By JD Lagrange – As the Canadiens are starting their annual Western Canada road trip, their first stop is in Calgary tonight. Historically, there have been at least as many Habs’ fans as there are fans from the local teams when Montreal travels out west. Tonight will be a special game for two players: Tyler Toffoli will be facing his former team for the second time since he was traded prior to trade deadline last season. Also, this will be the first time that Sean Monahan faces the team he spent his first nine season with in the NHL.
“I spent almost half my life there. It’s going to be weird, but I’m excited to get back there,” said Monahan.
Monahan has been a very nice surprise for the Canadiens so far this season. His 14 points in 22 games so far this season is good enough for fourth on the Canadiens. He is the team’s second most utilized center by coach Martin St-Louis, averaging 17:25 of ice time per game, being utilized in all situations including power play and penalty kill. He leads all Canadiens’ centers with a 55.2% success rate in the faceoffs’ dots. Reliable at both ends of the ice, he also leads the team with 16 takeaways this season.
Keep or trade?
Because he is pain free and playing so well, the pending UFA’s future is not as clear as it was this summer when the Canadiens acquired him. Most people thought that he would come in and wear the uniform until trade deadline and, if he had a decent season, he would be traded.
Not so fast. He fits in so well with the team’s young core and serves as such a good veteran and model for the young Habs, that more and more people are contemplating the idea of offering Monahan a contract extension. And rest assured that while a decision hasn’t been made one way or another, Canadiens’ GM Kent Hughes is looking at that option as well.
“It’s been great, playing in all situations,” said Monahan. “It’s a pretty young group. It’s been a lot of fun to be able to be a leader and learn from some of the younger guys and the coaches. Just being here, a fresh start, it’s been really good, and I love it here.”
My colleague Bob Trask did some pretty amazing research about the value of a first round pick in the mid to later round and if you pay attention to it, you will see that fans (and some members of the media) tend to overhype the value of such picks. Some say that they could bundle them to move up in the draft but that’s a narrative much easier said than done. Hughes tried doing that with his first rounders at the Bell Centre and wasn’t able to do so.
So from where I stand, considering everything, the only way I would trade Monahan is if his hips are causing him issues or if I am offered something that I can’t say no to. It would have to be a first round pick yes, but also a very good prospect. A bit like the Tyler Toffoli trade, which got the Canadiens a first round pick and Emil Heineman too.
If the Canadiens aren’t offered that much for Monahan, a center who does it all on the ice, then I would try re-signing him and trade Christian Dvorak instead, either at the deadline or in the off-season.
Monahan says that he is pain free. Admittedly, he says that he is still working on getting back some aspects of his game but he feels it’s coming along nicely and it will only get better as the season progresses. But one thing is for sure, he loves being in a Habs’ uniform and playing for coach Martin St-Louis. He didn’t mention Darryl Sutter but St-Louis certainly is a far more progressive and young coach who gives his players more freedom on offense.
“Things weren’t going well”, said Monahan about his past couple of seasons in Calgary. “I was hurt and wasn’t playing much. I wasn’t having too much fun. To get a fresh start was huge for me. I’m really happy to be here.”
The reason why the Flames gave up a first round pick to the Canadiens to take Monahan and his contract was because they wanted room to sign UFA Nazem Kadri. More than a quarter of the season in, here are the two players’ statistics with their new team.
Granted, there was some uncertainty about Monahan’s hips but clearly, Kadri hasn’t shown that he’s worth Monahan one for one, particularly that he’s four years older. Let alone being worth giving up a first round pick in addition to the long-time Flames! Something tells me that Kadri’s contract won’t age well, he who signed for seven years for $49 million…