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.
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.
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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?
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.
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.
2018-19 player evaluations
Stats from Natural Stat Trick, WAR/GAR from Evolving-Hockey.