The Calgary Flames are finally back in action for the start of the regular season. With sights set on a playoff run this year, the hard work has already begun. While the Flames ca only take lessons from their first two games with jst one point to show for two otherwise impressive outings, they have given us a great preview of storylines to follow this season. One of these will undoubtedly centre around the resurgence of fan favourite Sean Monahan.
Monahan’s history with the Flames
Drafted sixth overall by the Flames in 2013, Monahan was a breath of fresh air for Flames fans. After scoring six goals in his first eight games, Monahan steadily improved in each of his first few seasons. He offered a glimpse of Stanley Cup hope to Calgary management and fans alike, doing so alongside his other half Johnny Gaudreau.
His natural connection with Gaudreau got fans excited about the future of this dynamic duo. Their ability to capitalize on offence seemed to solidify both two positions on the top line. Monahan’s naming as an alternate captain in 2015 further reassured the city what a value he was to the team.
Sadly, just as Monahan seemed to reach the height of his career thus far, things took a dramatic turn. His struggles began in 2019–20, one of his worst seasons to date. Monahan put up only 48 points, a major drop from the season before. While rumours were circling, no one could find a reason for his shocking performance. His challenges continued into the 2020–21 season, putting up a disappointing 28 points in 50 games. While last year’s season was full of challenges from the ongoing pandemic, it was clear something else was holding Monahan back.
When the team eventually revealed that Monahan was injured, things started to make more sense. Particularly because he had continued to play through the pain after his initial injury in just the sixth game of the season. He was understandably sidelined before the season was over (but definitely far too late) and had hip surgery immediately. The intention was for Monahan to return this fall stronger than ever and all eyes are on him as he makes his return from injury.
Unfortunately, Monahan and injuries go hand in hand. The team previously disclosed four surgeries for wrist reconstruction, groin and both hips back in 2018. At this point he proved his ability to bounce back from an injury with a very successful 82 point season.
While the hope is that Monahan can make strong recovery once again, each injury makes rehabilitation more difficult. The young 27-year-old’s body has been through a lot, an obstacle which has sidelined NHL all-stars before. Aside from physical rehabilitation, the mental toll on an injured player is enormous. Monahan himself has stated in interviews over the years just how difficult it is to play hockey when your mind and body are not on the same page.
What do the Flames need from Monahan this season?
Assuming Monahan is and remains healthy the Flames will need him in a few key areas if they hope to finish at the top of their division. Most important is returning Monahan to the front of the net as often as possible. He has proven to be a serious threat in this real estate, leaving a gap in the Flames lineup whenever he is sidelined. Alongside Matthew Tkachuk, Monahan scores a huge percentage of his goals from this high-danger area.
In order to help him achieve this, head coach Daryl Sutter needs to give Monahan playmaking wingers who can connect with him in high danger areas. A great example of this is Andrew Mangiapane who should settle in somewhere around the second line. It is likely we will see Sutter reunite Monahan with Gaudreau at some point this season but a fresh start with no line combinations could be extremely beneficial to Monahan’s individual game.
If Monahan can once again get comfortable in the offensive zone the team can focus on further solidifying him as a two-way player. The centreman’s defence has been underwhelming throughout his career but absolutely has the potential to improve. The league itself has moved toward favouring two-way players in previous years and Monahan will have to step up in order to entertain the teams playoff hopes.
Here’s a look at his underlying 5v5 stats over the past few seasons from NaturalStatTrick. It’s clear that he has plenty of room to rebound.
While it is nice to dream of Monahan becoming the hero the Flames need, the biggest focus for the team should be keeping him healthy. The reality is, the team needs a reliable player who will still be around for years to come. Five good years is much more valuable than one outstanding year if it is at the expense of re-injury. If Monahan is able make a real impact on the second or third lines, score a few goals, lead the young guns and stay healthy, it will undoubtedly be considered a successful season.
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