadily in his overall game every year. This year is by far the biggest step he’s taken, and man oh man has he been good.

  • Orrwasbest

    Sorry to say this but you are so far off point. Mony playing on the third line would be lucky to score 20goals. He is the most over paid Flame. Bennett would score 30 to 40 goals a season playing with JH. Listen GG try him on the first line for 20 games and he will show you that he is by far the best 1st line center. He won’t because they have overpaid Mony by about 3 to 4 million a year1

  • Carl the tooth

    Monahan s all around play is the best I’ve seen from him and the stats to match .hes still a kid and growing as a player too . I predicted this all summer so it comes as no surprise to me . To say he only gets those points because of Johnny well you could say that about any Dou. But Johnny don’t get those points if Monahan can’t grab those passes and light the lamp.goes both ways .

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    It took ten posts before we got to a post trashing Gully!!! TBH I thought it would be five. Well done!!

    Anyways, on to the article, Monahan is a true sniper, something many in the league would love to have. He may turn out to be the best.

    Which is an awesome positive for our team.

  • Intercourse the Penguins

    Johnny has a song when he scores( btw Jimi Hendrix’s version is much better than the original). Why should Sean not have one? “Money” by Pink Floyd.

    • Seattle_Flames

      I totally agree Eff the Penguins, actually I prefer Judas Priests version of Johnny B Goode over Chuck Berry’s or Jimi’s. Maybe if/when the Flames move to Seattle they’ll play the Hendrix version since he was born there. Mony does kind of have his own goal scoring song, they play Mony Mony when he scores quite often. It sucks that after the 2 best offensive players from the Flames score the Saddledome is converted to a 1950’s sockhop. Its still one of my biggest pet peeves about the saddledome experience, music selection, if you have a team name called the Flames embrace music that has got fire and burning as a theme. The opening music they come out to gives me douche chills but at least they got the closing song right.

  • loudogYYC

    The thing about Mony is no matter how meh you might think he looks without the puck you can’t ignore all those goals he scores. Sure I’d like him to play a more complete game like Backlund or like Scheifele, but I’d also argue those Centres can’t score like Mony.
    He’s no Selke candidate but that’s fine cuz we have Backlund (Who I think is a top 30 C in the NHL as well). Monahan is about a top 10 centre right now based on how he just knows how to score.

    • Baalzamon

      Prior to this season, Monahan and Scheifele basically looked exactly the same from an underlying perspective. Monahan is kicking the crap out of him this year.

      However, Scheifele has an 82 point season. Monahan has never had more than 63 (he’s on pace for more this year, but hasn’t done it yet).

  • Ludis Fanaticus

    I always found it odd, reading from some posters that they had little faith in Monahan.
    I have been a fan of his from the start.

    After 5 complete seasons, Jerome Iginla had 122 goals.
    Monahan has 58 games to go in his 5th season, and 121 goals.
    In Assists he needs 23 more to keep pace with Jarome.

    His numbers (that old fashioned metric of Goals and Assists) have met or exceeded Iginla’s in every year.

  • OKG

    A #1? Nah. When on the ice, Gaudreau, Ferland, Giordano, and Hamilton do 95% of the work. Monahan is not a playmaker and most of his assists coming on his rushed clears in Gaudreau’s direction. He’s not an elite two way player

    What Monahan is though, is one of the best finishers in the league. The new Jeff Carter basically, except less dynamic. A 1B center you would prefer play wing if you wanna contend, currently in the cushiest role in the NHL.