Photo Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

FlamesNation player evaluation: Sean Monahan

It’s hard to believe that Sean Monahan has five years of NHL experience under his belt already. In that time he’s experienced regular season heartache, post-season heartache, and a litany of discussion about his credibility in the role he plays in. By the end of this past season and the miraculously disappointing playoff run, Monahan has a bulls-eye on his back.

He’s always had his warts, but suddenly sensationalized discussion has taken a priority over objective based discussion about what Sean Monahan truly is.

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2018-19 season summary

This past regular season was and could still be interpreted as a dream come true for Monahan. With a new, young, and eager Elias Lindholm on his wing, the existing dynamic duo of Johnny Gaudreau and Monahan looked to ascend the ranks of the league. They did just that, forming a very talented and fiercely gifted top line that stormed score sheets and struck fear into opposing teams’ goalies.

For a majority of the first half of the season, with Monahan centering what is arguably one of the Flames’ most-offensively gifted lines in recent memory (in the prime of their careers), Monahan took off in torrid pace. When he was at his absolute peak in the 18-19 season, Monahan looked like he had finally hit the next level many had been waiting for.

14 points in October, 13 in November, and 21 in December to close out 2018 gave fans something to froth at the mouth over: a dominant, fiercely talented first line. How long it would last, no one truly knew at the time (there is one truth in hockey and that’s shooting percentages will likely regress to mean), but it instilled further hope and belief that Monahan could continue to hit additional levels of performance unseen before.

78 34 48 82 19:03 53.71% -0.35 60.82% 1.003

The post-New Years stretch of the season is when Monahan started to struggle, though on aggregate not completely manifesting in his production. There were injury concerns and even with a handful of games where Monahan wasn’t dressed, there was palpable discourse about what fans were seeing. Disengaged, lagging behind at times, and struggling to find success in the offensive zone consistently started driving a discussion we’re in the middle of to this very day: what is going on with Sean Monahan and can the Flames maintain a championship pursuit with this?

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Unfortunately the team as a whole – Monahan not excused nor exclusively to blame – saw a season for the ages end abruptly, falling to the Colorado Avalanche in the first round. Monahan’s lowly two points in five games capped off what on a macroscopic view looked to be one of his finest campaigns to date.

Compared to last season

Beyond counting stats, Monahan improved overall relative to the 2017-18 season most notably in WAR/GAR with the centre’s WAR (wins above replacement) jumping from 1.6 to 2.2. His GAR (goals above replacement) saw a jump from 8.8 in 17-18 to 12.4. This is in part to drawing more penalties versus last season. This minor improvement shouldn’t be admonished given the circumstances of last year versus this year.

In traditional shot metrics though, the 1.94 5v5 CF% Rel of 17-18 (a high point) dropped down to -0.35, a negligible impact but noticeable enough to trigger discussion. We know Monahan past and present is a bit of a glass cannon, a player who gives up almost as much – or as much as – he creates. His overall, unadjusted CF% at 5v5 maintained another strong showing of 53.71%, down from 54.74% in last year.

One fascinating observation is that Monahan’s CA60 (53.85), FA60 (45.96), and SA60 (29.95) all saw improvements collectively when compared to the 17-18 season.

What about next season?

This topic of whether or not the Flames can win with Sean Monahan as the number one centre is a perplexing conversation. One because it overvalues Lindholm’s ability at centre. Even accounting for the discussion of Lindholm playing more at centre moving forward, it still doesn’t completely prove he can do the job full-time. We know Peters likes having L-R options on draws; giving Lindholm strong-side starts is an opportunity use the strengths of the roster to create incrementally better set puck battles.

The second conundrum in this discussion is the fact that teams in the Flames’ position don’t trade centres of Monahan’s caliber often. More importantly: if these armchair general managers are going to float this, it’s worth considering that you need to get someone back that can score the way Monahan does already. Teams don’t regularly trade 30 goal scorers unless you’re looking to get back pennies on the dollar.

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Players – pretty much all players past, present, or future have warts. This isn’t fiction nor is it stretching any sort of truth. Monahan is no exception to that rule just like Gaudreau is no exception to the rule. The problem is the unnecessary and often lack of acceptance (driven by fandom and discourse) that some players are just going excel in the ways they’re gifted in. Some change, some don’t – he does one thing very well: scoring.

The pining for him to be better in his own end likely means one of two things: the first being, if you force him to focus on something of this, how much are you taking away from what makes him a special player and a player that excels in the one thing that creates wins? The second being, you’ve successfully changed Sean Monahan, now what? Are the Flames suddenly a better team or is there another hole to be filled by the potential number of goals removed that Monahan created in lieu of his sudden defensive aptitude improving?

It’s all hyperbole driven offseason chatter coupled with the team’s shortcomings in the post-season. If the Flames win in the first round and then succumb to the Sharks in the second, are we having the same sorts of discussions about whether or not Monahan stays or goes?

Next season is a big year for this team. The core is getting older, the team has had limited success (for various reasons within and outside of Monahan’s control) during Monahan’s tenure, and the need to be the best in the Pacific will continue to be a pressing concern. He’s a capable and gifted offensive weapon – we know he isn’t gifted in his own end, but if more is done to put him in positions of success continually, then the team is in a better spot keeping him.

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2018-19 player evaluations

#4 Rasmus Andersson | #5 Mark Giordano | #8 Juuso Valimaki


Stats from Natural Stat Trick, WAR/GAR from Evolving-Hockey.

  • cjc

    The question isn’t whether Monahan is good, it’s whether he’s good enough to carry the team as a 1 C. This year might be an exception, but championship teams generally have elite centres. Calgary hasn’t had the fortune of drafting one. Monahan was 12th among Centres in scoring, 13th on a point per game basis. Unfortunately that means a lot of fans look for narratives to explain his recent performances away (he’s lazy, he’s soft, he’s injured) rather than just accepting he is not an elite C.

    Of course you can’t trade him for a better C straight up (none we know of are for sale), and you’d need to get into the top 3 picks of a draft to have a hope of getting one (Of the guys ahead of him in Center scoring last year, only Scheifele, Giroux and Aho weren’t picked top 3). Do we know of some revelatory center prospect another team would trade away? No. So we’re stuck with Monny, for better or worse. The best thing to do in that case is to build depth at every position and have a balanced attack that’s difficult to match against.

    • Porcupine at a balloon party

      I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m under no illusion that Monahan is a superstar centre in League. But I find it a little disconcerting when people say he’s not a number 1 centre. He’s clearly in top 31 centres in League. Would we like to have a game changing centre (top 5 or top 10 in League)? Absolutely!! Can we get it?? Tough to say. Not without relinquishing assets. Is Douchene an upgrade? Would he come here? What do we have to give up salary cap wise to get him? Who gets traded to keep cap compliant if so?

      Long story short, fully agree we are “stuck” with Monahan. I’m more so in the ‘for better’ camp. We are a better team with him than without. If somehow we could get a better 1c and move him to 2c, great!

      • cjc

        Easy to find C that were drafted later than Monahan and are stars in this league or close to it. But when 3/4 of the top scoring centers were also drafted 3rd overall or higher, it puts a dent in the idea that Calgary can improve the situation through the draft.

        Calgary doesn’t figure to be drafting higher than 20th overall for at least a few seasons. So their chances of finding an elite C (let alone one as good as Monahan) through the draft in the next few years are slim.

  • Rudy27

    “we know he isn’t gifted in his own end”. There is no good reason for that! Improving a player defensively is one of the easiest things to teach, as long as the player adheres to the plan and puts in the effort. And I see effort as the big problem here.

    It’s offensive prowess that’s difficult to teach, and in some cases, just a god given talent. As I recall, the first part of this season had the first line playing a much improved defensive game, and it actually resulted in great offensive opportunities!

  • Korcan

    Offensive aptitude is something a player either has or doesn’t have – it can’t be taught. It is a gift and Monahan has it. Defense is different. It is something that can be taught and learned, it’s simply a matter of the player determining he wants to be good defensively then working at it.

    A perfect example of this is Steve Yzerman. When he first began his career he was a pure offensive talent with no interest in being defensively responsible. Under Scottie Bowman, however, he transformed how he played the position and became one of the top two-way centers of his day. His offensive numbers may have dropped off a bit, but he became a much better, and more valuable, player. It is no coincidence that the former Yzerman never had playoff success and the latter won Stanley cups.

    If Monahan does nothing to change he will still be a great 82 game #1 center, but neither he nore the Flames will achieve playoff success. The only way he/they can be successful in the post season is if Sean realizes the importance of being a complete 2-way centerman who can effectively match up against any and all opposition. This is what Tre, Peters, his teammates, and the fans of the Flames need from him.

    • Quinteco

      I’ve often thought about the Yzerman comparison. One thing the Red Wings had, though, that the Flames don’t, was Sergei Fedorov. That made it a little easier for Yzerman to make that transition. Fedorov could take up some the goal-scoring slack.

  • buts

    Monamuffin paired with JG in the playoffs was a disaster. Yes he can score but his compete/grit level in the playoffs when it counts the most was terrible. Watching JG with Eichel on team USA shows that a Center with speed makes JG more dangerous. If there’s a deal trading SM to get a fast good Center then do it…..now.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    He’s an enigma, don’t really notice him during the play but seems to be in the right spot in front of the net to score goals. Always has a physical problem, so they say, that makes him avoid any kind of rough stuff.
    He’ll get you points during the regular season but seems ineffective during the playoffs.

    • Porcupine at a balloon party

      8 goals and 13 points in 20 playoff games. Pretty small sample size to draw any conclusions from, but given how team around him has played, can’t exactly put all the onus on him.

      Not saying I’m not concerned, not saying I wouldn’t prefer having a top ten centre in the world playing ahead of him on depth chart, but to be honest, I was more concerned with the teams ability to adapt to what Colorado was doing to them than I am the individual players.

      There’s no doubt Monahan looked a little lost the last couple months of season, but as the article shows, despite this, he actually had a career year. So are we just setting the bar too high? Or is the inconsistency of his game too much for the team to bank on when we need him? Probably a mix a both

  • Pete80

    My concern isn’t with his game. I worry he’s fragile. He’s on the year-end injury report every year-end, he’s almost a guarantee for surgery every year. If we could take November Monahan to the playoffs great. March/April Monahan is always a shell of himself.

    • Kevin R

      13 playoff points in 20 games isnt that horrendous. Tough crowd. 25-35 goals every year, last I looked you still have to score goals in the regular season to make the playoffs.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        The Raptors had to trade Derozan to hit a new level and he seemed like a key part of their dynamic duo. Sometimes teams have to break up the country club.

    • Porcupine at a balloon party

      I think he had surgery on one offseason (last year). Correct me if I’m wrong on that. How does 1 offseason surgery in 5 years make him “a guarantee for surgery every year?”

  • Herringchoker1971

    Hey Guys,
    I won’t lie, I wish Monahan could be a little more physical. He has the size to do it. We do have to remember though…he isn’t paid to be physical. He’s not paid to carry the play. He’s paid to find a seam and score goals. That’s his role. We can crap on this guy for this playoff fail but, we still have to remember this is a team game. There’s tons of blame to go around. We need to be logical here…..we don’t trade a 80 point guy with chemistry on our top line for a replacement 80 point guy that we don’t know……aka James Neal/Troy Brouwer as examples. Nothing new is a sure thing just because they did it last year. Sometimes too……teams need to lose to learn how to win. I am concerned about Monny’s compete level, but that also comes down to coaching. Peters needs to push these guys to give more…..thats it. If he can do that, I believe Monny still has another gear to give. I think the failure this year was with our Defence. We are too small on defence specifically. We are too offensively inclined in my opinion. We need one big, scary defencemen who may not score alot of points but he can skate and he can distribute the puck. I don’t know who that is but, thats what we need big time. Natural progression tells me this team will be even better next season. Janko has improved year over year, Tkuchuk has improved and will continue to. Bennett is a warrior and I believe he will soon have the breakout year we all hope for. Mangiapane will surprise…..it goes on and on. I’m excited for next year.

    • Kevin R

      I also remember Martin St Louis was too small & Brett Hull was too lazy. You hang on these guys that are proven scorers.
      You never know when they suddenly silence the critics in a long playoff run. You need to build with the right pieces around these guys. Now, what I would love to see is what would it take to get Ottawa to take Neal, find a home for Stone, move Brodie to Montreal for Lindgren & a few picks & then find a way to pry Karlsson out of Vegas & put him as our top line centre with Gaudreau & Lindholm & move Monahan down with Bennett & Tkachuk.

  • Off the wall

    It’s interesting how everyone sees things differently. I was watching a program last night on the human brain and how we’re wired to RESIST creativity. You would think it to be opposite, however our brain wants to take the path of least resistance.

    Sound familiar? I know it is with me, though I abhor admitting it.

    The issue with our team isn’t the players, it’s getting the most out of them. Monahan is a perfect example. He’s not as bad as we believe he is defensively. Sure his Corsi scores are down, however if you look at his giveaways/ takeaways he’s up there with our defensive specialist Backlund.
    78 takeaways, 58 giveaways. Backlund is 78/ 55. Monahan is #2 on the team in this regard. He will never be a heavy hitter. He’s a slot shooter. That’s his gift. Find a seam, get a quick release away. And he’s darn good at it.

    The most creative people are the ones who challenge themselves.
    They try something NEW. And they aren’t afraid of failure. We tend to equate failure with lack of success, but that’s where the opposite of truth hides. It’s seems like an oxymoron, I know, but that’s because we’re wired to reject failure or new ideas.

    Our Flames didn’t win the Conference with luck. We won because this is a TEAM game.

    Something happened after the All Star break. Yet Peters’ chose the path of least resistance. He didn’t expect failure. Yet the game became more difficult and the players couldn’t adapt.

    Monahan isn’t to blame for this. He’s one of 22 players. Who is to blame?

    Mr Treliving and Peters’. If you want to be creative, it starts with those two. Players will only give what you ask. Resistance… just remember that. Nobody enjoys playing out of their comfort zone. It’s the GM’s job to find the right path and the coaches to implement it. Both failed.

    But that’s fine. Now we can at least get more answers. Trading Monahan isn’t one of them. Nor is our belief he’s not good enough for a number one Centre. You don’t put up 82 points if you don’t have the talent. Let’s rewire our brain to accept it.

    Failure is a stepping stone to success. Now the secret is to learn from failure and be creative!

    That’s where our answers are..

  • Jon Moxley

    Mr. Monahan. Stop waiting around for your game to get better and start getting better with your thoughts, decisions and actions on the ice. You are part of the future, now show some enthusiasm and grab a killer instinct young man.

  • supra steve

    My hope is that Mony soon has a “Steve Yzerman” like realization that all the points mean nothing, if the team doesn’t win, and he doubles down on his defensive responsibilities. I’m not gonna hold my breath, but it seems more realistic than hoping that Tre will somehow land a legit #1C this summer.

  • CowboyBob

    He has a great shot and release. He has solid instincts on where to be offensively and how to get into scoring position. The challenge is he does not drive play as a first line centre, he is a complimentary piece and needs someone else to drive the play. He has two big issues in my mind, first he is not a good skater, makes it challenge in the defensive zone as other players better on their edges get away from him easily. Second, he has absolutely no edge or toughness, you really see this in playoffs when the games get more intense and nastier.

    • Luter 1

      Was just ready to comment and read yours. Ditto
      Additionally the writer doesn’t seem to understand that being good defensively (both him and Johnny) does not detract from their offence in fact just the opposite, they would get out of their own end quicker allowing for more opportunities instead of being stuck for many of their shifts for long periods of time due to the fact neither him or Johnny take defending seriously enough.
      Ultimately Mony’s skating is what causes him a lot of his grief (defending, backchecking, forechecking) and being very soft for a big body.

      • CowboyBob

        I agree Johnny doesn’t take defensive hockey seriously at all, unless he has a giveaway. With Monahan I think he takes it seriously, but his skating is so weak he can’t actually catch or check anyone in the defensive zone.

  • Orrwasbest

    In a nut shell way tooooooo nice. I said going into the playoffs we are not nasty enough and heard many scoff at this saying speed is the new game. You need speed and nasty to win. As much as I dislike Brad M. of the Bruins that’s the type of player that wins and would trade Monny in a heartbeat for that type of player. Nice guys finish last in Hockey

  • CalgaryBornandRaised

    I don’t care that he doesn’t play physical or is great in his own end, he gets paid 6+ million to score goals, and in the last few playoffs that’s been basically non-existent. So, if you aren’t good defensively and your not scoring goals, what are you doing to help the team?

    If anything, Monahan needs to work on his understanding that time and space are taken away come playoff time and learn to adjust his game as necessary, cause guys aren’t going to let him one time shots from the slot or setup camp in front of the net easily starting Game 1

  • Sterls

    My thoughts regarding Monahan if the Flames were considering trading him. We won’t be able to get a better center via a trade, but we may be able to get a bonafide 1RW for Monahan with the skill set we are seeking (whatever that many be). This is only because Lindholm could replace Mony as 1C. Lindholm is better suited to 1C thanks to his face off ability and superior 2 way ability, even if he isn’t as potent a scoring threat. Moving Monahan for a RW with similar offensive ability may make our top line better as well as make it more defensively sound.

    • redwhiteblack

      He is not the 2 way center that he was in Junior. If you can get a bunch of goals that’s not so bad. The issue is his steady goal production declines points, especially at the end of the season. He was on pace for at least 40. Other players up their game as the post season approaches. Maybe he matures based on how his year went. He has to produce at a sustainable pace if we are to win when it matters most. He has to strive to be a champion or settle for being a good regular season goal scorer (most of the time). Spend the summer watching Iggy film, take notes and learn how to really hate losing.

  • Joel Ottos Jock

    Sean Monahan is not an NHL caliber centerman In my opinion. He would be best suited to play on his off wing for his skill set. Sean is not a great skater, nor does he have an overly high hockey IQ. His positioning is terrible in the neutral and own zone. He does have a knack for getting and finding open spaces in the offensive zone and has a pretty good shot with a great release. To me, that has winger written all over it.

    • Luter 1

      At least experiment with him on the wing, he just doesnt have the complete game at centre to go head to head with other teams top centres, skating and physicality being his biggest shortcomings.

  • Dunk

    I would like to see Janko given a shot on the top line. He has all the tools, just a late bloomer. I think he could develop nicely into a top centre. My concern is with Peters. Why does Tre always sign an unproven coach. I think Peters was grossly out coached in the playoffs. He allowed one player to beat his team and made no adjustments to slow him down.

  • oddclod

    Out: Monohan, Gaudreau, Neal, Brodie.

    In: Hall, Brian Boyle, 2nd round pick, Duchene.

    Hall Duchene Lindholm
    Tkachuck Bennett Boyle
    Frolik Backlund Mangi
    Dube Jankowski Ryan

    Backlund & Jankowski lacking functional grit though. SMH

    Backlund for Getzlaf straight across. Damn. Salary cap.

    There’s little hope when you have a Feaster team built for shinny.