Through the first quarter of the 2022-23 campaign, the Montreal Canadiens’ offseason acquisitions have paid big dividends for the front office and the coaching staff. Kirby Dach has made most of the headlines, but Sean Monahan has quietly gone about his business and resurrected his career in the process.
He has quickly become one of the Habs’ most valuable assets, both on the ice and, considering his status as a pending unrestricted free agent, on the trade market as the deadline approaches which leaves Hughes with an interesting decision to make about what the future holds for the veteran centre.
Depth Down the Middle
In 21 games with Montreal, Monahan has amassed five goals and 14 points. Last year with the Calgary Flames, he put up 23 points in 65 games while playing hobbled. After recovering from a second hip surgery over the summer and becoming a salary cap casualty of the Flames, the 28-year-old is proving he still has something left in the tank.
He’s showcasing all the aspects of his game that made him a three-time 30-goal scorer with the Flames and a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy. He plays with great attention to detail, can see plays develop and find his teammates thanks to his vision as well as his ability to slow the game down. He’s intelligent with the puck and not afraid to hold onto it to give himself a few more seconds to make the right read. Not to mention that his newly healthy hips are allowing him to play with good pace once again.
“He’s been getting a lot of chances, really good in the d-zone as well, and you see him on the faceoffs, so he’s been one of our best players,” said Josh Anderson. “I think he brings a lot, not only on the ice but in the locker room. He’s good with the young guys and you can learn off him too just watching his presence around here.”
Monahan’s surprising addition to the roster during the late stages of the offseason has demonstrated the importance of having depth down the middle even for a team in the midst of a rebuild. Not only can he be effective as part of Montreal’s middle-six, but he can win big faceoffs, provide leadership, and take some of the pressure off first-year captain Nick Suzuki. He’s given the Habs’ no. 1 centre the freedom to express himself offensively and as result, he’s become a bona fide NHL superstar this season. Monahan’s presence has also permitted Kirby Dach to thrive on the wing, rediscover his confidence, and take the next step in his development away from his natural position. Simply put, he has made the Canadiens better.
It’s hard to believe that Hughes received a first-round pick just to take Monahan off Calgary’s hands and as a pending unrestricted free agent at season’s end, Monahan is likely going to be his general manager’s biggest trade chip ahead of this year’s deadline and could possibly fetch the Habs another first-rounder if he’s dealt.
On the flip side, he might be worth re-signing considering how well he has adapted to his new surroundings and how well he’s performing. It’s no secret that the Canadiens need to upgrade their group of middle-six forwards to provide more consistent production and Monahan certainly fits the bill. He also seems to be enjoying his life in Montreal and doesn’t appear eager to leave anytime soon. He’s embraced his role as a veteran mentor on the team and he’s making the most of the quality ice time he’s getting from head coach Martin St. Louis.
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He probably doesn’t fit into Montreal’s contending window though since they are a few years away from competing, so the logical move is to trade him at the deadline for future pieces because chances are, Hughes is going to receive an offer he can’t refuse. If they are compelled to bring him back, he can be pursued in free agency. There are risks involved with both options and it would depend on what kind of deal Monahan is looking for, but he’s certainly given management good reason to reflect more than they initially anticipated about what’s next for a player who many viewed as a salary dump and who had nothing much left to give.
As it turns out, Monahan has been exactly what the Canadiens need in the present as they usher in a new era and at the same time, he’s making a compelling case to keep him around for what’s next.
Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media & Marketing Manager as well as co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly show produced by THW. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.