Calgary Flames

Flames Sunday Census: What to do with Sean Monahan

It wasn’t that long ago that Sean Monahan was one of the Calgary Flames’ most exciting players. A highly touted centre from the OHL, Monahan came into the NHL with a bang, putting up a whopping 22 goals in his first season in Calgary. From there, he and Johnny Gaudreau formed among the league’s most formidable duos. With the addition of Elias Lindholm, they became the best top line the team has had in years.

However, it has been a big step backwards for Monahan since then. Between injuries, poor two-way play, and the inability to will the puck into the back of the net, the Flames’ once top centreman has been relegated down the depth chart, starting the season on the fourth line.

While he has found his way up and down since then, it seems to have been to little avail, as Monahan has yet to cement himself as a main part of the team’s success this season. This is why we turned to you to ask this week’s question of what to do with Sean Monahan. We asked, you answered!

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Sean Monahan is not a top line player anymore

With just 5% of voters suggesting that the Flames move Monahan to the top line, it seems as though most are convinced that he is no longer the team’s number one centre. However, most voters suggested he is better served somewhere in the middle-six of the rotation, with a handful seeing him as a fourth line player. Let’s play around with where he would fit in the bottom-9 of the rotation.

Bottom line Monahan

Just 20% of voters seemed to think Monahan was best served on the bottom line. This would give him linemates like Tyler Pitlick, Brad Richardson, Milan Lucic, and/or Trevor Lewis in this role depending on how it is arranged. With how Coach Darryl Sutter is rotating his lines, he would likely see somewhere in the range of 10 minutes a night in icetime at 5v5 plus presumably staying on the team’s top power play.

If you believe that Monahan is still rehabbing his multiple offseason surgeries or that he will not fully return to being the player he was before, having him playing in a sheltered role with heavy offensive-zone starts may be the best fit for him. It would give Monahan the opportunity to rediscover his form in a (relatively) sheltered environment, as well as be anchored with bigger players who can create space for him to thrive in the offensive zone. On top of that, in this role, he likely will see less of other team’s top players, particularly in home games when the Flames have last change, and can go to town against the bottom-six players of other teams.

The downside with this strategy is that you anchor a highly offensive sniper with wingers who play a heavy defense-first style of game. If the objective is to get Monahan to feast on other teams’ bottom sixes, this won’t be it. If the idea is to just let him rehab quietly away from heavy minutes, this may work, but having a six-million dollar player on the bottom line is simply not an effective strategy.

Middle-six Monahan

With nearly 75% of respondents suggesting that Monahan should be in the middle-six, this feels like the right choice for him. I think it makes more sense putting them together as where you move Monahan impacts the remainder of the Flames’ middle-six strategy.

Broadly speaking, the Flames have five bona-fide middle-six wingers plus a pick-your-poison of Pitlick, Walker Duehr or Brett Ritchie (when healthy). These forwards are roughly divided into one line which ends up being the shutdown group and one group that has more offensive minutes. Presumably given his style of play, Monahan centres the latter group, and Mikael Backlund centres the former.

By a wide margin, most fans suggested that Monahan’s ideal wingers are Andrew Mangiapane and Blake Coleman, a group that the Flames have deployed for a combined 40 minutes or so, most of which came in the four games previous to the Flames’ 5–0 drubbing of the Buffalo Sabres. In that time, the line posted almost exclusively positive possession numbers, and outscored their opposition by two goals to one. Not bad.

The problem is that when you do this, you remove two of the Flames’ better two-way players from handling shutdown minutes. Both Coleman and Mangiapane have thrived in handling other teams’ top lines—with Mangiapane so far having a career year primarily alongside Backlund.

This leaves Monahan with Dillon Dube and someone else. That could be Mangiapane, putting someone like Tyler Pitlick on the shutdown line. This could work, giving the team three very balanced lines, and allowing Mangiapane to showcase his offensive abilities, but this group’s abilities together dropped off substantially as the games wore on and Coach Sutter opted to break this group up.

Perhaps the best suggestion of all came from the comments:

Dube and Monahan is probably the best pairing at this point for the Flames, but Pitlick as a winger may not be the piece that they need to succeed. Trying a player like Jakob Pelletier may be the spark that the Flames need to enhance their depth scoring.

What does this all look like?

The Flames would leave their lines virtually unchanged by this proposal. Gaudreau would play alongside Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk on the top unit. Backlund would play between Mangiapane and Coleman, while Monahan would play with Dube on the one side and someone like Pelletier on the other, then the Flames could have a rotating crew of Lucic, Pitlick, Richardson, and Lewis on the bottom line. This would send Brett Ritchie and Walker Duehr to the Stockton Heat.

This roadtrip has started to expose gaps in the Flames’ bottom-six. While they have gotten a ton from Mangiapane and the top line, they have gotten remarkably little, both on the scoresheet and analytically from the bottom of their roster. This is a huge area of concern, but getting their third most expensive forward going is likely the key to righting this. If the Flames can get Monahan to be a consistent depth scoring piece for the team, this will likely help develop the entire bottom-six.

Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

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