It would be a major understatement to say Sean Monahan desperately needed a major bounceback heading into the 2020-21 NHL regular season. The 26-year-old centerman was coming off his lowest goal total and worst point output since his rookie season, and that had many Flames fans and hockey pundits questioning his long-term future in Calgary. Was his down year just a blip? Or was it the beginning of the end of Monahan’s tenure in the Stampede city?
Monahan’s 2020-21 Campaign Was a Season to Forget
Before we dive into his most recent disappointing season, it’s important to point out that Monahan has been a goal-scoring machine since making the team as a rookie in 2013-14. He was the youngest Flame ever to hit 100 goals in 2017, and when the sniper reached the 200-goal milestone back in March, he was the first in his entire draft class to do it – even beating out Nathan MacKinnon. Obviously, the guy has a great shot from the slot, and he’s paid handsomely to pump pucks past opposing netminders. So, what the heck happened this year?
Monahan actually had a decent start to the season, posting seven points in his first seven games (two goals, five assists) and once again, he was paired up with his longtime partner Johnny Gaudreau. That early success gave way to months of mediocrity, as the centerman’s goal-scoring and possession numbers continued to plummet. But is his skill-set completely to blame? Let’s not forget that Monahan had a career year in 2018-19 playing with Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm. This past season, he was slotted with the likes of Dominik Simon, Josh Leivo and Brett Ritchie, so he was certainly saddled with lesser talents most of the campaign.
The Flames Finally Broke up the Once Dynamic Duo
February and March proved to be a very unproductive time for Monahan, as the native of Brampton, Ontario, only potted a paltry five goals in 28 games played. While the 6-foot-2 center has obviously enjoyed great success over multiple seasons with Gaudreau as his wingman, their chemistry in 2020-21 fizzled out as No. 23 only scored three 5v5 goals in those two months playing alongside “Johnny Hockey”. The coaching staff finally pulled the pin on the once dynamic duo by slotting Gaudreau with Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk on a new top line, and the results were overwhelmingly positive.
Monahan played out the rest of the season, playing alongside a rotating cast of characters that included the likes of Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane, and his scoring really dried up over his final 24 games of the campaign, potting a mere three goals and seven points. But before everyone piles on the eighth-year center for posting career-worst offensive totals in 2020-21, I should note that Monahan was playing through considerable pain before the Flames shut him down for the season with just four games remaining.
While head coach Darryl Sutter is notoriously stingy with his compliments, he did give No. 23 major props for gutting it out during the back half of the campaign with a bum hip that made him to grimace through every shift. (from ‘Monahan shut down for season with hip injury, Calgary Sun, 05/1/2021).
“He did battle through it. He’s done it not for two or three games, he’s done it for the last 20 games… It tells you about his character and desire and give-you-what-he’s-got. I’ve said that all along about him, Sean tried to do everything I asked him to do and he did it with pain. I give him a lot of credit.”Darryl Sutter, on Sean Monahan’s season ending injury
The bottom line is, Monahan finished the season with a career-low of 10 goals and 28 points in 50 games played. His shooting percentage dropped to nearly half of his career average, and for those who like advanced stats, the team’s former number one center posted the lowest even-strength Corsi-For percentage (CF%) of any Flames skater who suited up for 12 or more games. While all of this is very telling, the big question remains: where do we go from here?
This is not the first time Monahan has played through significant injuries, but how much of this awful campaign can we blame on playing through pain? It’s not like he was lighting it up in the first half of the year when he was seemingly healthy. Last year, the 26-year-old posted the second-worst point totals of his career, but there were actually no reported injuries when the dust settled on the season, so how do we explain that significant regression?
Monahan’s Future With the Flames Has Never Been so Uncertain
After back-to-back down seasons and proof that Gaudreau can thrive playing without Monahan, it would appear that No. 23 is somewhat expendable in the eyes of the coaches and management. The Flames are paying over $6 million a season for a goal scorer who can’t score goals. While Calgary is actively pursuing a contract extension for Gaudreau, the only buzz we are hearing about Monahan is the constant trade rumors.
A quick Google search shows multiple trade partners popping up, including the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators and even the Los Angeles Kings. But Monahan’s current production is miles away from his career-high 34 goals and 82 points in the 2018-19 season, so why would the Flames explore the trade market when his value is at rock bottom? With two years left on his current seven-year deal, should the team give the sniper one more chance to see if he can turn his game around, or is this the end of the road for the Flames’ sixth overall pick from the 2013 Entry Draft?
FINAL GRADE: D+
Greg Tysowski is a former broadcast journalist who chose the exciting life of a stay-at-home dad for over a decade. He’s now a published author, parenting blogger and aspiring sports writer covering the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg is also a regular contributor to the weekly roundtable discussion “Flames Faceoff”, now streaming on YouTube and all podcast outlets.