There is no doubt that something is wrong with Sean Monahan. Whether it be a result of injury, or simply a fall from grace, the former 30-goal scorer is just not himself this season.
Coming off yet another offseason where he required major surgery, Monahan hasn’t been able to find his scoring touch or a consistent spot in the Calgary Flames lineup.
Being a healthy scratch the last two games against the Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers, the 2013 sixth overall pick looks to be sitting for yet another game tonight based on early lineup projections.
Although Darryl Sutter claims it to be akin to needing rest, Monahan has looked off for the entire season and it’s not clear yet how much a break will do for his performance down the stretch.
This begs the question, just what exactly are the Flames going to do with Monahan?
The ideal line for Monahan
Monahan had spent almost his entire career alongside Johnny Gaudreau as the top line centre. Even after acquiring Elias Lindholm, Monahan remained down the middle of the ice. Since Sutter has taken the reins of the team, the number of games played with Gaudreau has dropped significantly for Monahan.
With the trio of Gaudreau, Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk playing as one of the best lines in the NHL this season, the desire to throw Monahan back into that top line clearly did not appeal to Sutter.
For most of 2021–22, Monahan has been located in the bottom-six playing alongside the likes of Dillon Dube, Milan Lucic, Trevor Lewis, and former junior teammate Tyler Toffoli. The results have been a bit of a mixed bag. Here is how he has played with the combination of teammates:
|Monahan’s 5v5 linemates||TOI||CF%||xGF%||SCF%||HDCF%|
|Dillon Dube & Milan Lucic||117:13||58.5%||58.9%||61.0%||61.5%|
|Dillon Dube & Tyler Toffoli||25:12||49.1%||47.6%||46.7%||58.3%|
|Trevor Lewis & Milan Lucic||102:03||48.6%||45.9%||48.8%||52.4%|
|Tyler Toffoli & Milan Lucic||57:00||51.3%||41.0%||43.4%||33.3%|
With these common selection of teammates, Monahan succeeded on a line with Dube and Lucic, and in fact had some quite dominant numbers. What they didn’t dominate was their finishing, where they had just a 3.13% on-ice SH% at 5v5. It was often the butt-end of the joke that the line was snakebitten, but it’s evidently clear they were able to hold possession and out-chance their opponents more often than not, but just couldn’t score.
The rest of the lineup deployments didn’t work out nearly the same, and were often on the wrong side of the play—especially with Toffoli and Lucic where they had just a 33.3% HDCF%.
The deployment of Lucic, Monahan, and Dube was working, they just simply weren’t scoring. If Sutter is looking for that type of impact fourth line, this isn’t the worst option.
Adjusting the other lines
Now if the team wants to deploy Monahan with Dube and Lucic, the rest of the middle-six starts to get a bit confusing. Let’s say Sutter wants to reunite Andrew Mangiapane, Mikael Backlund, and Blake Coleman as the second line (which he should, as they were vastly and consistently dominant this season). The lineup would look something like this:
Gaudreau – Lindholm – Tkachuk
Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman
Toffoli – Jarnkrok – Lewis
Lucic – Monahan – Dube
By reinserting Monahan into the lineup in the suggested deployment, you’re left with a line of Toffoli, Calle Jarnkrok, and Lewis. Would that work? You don’t know until you try.
This could distribute the lines more evenly in a sense, while also putting Monahan in a situation he would be familiar with. Moreover, this would also allow Monahan to be used on the second power play unit to give that second group a bit of a scoring boost.
That being said, you can’t blow up your existing chemistry to just simply put Monahan back into a lineup where he hasn’t been performing as of late. Although he could turn a corner, Monahan has been a bit underwhelming on both ends of the ice. Sitting in the bottom half on most statistical categories, and carrying just a 4.9% on ice SH% at 5v5, it’s been tough sledding for him this year.
Monahan’s usage at this point is essentially up in the air. For a player of his stature, it makes sense that he should be rested, but it makes just as much sense that the Flames should deploy him in scenarios that brings the most benefit to the team.
For those watching on when Monahan is or isn’t in the lineup, there are factors across the board that can affect the final decision. Do the Flames rest him until they are officially in the playoffs and can be more experimental with their lineup? Or do they do everything they can to rehabilitate him so he can find his scoring touch again?
So keep an eye out for when Monahan makes his return, who he centres, and the expected line usage. We know it’s going to be the third or fourth line, but actual minutes played will be much more telling of what they’re doing with him down the line.
The Flames have to do right by Monahan
There comes a point in a player’s career where you either have to accept what you have, continue to develop, or cut them loose. Monahan has been nothing but a warrior for the past few seasons, and his scoring prowess will sit in the Flames’ record book forever. That being said, if he can’t play up to Sutter’s standards, then he won’t be in the lineup anytime soon.
Of course, what I believe to be really happening here is truly giving him rest. The team and organization are trying to do right by Monahan by giving him this end of season stretch off to recover from whatever is still bothering him. If he gets back to his old ways, no one is going to be on his back as much. If he doesn’t play all the way down the stretch, then it allows the team to find additional line chemistry that may benefit them deep into the playoffs.
Monahan is most likely in his last year with the Flames, and seeing him struggle to the end would be truly unfortunate. Here’s to hoping we can get back to watching Monahan making one last push down the stretch for the team, and then giving him the proper send off a player like him deserves.
Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images
Ahead of tonight’s contest, the bookies have a bit of a split decision, with Betway Sports pricing the Calgary Flames at +130 and the Colorado Avalanche at +140 to win the game in regulation. They do have the over set at +100 for 6.5 goals, which after the Battle of Alberta might be a safe bet.