Of all the change that the Calgary Flames have gone through over the last few years, there is one move that stings that much more than others.
Sure you may think that it’s either Johnny Gaudreau walking in free agency or Matthew Tkachuk’s trade out of town that resulted in an almost Conn Smythe run to the Stanley Cup Final, but really it comes down to another player: Sean Monahan.
His trade out of Calgary was not only the most painful from an emotional perspective but one that has hurt the Flames on and off the ice and could continue to do so.
Monahan’s legacy with Calgary
Drafted sixth overall in 2013, Monahan was heralded as the team’s future number-one centre to build the team around. Coming off the season where they traded cornerstone superstar Jarome Iginla, Monahan had big shoes to fill.
Throughout his 656 games wearing the flaming “C”, I would say that he filled them.
Both on and off the ice, Monahan was a consummate professional. In his first few seasons in the NHL, Monahan was outpacing most of his draft class in terms of points and goals. He started his career with seven straight 20-goal seasons and was able to consistently produce points on a consistent basis. This peaked during his 2018–19 season when he scored a career-high 34 goals and 82 points; which is his lone point-per-game season.
The Flames needed consistency at the centre position, and they found it in Monahan.
His leadership on and off the ice led many to believe for a few seasons that he would be the successor to Mark Giordano as the next Flames’ captain. The fact that he never wore the second “C” is something that the organization should look back at with regret.
But that isn’t the main regret here.
The trade that sent Monahan to Montreal
The Flames dealt Monahan to the Montreal Canadiens after an injury-riddled season that had him miss the entire 2022 postseason. The trade was Monahan and a conditional first-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for future considerations.
It was purely a cap dump, which is just painful to even say.
The team could have done the same to say Milan Lucic, but the team opted to move Monahan’s $6.375M salary cap hit in full to make room for Nazem Kadri’s seven-year, $49M contract signed the exact same day.
How the trade hurts the organization
Now this is almost a triple-edged sword, or like Kylo Ren’s crossguard lightsaber, the pain comes in waves.
First of which is in terms of pure production. Monahan may have missed most of last season due to injury, but he still produced at a 0.68-point-per-game pace. That was the identical pace at which Nazem Kadri played last year as well. Most of Kadri’s production came in the first half of the season, while he completely tapered off in the latter half when they needed him the most.
This season is even worse, with Kadri producing at an even worse 0.57-point-per-game pace he’s on track for one of the worst seasons of his career. Monahan on the other hand? He’s on a 0.87-point-per-game pace which would make it one of his best ever. Despite the Flames thinking they needed someone more consistent, they could have had it in Monahan when he was fully healthy.
Salary cap situation
Second up would be the salary cap implication. The Flames may have gotten “relief” immediately, but then they spent that money in full plus an additional $625K to get Kadri on the books for seven more seasons. So really they ended up costing themselves more.
Monahan ended up being on the Montreal books for $6.375M for one season and then spent some time on the LTIR due to injury. After that, Monahan signed a one-year, $1.985M deal to play out this season. So the Canadiens are getting someone far cheaper to produce at a much higher rate with complete flexibility moving forward. They could also sell high on Monahan at the deadline and recoup additional assets.
The acquisition cost
This brings me to the final point; the acquisition cost. The Flames gave up a first-round pick to offload one of their franchise’s best players to then commit long-term to an older player in free agency. The pick—which has about a bazillion conditions on it—could end up being costly for the team.
Of course, the biggest issue is that the Flames, who now looked prime for a rebuild, gave up a critical asset to simply offload a contract. If you are a guaranteed contender who is going to finish in the 25th–32nd range it doesn’t mean much, but for the Flames who were a big unknown last season that was a gamble that will not pay off.
Regardless of where that pick ends up, it’s a massive asset for a team that needs younger players on their roster.
Mony, Mony, Mony
There is nothing that brings me more joy than to see Monahan succeed in Montreal. The man sacrificed his heart, soul, and body many times for the Flames only to see him moved in a cap dump deal. The NHL is a tough business, but Monahan in my opinion deserved better.
There is still the outside chance that the Flames look to sign him this coming summer in free agency, but there is little sense on Monahan’s side to do so.
For the rest of his career, wherever he may end up playing, he will always be the one who didn’t just get away, he was the one sent packing by his long-time GM.