The Calgary Flames are firing on (mostly) all cylinders this season. In terms of points percentage, they’re currently sitting comfortably in second place in the Pacific Division, second in the Western Conference, and fifth in the NHL overall. They’re first in the league in goal differential, eighth in goals scored, and first in goals allowed. It’s been a lot of fun watching the team grow closer together, dominate on the road, and play a truly entertaining style of hockey.
However, this team is not without its issues. Like all teams in the NHL, whether they’re at the top of the standings or they’re the Arizona Coyotes, there are always things to improve upon. For the Flames, one glaring issue is their second/third/fourth line centre, Sean Monahan.
Monahan’s usage is not ideal
As has been thoroughly documented, Monahan is one of the most productive members of the 2013 draft class and one of the most productive Flames in history. Recently though, he’s experienced significant injury troubles, and that appears to have severely impacted his ability to play hockey.
Monahan is known for his goal scoring. He’s seventh on the Flames’ all-time scoring list with 206 goals, and scored at least 27 goals for five consecutive years from his sophomore season in 2014–15 to 2018–19. The past three seasons inclusive of the current one, however, have not been anywhere close to this level of production.
Over this timeframe, Monahan has scored just 34 goals in 142 games, a pace of 19.6 goals per 82 games. If you remove the 2019–20 season and only consider the last two seasons, that number falls even further to just 12 goals in 72 games, a pace of 13.7 goals per 82 games. It’s downright terrible production from a player who was once a lock to surpass the 25-goal mark, and someone who was relied on to play in the top-six.
We could go on and on about how Monahan has struggled the past few seasons, but the real question is what the Flames should do about it. Based on the CBA, there are really only a few options the Flames have.
This option is the one the Flames love to take in most situations, but in this case it is a very bad option to take. It is absolutely crucial for the success of this franchise that they do everything in their power to retain the services of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, and Oliver Kylington for the foreseeable future.
All need new contracts and will all be receiving hefty raises from their current AAVs. Short of multiple players taking significant discounts or the salary cap magically increasing by multiple millions of dollars, the Flames desperately need the cap space that Monahan is currently occupying.
They need to convert Monahan into cap space they can use next season. Otherwise, they will almost certainly lose one or more of these key players and the team will be much worse off because of it.
Moving on from Monahan is a necessity.
We polled Flames fans this week on Twitter about trading Monahan and the results were extremely split.
About a quarter of respondents think Monahan should be easy to trade, another quarter think he’s untradeable, and the remaining half think a trade could happen if the Flames added draft picks or retained salary in the deal.
I heavily side with those who view Monahan as untradeable for a few reasons. Adding draft picks is fine, but in any deal, the Flames will have to either retain salary or take on a contract in return. This does not help them to alleviate cap space for next season unless they only acquire players on expiring deals. It’s just too difficult to make a deal like this work, especially when 18 teams in the NHL are using LTIR space already.
Cap space is just too tight, and nobody is going to do the Flames any favours. When you add in the fact that Monahan has a 10-team no-trade list, it gets extremely difficult to trade him.
The Flames could put Monahan on waivers and send him down to the AHL, but this is extremely unlikely. For starters, Monahan is a respected leader on the team and it would be a horrible look for management to waive him. As well, it wouldn’t do much for anyone as Monahan would still have a buried cap hit of $5.25M. Again, no significant cap relief from this option. Not going to happen.
Buy out Monahan
And finally, the Flames could buy him out. It might seem crazy at first, but let’s explore the option fully.
As it stands, Monahan is not just treading water for the team. He’s actively hurting the Flames in both zones, and outside of power play point contributions from his role on PP1, he is a detriment to the success of the Flames. An isolation of his play on the team from HockeyViz.com clearly illustrates this:
With Monahan on the ice, the Flames create 23% less expected goals and allow 6% more expected goals. It’s pretty damning, especially for a player whose bread and butter is scoring goals and providing offence.
Because of Monahan’s age and contract status, a buyout is actually very affordable for the Flames. He would require a 2/3 buyout, and with just one year remaining on his deal, the Flames would only have to deal with the dead cap hit for one additional year. Here’s how the buyout cost would break down, directly from CapFriendly.com.
By buying out Monahan, the Flames will open up $4M in cap space to use on extensions for Gaudreau, Tkachuk, Mangiapane, and Kylington, and will only incur a $2M dead cap hit the following season. Assuming the salary cap does increase by the projected $1M in each of the next two seasons, this will cover for that perfectly. As well, the Flames were content dealing with a $1.5M buyout cost for Troy Brouwer for four years. A $2M cap hit for just one year on a Monahan buyout should be much easier to digest.
The most difficult part of a buyout is justifying paying someone who isn’t playing for your team. However, in Monahan’s case, replacing him with a fourth line center making league minimum, like Brad Richardson, would be an upgrade based on his play this season. The buyout is affordable, short-term, and the savings are genuinely required to help pay players who are actually integral to the success of the team.
It just makes sense
Rather than sink $6.375M into a bottom-six center, it would make much more sense to use the $4M in savings to pay stars like Gaudreau and Tkachuk. It’s a clear win from both an on-ice standpoint and from a business standpoint. If ownership wants a winning team, they need to lock up their stars, and it’s starting to look like one of the the only ways to do that is to buy out Monahan.