With the season mercifully coming to an end in just over a week, the Flames are beginning to shut down some of their injured players, and start them on their healing journey in advance of next season. One major one on the mend is Sean Monahan, who the team announced will be heading for hip surgery next week.
This was not a great season for him. Through 50 games this season, he put up just 10 goals and 18 assists, tied for fourth on the team. His underlying numbers also took a huge hit this season. He was worst on the team among regular skaters in Corsi for percentage at 49.6% and was around the 50% mark in all major statistical categories. Not terrible, but not good enough for the man who should have been the Flames’ top center this season.
According to Coach Sutter, he has been playing through this injury for around 20 games or so, which may account for his less than stellar performance this season. However, this is not the first time he has played through a major injury, which was later disclosed towards the end of the season. Let’s break it down by year.
While his first couple seasons with the Flames were quite good, after he signed his big contract, the injury issues through the season began to emerge. Following the 2016-17 season in which he put up a team leading 27 goals, it emerged that Monahan needed wrist surgery. This was described as a minor surgery, but kept him out of the World Championships that season. The surgery was apparently successful at the time.
While the Flames struggled, Monahan had a great individual season, putting up 64 points in 74 games. However, with the Flames eliminated from the playoffs, Monahan was shut down for the remainder of the year. At the end of the season, Monahan then disclosed that he underwent four surgeries: two hernia surgeries, a groin surgery, and another wrist surgery.
While all three are serious, at the time Monahan particularly commented on the impact of his left wrist surgery. “I felt like I was playing with one hand for a while. I lost all my grip strength in my hand. It definitely limits you.” Again it was clear that he had been playing through this for a while, but was somehow still able to hit the 30 goal mark. Following all four surgeries, he was able to recover in time for the start of the following season.
This was Monahan’s best season of his career. He put up a whopping 82 points in 78 games, including a career-high 34 goals. Something must have worked from the surgeries in the off-season as it appeared as though he was finally back to normal. While the Flames still dropped in the playoffs losing in five games to the Colorado Avalanche, many of the Flames’ key players had strong seasons.
After the season, it emerged that Monahan was again playing injured, this time dealing with a cracked thumb. While the extent of the injury was not clear, it was clear that this was again an issue that Monahan was playing through for at least a few games. Again, it was assumed that it would be set and healed by the time the season began again.
Then things started to go downhill on the ice. In the pandemic-shortened season, Monahan put up just 40 points in 70 games, and only had 22 goals- the fewest since his rookie season. He did not look like the same player he was in seasons past, and struggled to get to the slot area where he was got most of his looks.
Interestingly, there were no reported injuries that Monahan was suffering over the course of the season. Either due to good luck, or a shortened season, or simply that it was not disclosed, Monahan was not reported to have been suffering through any injuries last season.
And finally, that brings us to this season where it was reported that Monahan will require hip surgery and will miss the remainder of the year.
What does it all mean?
Hockey players, like most professional athletes, strive to do whatever they can to help their teams win. It’s a physically demanding sport that takes a toll on one’s body, and as a fan, you trust that they do what they can to keep their bodies in tip-top shape. However, when you hear stories of a player playing injured through not one season but four of the last five, it begs the question, what is best for everyone involved?
There is a culture around hockey of applauding players for giving their all to win games. Stories of players like Zdeno Chara playing through a jaw broken in multiple places or Paul Kariya returning to play with a concussion in the playoffs are often lauded as signs of strength but have impacts that go beyond just the playoffs. Kariya’s career was cut short because of head injuries, and he wasn’t the only one. Bobby Orr, Pavel Bure, and others have all had to cut their careers short due to repeated ailments. Countless others have long term brain injuries that affect them long after they retire.
For a team like the Flames, having players that can play for you for multiple seasons as opposed to having continuous injuries that hurt them in the long-run seems like a better option. While it is obviously hard to lose anyone to injury, there needs to be a smarter solution than to have your top players, or any player for that matter, playing through injuries that require surgery. This likely goes beyond the Flames to needing a broader NHL policy decision but is something worth looking at for the good of the game.