Since Johnny Gaudreau’s first season in the National Hockey League, he and his center Sean Monahan have been attached at the hip. It made sense as Gaudreau became a premier playmaker in the league, leading up to his 63 assists and 99 points in 2018-19 while Monahan became a perennial 25-goal scorer. For parts of the 2019-20 season and all of the 2020-21 season, it seems the magic has run out. It’s hard to call it a slump when the inconsistency has lasted more than 80 games.
The Calgary Flames will need to make some big decisions this summer as, after making two big-ticket unrestricted free agent signings in Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev, the season has gone completely opposite of what many expected. Part of the team’s woes has been the underachievement of Gaudreau and Monahan since their career years just two seasons ago. The pair simply hasn’t looked good on the ice or on paper and it may be time to split them up, something most fans wouldn’t have dreamed of two years ago.
During the late stages of Monday night’s 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Gaudreau found himself on a line with Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane. That line combo only saw three minutes of ice time in the third, but might be an option going forward the rest of this season.
Monahan’s Stick Has Gone Cold
As an 18-year-old, Monahan stepped right into the Flames lineup and had an immediate impact. In his first season, he notched 22 goals which was the first 20-plus goal campaign since Dion Phaneuf in 2005-06. That hasn’t been the case this season as he has had plenty of looks through 40 games, but his finishing ability has been at an all-time low.
This year Monahan has been stuttering along at an 8.2 percent shooting percentage, which is nearly half of his career average of 14.5 percent. At just seven goals this season, it looks as though he will be unable to reach 20 goals for the first time in his career. Coming into this season, his career goals-per-game pace was 0.36, which could’ve predicted him to have another 20 goals this season, but he may not even get to 10.
He seems to be a shell of his former self right now and it appears he has lost a lot of his goal-scoring ability that had him leading the 2013 Draft class until Nathan MacKinnon passed him last week. If Monahan becomes available for trade, the team may be unfortunately having to sell low on him after this disappointing season.
Gaudreau in a Down Year
Ever since Calgary called Gaudreau’s name during the fourth round of the 2011 Draft, there was instant hype of whether he could become a star in the league. Having just recently played his 500th game, he’s made it clear that he is an elite talent in the NHL, even at his size.
For reference, Jarome Iginla put up 430 points in 545 games across his first seven seasons, while Gaudreau — in his seventh — currently has 472 points in 504 games. The two are very much different players with different skill sets, but it shows that they’re the two franchise players Calgary has had suit up for them in the 21st Century. Not only is Gaudreau hampered by Monahan’s struggles, but the duo has yet to find a consistent third on their line. Currently, they’ve had six different wingers play more than 45 minutes on their line this season and they’ve played the most minutes with Brett Ritchie. That’s not exactly the type of player that could help the pair get out of their scoring slump.
The struggles Gaudreau has been having on his line have been clear all season. It is already too late to make a push for the playoffs, but the team should try him on another line for the remainder of the season. It may get him back on the score sheet more consistently.
The Pair Hasn’t Worked This Season
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. In the last two seasons, that’s been the case as it seems both Geoff Ward and Darryl Sutter have been waiting for the two to finally come alive, but that just hasn’t happened. Both are currently on pace for near or career lows over an 82-game pace.
The season is all but mathematically written off for the team, and it’s time that Sutter starts mixing things up a few games at a time down the stretch. The first idea that comes to mind that is probably in many fans’ heads is to swap Monahan for Lindholm. Per naturalstattrick.com, in the 180 minutes that he and Gaudreau have played together, they have a 58.8 Corsi for (CF%) and 62.9 expected goals for (xGF%). Monahan and Lindholm playing away from Gaudreau have a 39.4 CF% and 29.9 xGF% in 49 minutes playing together.
Since the third period against the Maple Leafs and during practice this week, it seems as though the pair might be split up going forward. But for how long is anyone’s guess.
Line Combos Moving Forward
The top line now seems to be that of Gaudreau, Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk at right wing, which is probably the team’s best option. Gaudreau has played with Tkachuk a total of just 207 minutes in the past three seasons and their results are fairly positive. The three would probably create Calgary’s best line and would be worth trying in the final stretch of games.
As for Monahan, the case is a lot different as he just can’t seem to compete with elite competition anymore. The team should look at giving him a lesser role as in a third-line center position to see if he can regain some confidence. The other option may be to move him to the wing alongside guys like Mikael Backlund and Mangiapane. Fans may remember that, during the 2014-15 season, Lance Bouma was able to net 16 goals and 34 points in 78 games playing on a line with Backlund. The team would lose a center, but it may be beneficial to Monahan at this point.
Some sort of change is most likely happening to the makeup of this current Flames roster during the upcoming summer. For now, the best option is to break up Gaudreau and Monahan to try and get something out of a different-looking top six. The next 16 games will not be a push for the playoffs, but should be an indicator of who will continue to wear the flaming ‘C’ next season.
Brett is a freelance writer covering the Calgary Flames here at The Hockey Writers. He is an enthusiast of hockey stats and continues to learn every day about the sports analytics movement. Brett enjoys using both statistical analysis and the old-fashioned eye test in his writing to create the best content for readers. His work at THW has been featured on the Calgary Flames’ news feed for The Score and on Yardbarker. Brett is also part of THW’s Flames Faceoff YouTube/podcast show where he brings his opinions each week on the team’s current state of affairs.