Sean Monahan has been through a lot in his National Hockey League career.
The 27-year-old centre played with a severe hip injury throughout most of the 2020–21 season, ultimately undergoing surgery in May to correct the issue.
“If I bent down, my hip would lock and it would stay locked,” Monahan told Sportsnet’s Eric Francis in October. “It would take a few seconds to unlock. When you’re taking faceoffs throughout games and you bend down and it’s stuck, it sucks.”
Monahan has also dealt with multiple wrist injuries, a cracked thumb, and a pair of hernia surgeries throughout his career. He went under the knife four separate times late in the 2017–18 season.
Nobody can dispute Monahan’s toughness. Even after battling back from yet another offseason operation, he still regularly goes to the dirty areas on the ice. Monahan takes a beating from opposing defencemen in his role as the Calgary Flames’ high-slot shooter on the power play.
After everything he’s been through, it’s been genuinely heartwarming to see Monahan finding success again in the Flames’ top six. In Calgary’s last 11 games, Monahan ranks fifth on the Flames — one point behind Johnny Gaudreau and one ahead of Andrew Mangiapane — with eight points. Only Oliver Kylington, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, and Gaudreau have been more productive over that span.
Monahan put together his second multi-point game of the season in Ottawa on Nov. 14, picking up two assists in the Flames’ 4-0 shutout win over the Senators. He unleashed a vintage shot — redirected by Andrew Mangiapane in front — to open the scoring for Calgary late in the first period on Sunday:
— NHL (@NHL) November 14, 2021
(Extra props to Kylington for his impressive interception of an Ottawa clearing attempt right before the goal).
Monahan spent much of the early goings of the season mucking away alongside Trevor Lewis and either Milan Lucic or Brad Richardson on the Flames’ fourth line. It seldom worked.
In Monahan’s 10 games on that line between Oct. 21 and Nov. 9, he surpassed the 50% 5-on-5 on-ice expected goals threshold just once (against New Jersey on Oct. 26, according to Natural Stat Trick). In contrast, he fell below 30% on two occasions.
Monahan made up for his lacklustre even-strength play-driving earlier in the season by producing when his team had the extra man. He picked up his first point of the season (an assist) during a Flames man advantage in that Devils game, following it up with four power-play points in his next five contests.
According to Evolving-Hockey’s Goals Above Replacement (GAR) model, Monahan has been the Flames’ best power-play contributor in 2021–22 and ranks among the league’s top contributors in that game situation.
His 1.1 offensive GAR on the power play leads the Flames and ranks 21st in the National Hockey League, tied with the likes of Thomas Chabot and Patrik Laine.
— Mike Gould (@miketgould) November 17, 2021
Only 15 players in the entire NHL have more points on the power play than Monahan’s six. That list includes three Edmonton Oilers stars (97, 93, and 29) and two Calgary Flames: Lindholm and Tkachuk.
Among the players also with six power-play points this season: Alex Ovechkin, Anze Kopitar, Steven Stamkos, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Patrice Bergeron, Adam Fox, Quinn Hughes, Charlie McAvoy, Moritz Seider, and Miro Heiskanen. That’s some pretty good company.
Better still, Monahan has seen a noticeable uptick in his 5-on-5 play since he was promoted to Calgary’s second line — with Mangiapane and Blake Coleman — in Montreal on Nov. 11.
With Monahan on the ice against the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, and Senators, the Flames controlled more than 60% of the expected goals at even strength (according to Natural Stat Trick).
Monahan’s on-ice expected goals rate fell to 44.98% against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 16; however, the Flames had an uncharacteristically mediocre game as a whole and Monahan actually ended up with a positive relative xGF% figure on the night.
Remember, there was a stretch in late October and early November where Monahan’s line was being absolutely destroyed every night at 5-on-5. He posted relative xGF% figures below -35.00 in three consecutive games between Oct. 30 and Nov. 4.
Now, Monahan is on a line where he actually fits. In the 62:49 Monahan and Mangiapane have spent together at 5-on-5 this season, the Flames have controlled 65.73% of all on-ice expected goals and have outscored their opponents 3-1.
Both Mangiapane and Monahan have seen their results get worse this season when they’ve been separated from each other, although Monahan’s figures are likely weighed down by his time spent toiling on the Flames’ low-event fourth line.
Monahan w/ Mangiapane this season: 62:49 TOI, 65.73 xGF%, 75.00 GF%, 61.11 CF%
Mangiapane w/o Monahan this season: 113:04 TOI, 57.29 xGF%, 56.25 GF%, 55.93 CF%
Monahan w/o Mangiapane this season: 121:52 TOI, 40.82 xGF%, 28.57 GF%, 44.70 CF%
All figures 5v5 via NST #Flames
— Mike Gould (@miketgould) November 17, 2021
The Mangiapane/Monahan combination has worked nicely as a secondary scoring unit for the Flames at 5-on-5. Coleman is a natural stylistic fit who should be able to help out at both ends once his tepid 6.73 on-ice shooting percentage begins to improve.
The Flames don’t need Monahan to score 30 goals for them this season (although they certainly wouldn’t complain if he did). Gaudreau, Lindholm, and Tkachuk are the guys on offence at this point, capable of flipping games 180 degrees with a single shift.
Monahan needs to be part of a steady, consistent, two-way line that can provide some secondary scoring. In Mangiapane and Coleman, he has two speedy wingers who can retrieve pucks for him and take the lead on the forecheck. If that trio keeps controlling 60% of the expected goals at 5-on-5 on a relatively consistent basis, all three members will start to put pucks in the net.
There’s no telling how long Monahan will remain a Flame. He has one year remaining after this one on his current contract, which annually pays him an average of $6.375 million. It’s likely his next deal — whether it be with the Flames or a different team — comes in below that figure.
For now, Monahan needs to remain on Calgary’s second line and its top power-play unit. He’s capable of helping the Flames — and, if it comes to it, his own trade value — in both of those situations.
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