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.

KADRIMONAHAN
32AGE28
6’0″HEIGHT6’2″
185WEIGHT196
22GP22
8G5
7A9
15PTS14
-6+/--6
17:01TOI/GP17:25
3:12PP TOI/GP3:07
0:04PK TOI/GP1:37
46.0%FO%55.2%

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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It Takes Two To Tango

By JAG – It is common knowledge that Montreal could use a couple of trades to clear up Cap space and free a couple of spots for the young prospects. To conclude a trade, you need a trading partner. It takes two to tango. It’s the first step in getting a deal done. But before you look for a trading partner, you should decide what you are willing to put on the market, NHL players, prospects and draft picks alike. You should also know what you are looking for as a return.

The need to trade

Let’s be honest. In the Habs case, they only need/want a trade because they have too many forwards and the Cap is tight. They could just as well run this roster until the trade deadline and only make deals then. The reality is that if Martin St-Louis puts the right forwards on the ice, as he did against the St. Louis Blues. The team is already competitive enough to win their share of games and valiantly, barely, not qualify for the playoffs …. BUMMER!

I am not surprised, I have long been a proponent that the Habs were a better team that they showed last season and so far, they are proving me right.

But it is a big conundrum, if/when you bring back Edmundson and Matheson, the defense core will be that much stronger and winning will be more frequent. You can’t be a close to playoff contention and hope for a top 5 draft pick, the math doesn’t work! So, if you are on the ‘’Tank for Bedard wagon’’, you’d better get the tissues out right now, you ain’t getting him! On the other hand, if you’re dreaming of trades that will improve the team right now and hope for more wins, this team might just end up as the closest also-ran for the playoffs …. and a measly 16th pick for the effort (no offense to Kayden Guhle). Considering what we are right now, it seems that the hope for a top pick is slim at best …. BUMMER AGAIN!

What are the Habs to do?

Assuming that Martin St-Louis will not coach to lose and knowing that Kent Hughes has stated clearly that winning is necessary for growth, it leaves a very narrow path to satisfy the wish to tank for a high draft pick and the opposing need to create a winning culture. Even with some attrition through trades, Martin St-Louis can get this team to achieve a decent season. It’s on him and the players to do so but they are all saying that they believe in themselves. I say let them play it out!

You can’t serve two masters anyways. You either pursue tanking or you play to win, period! I say play to win. Tanking sucks anyways. It’s defeatist, it makes your life meaningless and teaches you nothing other than tanking sucks! And by the way, every player, manager and coach in this league will tell you, they are quite able of dealing with the consequences of winning (duh!). And if establishing a winning culture means getting a 16th pick instead of a top three, so be it! The VP will deal with it, the GM and the coaching staff will deal with it, the players will play to their potential and the fans will love it. So, let them play it out!

But trade some players they must! I can’t see a positive outcome for this group if the young guns are not afforded the ice time that they are genuinely earning right now! Regardless of waiver exempt situation, economics or the need to show off a veteran player for trade purpose, WHEN ICE TIME IS EARNED, IT MUST BE GIVEN! It is the unwritten rule. That alone should drive the need to make a move.

However, sadly, the Habs don’t have much to offer other than quantity. They have veterans to unload, prospects in throve and picks galore …. But what is their worth?

The answer is, at this point in the season, really not much! I see only three players that could fetch a number one pick. Not surprisingly, they are also the type of players that are hard to find or replace and they are players that I’d like to keep on the roster but, life being what it is, you only get value when you offer value. They are Josh Anderson, Joel Edmundson and Sean Monahan.

If Sean Monahan keeps trending in the same direction and he is willing to re-up in Montreal, I see no reasons to trade him. From what I have seen of him so far, he may be in the 70 points range by the end of the season and, even as a new guy, he is a stabilizing veteran presence. That’s a keeper! The Habs need size and speed on the wing and Anderson provides just that. Another keeper! This leaves Joel Edmundson, an experienced playoff veteran. He is the Clydesdale who may become, for a serious contender, the biggest catch at the trade deadline. Just look at Montreal’s record once he came back from injury last year, day and night! And he is a great catch financially with a low salary and another year  for term. Actually, if healthy, he will get more than a first-round pick. So, if any trade can bring a first-round pick, this would be the one…. And the Habs would still have plenty of strength on the left side of defense.

On a side note, I think that if Justin Barron gets his power play footing in Laval or if any one of Guhle, Xhekaj or Harris can move to the right ride effectively, the problem on defense will be solved for this year even after trading Edmundson.

Results of trading up

That would give the Habs three first rounders this year starting with probably the 16th pick belonging to the Habs plus a couple of acquired late first rounders, including the Florida Panthers’ pick (acquired in the Ben Chiarot deal). Add to this the Habs first pick next year and the eventual, floating Calgary first pick and you’d have a good start in your quest for a suitable tango partner. If you want to trade-up, better have a bag full of goodies!

Also, other players may also have value at the trade deadline or before. Pitlick, Drouin, Hoffman, Dadonov and possibly Dvorak might be moved for assets and/or picks. I see these players as part of a strategy to partially replace the first rounders traded in the above scenario by actively seeking second round picks for this year and the next ones. These transactions may need to include some actual Habs picks, Habs prospects and/or retained salary to sweeten a move and get the desired second round picks but it would strengthen the Habs drafting position for a few more years.

I know that Kent Hughes has said he wouldn’t retain salary but, push comes to shove, at some point it may become the only way to get some value for signed players or let them become UFAs and get nothing in return.

Conclusion

There you have it. Trade a player that you like for a first rounder and trade surplus players for secondary picks and assets. Put your best team on the ice and let them play! That’s what the Habs should do!

Don’t get me wrong, I know how exciting it is to get a first round draft pick… for everybody! We just got one and it provided some of the best Habs fan moment of my life and I loved every minute of it! But let’s face it, getting the first pick doesn’t guarantee a Stanley Cup at all, even getting so called generational talent is no guarantee. Case in point, right here in Canada, Toronto and Edmonton have yet to prove that jockeying for generational talent is a sound Cup winning strategy.

Also, as a rhetorical question, what happens if, come draft day, Habs management decides that keeping the picks they have accumulated provides more value to the team than a trade-up would? My answer remains the same. Let management put their best team on the ice and let them play!

What gets you the Cup is the right mix of players that play the type of hockey identified in the vision and the plan. Tampa Bay and Boston have been perennial contenders without the benefit of drafting high, at least not in a long time. It is up to Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes to get Montreal to that level of excellence, sooner than later, I hope! We get to sit and watch!

But in any case, let the tango begin, this is going to be a very entertaining year!

Thanks for reading

Keep your stick on the ice, the puck is coming!

JAG

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