With the 2021 NHL draft and free agent frenzy in the rearview mirror, the offseason action around the NHL has come to a considerable halt. On the Calgary Flames front there hasn’t been much of anything happening outside of some restricted free agent signings.
Presumably the Jack Eichel situation in Buffalo is putting a hold on many teams next moves—the Flames included. It’s fair to assume general manager Brad Treliving is far from done tinkering with his roster this offseason. One of the bigger moves he may still be looking to make revolves around the future of one of the teams longest serving players in Sean Monahan.
Monahan’s trade rumours span several seasons
One of the hottest names in trade rumours on the Flames over the last two seasons has been Monahan. Monahan has regularly been mentioned by various members of the media as the odd man out if the Flames do decide to finally shake up their core. Where there’s smoke there’s fire and it’s no secret the Flames have been shopping the former sixth overall pick. The team has reportedly been trying to move him since last offseason, and came close to shipping him to Columbus for Josh Anderson last year.
One year later and the rumours haven’t stopped either as Monahan has once again been mentioned in trade rumours. Hailey Salvian of The Athletic had this to say just last week about the situation. From what Hailey reports here, it’s clear Monahan isn’t part of the Flames future plans right now.
Sean Monahan would be the longest-tenured member of the “official” leadership group, having been an alternate since 2015–16. But as pointed out, his time in Calgary could be limited, as he is frequently mentioned in trade speculation. Even if he stays, he only has two years remaining on his deal, and I’d be surprised if he was re-upped in Calgary.Hailey Salvian, The Athletic
Further, earlier in the summer Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reported once again that the Flames are actively shopping Monahan to see what they could get for him. Here’s what he had to say.
The talk is the Flames are also trying to find out what the market is for centre Sean Monahan. This is the second straight summer the Flames have tried to trade the under-performing Monahan, who had 10 goals and 28 points in 50 games last season.Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa Sun
It’s clear Brad Treliving and co. don’t see a future for Monahan in Calgary and feel as though he is the core piece that should be moved out to improve the team. When a team has been actively trying to trade a player for over a year, it’s clear that they don’t view said player as part of the teams plans in the present or future. The Monahan rumours aren’t just rumours anymore, they’re fact. The Flames are shopping him and are actively trying to move him.
Monahan’s rapid decline
Likely the main reason the Flames are looking to move Monahan is because his numbers have fallen dramatically the past two seasons. He hasn’t looked like himself in over two years and what started as a slump has turned into a worrying and long-lasting trend. Let’s take a look at his point totals since entering the league in 2013–14. Bolded numbers are career highs.
The last two seasons have been disastrous for Monahan. His goals, assists, points and points per game in both 2019–20 and 2020–21 are the lowest season totals he’s posted since his rookie season in 2013–14. Monahan posted at least 27 goals for five straight years before 2019–20 and had put up at least 60 points in four of the previous five seasons before the same season.
This past season in particular Monahan was on pace for just 16 goals, the lowest total of his career by a wide margin. His assist total and points per game were also both the second worst of his career ahead of only his rookie season.
His underlying numbers haven’t looked too great over the past two years either. Numbers are 5v5 score- and venue-adjusted courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com.
Monahan has never put up great underlying numbers in his career, but the past two seasons show a worrying trend. His numbers drastically improved in 2017–18 and 2018–19, leading many to believe he had finally turned a corner. Unfortunately his numbers fell in 2019–20 and haven’t reached the same level since. In particular, his CF% hasn’t been above 50 over the past two years and his points per 60 was tied for the lowest of his career this past year, with his 2019–20 points rate coming in at second worst.
It’s very rare for a player Monahan’s age in the prime of his career to fall off a cliff so suddenly, but as of right now that’s what appears to have happened. We may be looking at a player who peaked between 2017 and 2019 and will never reach those heights again.
Taking a look at Monahan’s even strength offence and defence wins above replacement over his career courtesy of @JFreshHockey further reaffirms these points. Monahan has simply fallen off a cliff following his career year in 2018–19. His trajectory paints the picture of a player who reached his peak and is now in decline, something almost never seen from a player only 26 years old.
He’s always been a dreadful player defensively, so his bread and butter was his elite ability to generate offence. The problem is his offence has evaporated since 2018–19, meaning he doesn’t impact the game positively at either end anymore which makes his value very limited. His even strength point totals of 16 and 25 the last two seasons are the lowest of his entire career since his rookie season when he had 24.
Could his stunning decline be due to injury? We broke down the lengthy list of injuries Monahan has suffered in his career earlier this year, and his list is certainly large for a player his age. Monahan makes his money shooting the puck and his ability to do that has seriously declined the last two years—injuries most likely playing a huge part.
His career shooting percentage before the 2019–20 season was 13.35%. The two years since? His shooting percentage is just 7.97%. That is a massive decline for a player who was once one of the most efficient shooters in the league. The question is can he ever find his game again despite the injuries? Or is he completely broken due to the many injuries he’s suffered over his eight years in the league?
Monahan still holds value
It’s clear the Flames want to move Monahan if they can, so what’s his value and who are some potential suitors? There’s no doubt his value is at an all-time low right now as he appears to have peaked already in his young career. However, despite his fall from grace, Monahan is still just 26 years old and has some time left to find his game again before it’s too late and the age curve takes over.
He’s also just two years removed from an 82 point, 34 goal season. Since entering the league in 2013–14, Monahan ranks 19th in the NHL for total points among centres with 439. He also ranks ninth among all centres league-wide for goals since his rookie year with 204.
Goal scoring is an invaluable talent in this league, and Monahan has been one of the best centres in the league at providing goals since starting his career. His value may be low right now, but it certainly isn’t zero and the Flames shouldn’t be looking to offload him for nothing.
Another factor in determining Monahan’s value on the market is what happens with Eichel. Once Eichel is finally moved, many of the teams who missed out on him may pivot to look for backup solutions at centre. Monahan should be one of the first names up. With the 2021–22 season rapidly approaching, it may make certain teams desperate to acquire centre depth before the season starts, thus upping the price of players like Monahan on the market.
Monahan to the Ottawa Senators?
So who could be some potential trade partners? There have been numerous teams rumored to be looking for top six centre help, however a couple teams stand out as better fits. A team acquiring Monahan will either have to have considerable cap space available to take on his $6.375 million cap hit, or be willing to part with a current roster player to send some money back to the Flames.
The most obvious fit is the Ottawa Senators. The Senators have reportedly been looking to acquire a veteran top-six centre all summer to play with their young core. What better fit than Monahan? He has eight years of NHL experience, and has worn a letter for the Flames for six years offering the veteran leadership the team is looking for. It would also be a homecoming of sorts as Monahan spent three seasons with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s, including captaining them for one season.
The Senators certainly have the cap space to take on Monahan’s contract straight up, and have a plethora of cheap young talent that should interest the Flames. Last week Bruce Garrioch reported that the Senators could potentially be looking to use young defenceman Erik Brannstrom in a trade for a top-six forward. That would be a home run for the Flames if they could pry him out of Ottawa for Monahan.
If the Senators really are open to trading the 21-year-old Erik Brannstrom, the Flames should be all over that. They desperately need some help for their depleted backend right now and Brannstrom would bring a ton of skill and potential to a Flames blueline that lacks puck carriers. Despite playing on the lowly Senators last season, Brannstrom still posted some very solid numbers in just his second full NHL season. Take a look at his regularized adjusted plus-minus, courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com.
Moving Monahan for Brannstrom would also clear out about $5.5 million in cap space, allowing the Flames to improve their roster elsewhere. It would also clear out the required cap space to acquire a certain Buffalo Sabres centre. Brannstrom is an RFA next season however unless he has a huge breakout year next season he won’t be due for a huge payday just yet.
An interesting dilemma
The Flames face an interesting decision with Monahan. He hasn’t been anywhere near the player anyone expected him to be over the last two years, and it’s clear the Flames want to move him before the season starts. Given his struggles his value is at an all-time low right now across the league, his cap hit isn’t small, and he hasn’t looked like a top-six centre in over two years. Despite that though his age and history still ensure he has some value on the trade market.
Given how low his value is right now, you’re risking selling him low then watching him bounce-back to his previous heights on another team. For this reason the Flames need to be careful not to move Monahan for the sake of moving him. If the offers aren’t there, they should just wait it out as certain teams certainly come calling for help at centre once Eichel is finally moved.
If the Flames can get back a player like Brannstrom from Ottawa, that would be a no-brainer. It would allow the team to improve on their biggest weakness while clearing out some cap space as well. If the offers are too low however, the team should be very careful with shipping him out for nothing. Monahan’s case is just so rare that it’s incredibly hard to predict how the rest of his 20s will play out.