Monahan Making A Case For Himself

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.”

Calgary’s decision

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.

3:12PP TOI/GP3:07
0:04PK TOI/GP1:37

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…

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Mid-August Top Remaining UFAs

By JD Lagrange – For hockey fans, these are the dog days of summer. The NHL Draft has come and gone. The trades are at a stand still. The free agents’ frenzy is all but over. And the rookie camps are still a month away. As most fans are outside taking advantage of the summer months, some are still zoned in to social medias trying to get the latest news and rumours about their favourite players and teams.

For those, I’ve decided to provide whatever little meat there is left on the free agents board’s bones. That’s right, there are still guys who haven’t put their names at the bottom of a contract. For most, we’re talking about role players, or players who are on the fringe between the NHL, the AHL or who are, by now, entertaining the thoughts of extending their career by playing in Europe. But there are still some useful players available out there.

While most people will sort such lists by points or cap hit, I personally prefer using a statistic that is somewhat more telling and that includes the usefulness of a player: the time on the ice per game played. This way, it includes players who are not necessarily known for their offensive contribution but who will play key minutes in games, and players who have been injured and didn’t play as many games.

Anton StralmanRD3574815230.31-1621:20
Nazem KadriC31712859871.23+1319:14
Calvin De HaanLD31694480.12-2118:57
P.K. SubbanRD3377517220.29-818:17
Paul StastnyC36712124450.63+1417:46
Jack JohnsonLD35741890.12+516:45
Phil KesselRW3482844520.63-2416:40
Evan RodriguesRW28821924430.52+315:50
Sonny MilanoLW26661420340.52-915:16
Jimmy VeseyLW296887150.22-2414:25
Tyler MotteLW275878150.26+214:00
Keith YandleLD3577118190.25-4713:58
Jonathan DahlenLW24611210220.36-2513:47
Sam GagnerC32811318310.38-413:37
Cody EakinC316948120.17-1513:35
Alex GalchenyukLW2860615210.35-1113:09
Zach Aston-ReeseLW2769510150.22+913:01
Daniel SprongRW2563146200.32012:58
Loui ErikssonLW3673316190.26-1812:55
Derick BrassardC3446811190.41+412:54
Tyler EnnisLW3257816240.42-612:32
Sam SteelC2468614200.29-1712:18
Victor RaskC2947912210.45+412:11
Tyler BozakC365039120.24-1112:09
Antoine RousselLW32534480.15-1612:08
Alex ChiassonRW3167139220.33+511:36
Riley NashC33490440.08-511:25
Tyler PitlickRW30391450.13-1110:56

Three groups

There are still two players who can still play key roles on teams. Anton Stralman still is, at 35 years of age, a good top-4 defenseman in the NHL. And being right-handed is a rare commodity in today’s NHL so one would think that teams have been calling, and perhaps they are trying to free up the necessary cap space to sign him.

Anton Stralman

We all know about Nazem Kadri, who is milking his first opportunity to decide where he will be playing next. Kadri has reportedly received a 7-year contract offer from Lou Lamoriello and the New York Islanders, for a value of around $49-50 million. He’s obviously still deciding…

Then you have what I would refer to as the group B at this point. Guys like Calvin De Haan, P.K. Subban, Paul Stastny, Phil Kessel, Evan Rodrigues, Sonny Milano, Jonathan Dahlen and Sam Gagner, who can still help teams in a secondary role. At this point, these guys can be added to a roster at rebate but they still would likely prefer one last kick at the can for a Stanley Cup run.

The last group are guys who are desperately clinging to the hope of landing a job in the NHL, even at minimum wage, but are also starting to contemplate Europe, or even the ever tough decision of retirement as an option.

For the Montreal Canadiens? Only one option would make any sense and that’s Stralman. Signing him would give young players like 20 year-old Justin Barron and 19 year-old Logan Mailloux to properly develop, and would push David Savard and Chris Wideman down to second and third pairing, where they truly belong. But he will likely want a chance to win a Cup, so Habs’ fans better not hold their breath when it comes to UFAs. They better look at trade options, if anything at all.

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