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FlamesNation Mailbag: Monahan missing

Have you seen this large child?

There’s not really any sort of easy explanation. He might be injured again, which is something no one here is qualified to comment on, but it’s hard not to draw similarities between now and the same point last season, when it was eventually revealed that he was playing through wrist injuries that needed four surgeries. Perhaps he’s healthy and it’s just a simple slump like the ones he has gone through in seasons past. You can’t be great all the time.

But he is certainly struggling and that’s not great for the Flames. The longer this continues, the more distance San Jose builds on them for the division crown, and the more likely they’re in a serious fight with Vegas for first round home ice advantage. When Sean Monahan is dialled in, he can be one of the best centres in the league. When he’s not, well, you can see for yourself what that looks like.

Monahan’s never been a great defender, which is fine as long as he’s being himself in the offensive zone, but even the worst aspects of his game look off. He seems to be predictable and confused in the neutral zone half of the time lately, and his defensive work leaves much to be desired. Johnny Gaudreau is certainly not being paid for his defence either, so that leaves the burden entirely on Elias Lindholm and whatever defenders are on the ice. It’s not palatable.

The “when” is the hard part. Players tend to snap in and out of droughts randomly. It could be next game, it could be a week, it could be when the playoffs start. There’s no real telling when it’s going to happen, but I think you can make a strong bet on that it will happen. Monahan’s been an excellent player for the past five years. It would be extremely unlikely that he turned back into a pumpkin right now.

Hopefully, or else the team is in danger.

It goes without saying that Monahan is probably not going to be this poor for the rest of the season, but to repeat myself, he has to find a way out of his struggles before the playoffs start. The Flames are guaranteed to meet one of San Jose or Las Vegas in the playoffs, be it in the first or second rounds. If he isn’t at his best, the team is going to have to try and get creative with their matchups. If you look at Vegas and San Jose‘s top two lines (nevermind that their third lines are also pretty strong), it’s going to be nearly impossible to shelter his line without exposing another.

As for the rest of the top line, they’ve also hit a wall.

We’ll use the all-star break as a place to start, as it’s where the Flames really began struggling and conveniently breaks the season (almost evenly) into quarters. Before the break, the top line had played together for 51 games, posting a respectable 54.98 CF%, a 62.50 GF% with 59.40 OZS% at 5v5 (Natural Stat Trick). Their PDO was a little high at 103.8, mostly thanks to 12% on-ice shooting, but even when that regressed a little bit, it stood to reason they would still be a great line.

In the 18 games since, things have come crashing down, both from a performance and a luck perspective. Their CF% has dropped to a respectable yet middling 51.04% and their GF% to 35.71% in mostly unchanged circumstances (52.45 OZS%). Their luck has plummeted too, with their PDO falling to 95.5 with 5.62% shooting. Things aren’t particularly going their way, but they certainly aren’t helping themselves.

It’s hard to pin this on one particular player using analytics, as neither of them are apart from each other for very long. Monahan has certainly had his fair share of blame, but Elias Lindholm has also gone extremely quiet as of late. The only one you could really put the least blame on is Gaudreau, who has been better than his linemates visually and analytically. For example, Monahan has 25 shots at 5v5, Lindholm has 29, and Gaudreau has 40 during this stretch. Andrew Mangiapane has 32, and he’s a rookie getting his first real taste of NHL action.

None of that is good. If one player slumps, that’s manageable because that line has three great parts to it. If two slump, maybe you could juggle the lines a bit and see if that works. If all three are struggling, uh oh.

I think the issue is that the depth hasn’t been up to the challenge. The Flames have been built so that they can get contributions from all four lines, but there’s been some issues with the depth moving up the rotation. Against other bottom sixers and the occasional shift or two against top sixers, they’ve done some great work, but moving them up regularly simply hasn’t done the trick.

Sam Bennett’s goodwill on the second line seems to have run dry, James Neal has been unavailable, and past them it’s kind of hard to justify anyone else. I think Mangiapane deserves a bit of a longer look in the top six, and maybe Austin Czarnik could use a spin, but they have 19 combined points: are they really going to fix the scoring woes? Derek Ryan and Garnet Hathaway have been formidable fourth line warriors, but that’s not going to fly outside of fourth line situations. If you didn’t like Monahan’s underlying numbers for this stretch above, Mark Jankowski has similar numbers all season long.

Even if Bill Peters chose to break the blender out, I think it’s hard to see what decisions will change the fortunes of the top two lines other than waiting it out. There might be the feeling that continuing to muddle with a discombobulated line is doing more harm than good. The Gaudreau-Monahan-Tkachuk line wasn’t fruitful, and with the options you have, who else are you going to put up there? Is it actually going to be a quick fix or will it not be enough when the Flames find themselves trailing? I think a lot of lines might look good on paper, but given that they only have 15-20 minutes or so to change the outcome of a hockey game, occasionally they’ll have to switch from “looks good” to “know they’re good.”

The Purple Gatorade line and the 3M line have been the consistent producers, and they’re likely going to get back into the groove of things. The hockey season is long and you’re prone to peaks and valleys. Ignoring that and trying to get things started immediately might be more damage than payoff.

Yes.

The Flames are still a good team that is in the midst of their first struggle stretch of the year. If Sunday’s game against Vegas is the start of them breaking out of it, that stretch lasted four games where pretty much everything that could go wrong did. They finally lost back-to-back regulation games for the first time since November. If this is the worst, it’s pretty okay, all things considered.

Over the longer portions of the season, the Flames have been one of the best teams in the NHL. Nothing’s changed except for a few bad games. To borrow a cliche from soccer: form is temporary, class is permanent. Whatever struggles the Flames are going through right now, they still remain a great team at their core. It’s more likely they find their dominance again rather than continuing to tumble down the standings.

    • withachance

      I think its a consensus that some or all of Brodie, Stone and Frolik will be traded this offseason – it just makes too much sense in terms of cap, asset management, and the progression of some of the younger players.

      I think Fantenberg would be a great signing, and gives Tre a lot more flexibility in what he can do in trades – more defenceman means more trade chips – Kylington for example could easily get a prime top 6 winger back

      • supra steve

        “Kylington for example could easily get a prime top 6 winger back”

        Perhaps in a few years, if he continues to improve, but not a chance he’s worth that now. If he was, Mark Stone might be a Flame.

      • SeanCharles

        I agree with you about trading Brodie, Stone and Frolik.

        Valimaki, Fantenberg, Kylington and Prout can all provide defensive depth next season with Gio, Andersson, Hanifin and Hamonic leading the way.

        I think with rumors surrounding Zucker for Frolik + at the TDL it becomes obvious that Tre wasn’t impressed with Frolik’s tactics with his agent and is looking to trade him for an upgrade on the 2nd line.

        Gaudreau-Monahan-Lindholm
        Tkachuk-Backlund-?????
        Bennett-Jankowski-Neal
        Mangiapane-Ryan-Hathaway
        Czarnik

        Gio-Andersson
        Hanifin-Hamonic
        Valimaki-Kylington
        Fantenberg-Prout

        Rittich
        ??????

        Treliving’s offseason wishlist:
        -Top 6 RWer
        – Goalie

        How do we fit Dube into the lineup as he probably can’t be kept down next season since he is already too good for the AHL as a 20 year old?

  • Brian McGrattan's Salute

    Neal can and will solve the line changing issues mentioned here. More options, a definite top six potential guy, and someone who hopefully can thrive or at least play better in the grind game of late season nhl hockey

    • withachance

      Dont remember the last time he didnt play with players better than Janko and Bennett. I think he really needs a couple games with Johnny and Lindholm. Take out the blender BP!

      • Jessemadnote

        I liked that line when it was together though it was only one period (against Colorado if I remember) it got me pretty pumped up. How about these lines?

        13- 28- 18 All guys who are capable of blowing games wide open. Neal finally gets his playmakers.

        3M Ya know.
        88- 23 – 10 Get mony working with some diggers to help discover his game.
        93 – 77 – 27/21 That 4th line would expose teams.

        • wot96

          I would be happy to try that but Neal has been criticized as being too slow to play with Johnny and Mony. Mony has been criticized as too slow to play with Johnny and Lindholm. So really, all you are doing is trading a slow, shooter at center, for a slow, shooter at right wing.

          I thought Neal was working with Bennett and Jankowski because they were playing a chip, chase, recover and cycle game and that gave Neal an opportunity to maybe find a spot from which to shoot. I really think the best place for Neal is on the wing with Bennett and Janks. More importantly, I really don’t see how Mony is going to find his game with Mangiapane and Ryan.

          In the right circumstances, it is worth a try. But I’m not sure that the right circumstances arise very often, or at all, after the all star game.

          • Jessemadnote

            My logic for Mony finding his game with Mang and Ryan is that he needs to get out of the “gaudreau’s center” mindset. If he can get some greasy rebounds, deflections, and play a north-south game with the two fourth line workers I think it could help him to round out a little bit. Johnny is going to keep being double teamed and we need Mony to stop deferring to him automatically.

  • Honkydonk

    I am very curious to see what Tre does this offseason. Does he trade Brodie and our first for someone juicy? Does he trade Frolik and for what return? Stone is a definite trade or buy out.

      • canadian1967

        Frolik has had like 6 good Games all year. No consistency, except for the fact that very soon he will start running around all over the ice chasing the puck like a Tim-Bit causing BP to scratch him again.

        • HOCKEY83

          For the ice time he averages his points per game are pretty dam good. He’s been thrown up and down the line up all season and healthy scratched. Everytime they put him back with 3M he performs great. He had way more good games than neal has yet they’re going to put him in the line up and healthy scratch Czar or Mangi who have both been very good lately.

        • He had a short leash IMO. He is about as consistent as you can get for a 2-3 line winger. He is dependable and can think the game well. There is no 3M without him. Very underrated guy. I would trade him for the right deal (like Zucker) but not just because he makes 4 million. I see it as pretty darn good value for what he brings.

  • Gus Fring

    I can see Brodie, Frolik, Stone, Smith all gone which is a lot of cap savings. We bring in another top 6 for the 2nd line and a upgrade in goal. Let the young D mature with playing time.

    • SeanCharles

      Yup its time to move out the expensive vets with expiring deals so we don’t lose them for nothing (Brodie) or let them clog up roster spots that can be better utilized on cheap youth (Stone) or an upgrade (Frolik, Smith).

      Asset management is part of the game… I know half of us are in love with Frolik and Brodie but when you factor in age, expiring contracts, managing the cap and the youth that is ready for roster spots (Dube, Valimaki) you have to be objective and make rational choices.

      Who makes the most sense to move on from outside of these guys (not including Neal)?

      Frolik and Brodie get to play with Gio, Backlund and Tkachuk on the regular… is it any surprise that they have decent stats and strong underlying numbers?

      I’m not saying they don’t contribute to the success of the line/pairing but this isn’t the pre-salary cap era, decisions need to be made whether we like them or not.

      • Brodie and Frolik are not expensive. I see both as great value contracts. Because of that they should fetch something decent if you want to trade them. I can see Brodie being replaced with a young defender in the system like Andersson but you need to get something really good back for him. He is a top 2-4 defender that makes 5 million. That is good value.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I am amazed that this has not been considered given the struggles of the top line. I wouldn’t even mind seeing Lindholm Center that line and have Janko slide to the wing. I firmly believe that once Janko is given top 6 minutes he will stay there. BP loves the blender but only for certain players. I remember in pre-season when the Flames dressed a line up of prospects and trialists, Janko still stayed on the third line. Keep in mind this was one the first real games since he scored 4 goals in the final regular season game in the previous season. I chalked this up to BP being a new coach and not knowing the player.

      As fans we all have our favourites and players we think deserve more and players we subsequently feel deserve less. Players like Bennett and Czarnik have been given opportunities to crack the top 6 with little success. For that reason I would be more inclined to move these type of players than ones that have potential unrealized upside.

    • flames2015

      I’d like to see Gaudreau – Janko – Lindholm, and then the 3rd line of Bennett, Monahan, Czarnik for a couple games. When Monahan was shut down early last season, Janko had some good looks with Johnny and he was there when he got 4 goals vs Vegas in the last game. He looked pumped and his play elevated when paired with Johnny. Putting Monahan on the 3rd, will ease up his competition a bit and give him time or whatever it is he needs to work though the slump. But in all honesty, he disappears every year for a stretch of time, so not overly concerned that he won’t get out of this funk.

      • Sir ryosus

        Mony doesn’t bring 3rd line qualities to his game. Couldn’t imagine him being any use there. I’m starting to wonder if he plans on shoulder modeling after NHL. He sure babies those suckers. Jonny has more jam than Mony

  • redwhiteblack

    Something is off with the top line. I hope it is not injuries. If they can find that purple Gatorade groove again it would be so awesome. Hoping facing the likes of NJD and NYR can help kickstart them again.

  • Derzie

    There’s certainly no science or meaning to it, but when I look at player stats, I’ll add Points & plus/minus for each player, and resort based on that. I know it double counts and all that, I just find looking at one without the other tells an incomplete story.

    I started to do this when Ovi and Sid were being compared and it drove me crazy. Ovi’s negative plus/minus would drop him way down the pack. And rightly so. Best scorer there is but not a complete player.

    Taking a look at the Flames (Pts added to plus/minus):

    Top Line
    JG=96, EL=97, SM=75
    3M Line
    MB=73,MT=77,MF=48

    For each line, there are a clear pair that drive things and a member who is a passenger. Lindholm has displaced Sean. The talk of ‘breaking them up’ is really moot. They have already separated, stats-wise, they just need to do it for real on the ice.

    That said, this whole movement to pick on Monahan is ludicrous. He is more productive than nation darling Backlund, yet they call for Sean’s head.
    Both guys are fantastic hockey players in the strongest hockey league in the world. If they don’t skate to your liking or don’t hit enough, that’s a you problem, and you’re entitled to it. The stats say otherwise. Even the home-made concoction that I use.

    • Albertabeef

      Yep, kid has a career season and the want to burn him at the stake because he doesn’t “look right”. Wow. Like I posted yesterday Iggy had 363 points after 6 seasons and Mony has 353 with enough games left to match it. For the record Mony has 6 goals less and 4 assists less than Iggy at the same point in careers. This was big as Iggy had a 98 point 6th season and Mony had his work cut out to keep pace to him. And well so many peeps on here call Iggy the greatest Flame of all time, I don’t entirely get the “pick on Mony” attitude. Well I guess some people need a new whipping boy after every game. Mony will score a couple then it will be Ryan, or Janks, or Benny. Like this post about Mony and people are still talking about how we trade Brodie this summer. Guess just being satisfied by the good things isn’t good enough for some people.

  • Albertabeef

    Wow does this seem weird and unwarranted. Players go hot and cold all the time. Mony has 11 points in the last 18 games, as does Johnny. Mony is sporting a 9.5% shooting rate in that time, Johnny is at 2% shooting. Why are we pointing fingers at Mony? Lindholm leads the team in points since the break with 14. These guys can’t be expected to score every game. You have to accept the slumps and believe they can fight though it. These guys also get our opponents best defensive players playing against them. It’s no different than the way the 3m line shuts down other teams star lines. How excited do we get when Crappy McMuffin gets kept off the board when we play them. It’s no different for other teams trying to keep our big guns from scoring. It happens, it’s part of the game.

    • Why are you taking this personally? Does Monahan look right to you? All players go hot and cold yes. JG is pretty cold right now but he still looks good out there for the most part. It just isn’t going in for him. Monny looks lost many nights these past few weeks. Is it wrong to call a player out that should be doing better and question why? Doesn’t make Sean a bad person…

      • Albertabeef

        So you want to call out a player who is one of the top point earners/goal scorers who is having a career year? Okay then. Guess players are not allowed to go through funks without a witchhunt, which is how this sounds to me. But then it was no different when Iggy wasn’t scoring either. His slow season starts made a lot of people bald.

        • It’s life. You call people out who are not playing up to the level they should be. Any organization should do this if they want the best out of people. You think it looks good to let people coast? I’m not saying that is what Monahan is doing but saying that something is not right with him (injury, tired or headspace) is not insulting. It just is what it is.