With a record of 38-17-8 through 63 games, very little has gone wrong for the Calgary Flames in 2021-22. Not only do they appear to be playoff-bound, but they currently hold a six-point lead over the Los Angeles Kings for first place in the Pacific Division.
The team as a whole is playing very structured hockey under Darryl Sutter, while players such as Johnny Gaudreau and Jacob Markstrom are in the running for individual league awards at season’s end. Those two have been far from the only exceptional players in Calgary, as several others have had great 2021-22 campaigns, which has resulted in a big turnaround for the club.
While many Flames have been fantastic in 2021-22, however, one who has been far from is Sean Monahan. The 27-year-old is struggling for the third straight season, though his struggles are getting plenty more attention right now due to how well the rest of the team is playing. With the recent addition of centerman Ryan Carpenter, he may soon find himself watching games from the press box if he isn’t able to turn things around.
Monahan Not Contributing in Any Facets of the Game
Prior to his struggles, which many believe are from lingering injuries, Monahan’s biggest attribute was his goal-scoring ability. In fact, some suggested at the time that aside from putting the puck in the net, there wasn’t a ton to love about his game. Now that he is failing to find the twine, the rest of his flaws have come to light.
Monahan has never been a great skater and has been known for his defensive shortcomings throughout his career. (from ‘Kent Wilson: Season Review: Sean Monahan is an offensive star with defensive shortcomings’, The Athletic, 05/31/18). Suffice it to say, those two things paired together don’t generally make a player suited for the fourth line. However, that is exactly where he has been playing as of late as he has given Darryl Sutter no other choice.
Sutter has tried to put him in a number of positions to succeed this season, but none have seemed to work. In fact, he is still receiving time on the second power play unit despite not contributing much of anything to it. Averaging 2:20 minutes in ice time per game on the man advantage, he has just five goals and 13 points, a far cry from the numbers he was putting up in seasons past.
Unfortunately for both him and the Flames, his even-strength play has been even worse. In 63 games this season, he has just nine points, which is tied with Adam Ruzicka who has only suited up for 23 contests. It also trails players like Trevor Lewis, Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov, who are not known for their offensive abilities.
Another glaring stat from him this season is his plus/minus total. It is a fairly scrutinized stat at times, but his minus-16 on the season is very concerning given that he is just one of five players on the current roster to not have a plus rating. In fact, the second-worst on the roster is Dillon Dube, who is sitting at a much less disastrous minus-6.
Under Sutter, most players have seen that particular stat improve in a major way. For example, Elias Lindholm is leading the club with a spectacular plus-45, while Johnny Gaudreau is right behind him at plus-44. It goes to show that Monahan is failing to get anything done at either end of the ice, and at this moment is a liability for the Flames.
Caught in a Massive Slump
Sometimes when players are in the midst of a bad season, there are signs that they will soon snap out of their funk. That isn’t the case for Monahan, who has gone 14 straight games without a point, and 16 without a point at even strength. It is a shocking development for a player who not all that long ago was one of the team’s most consistent players.
It isn’t as if he is just in a tough recent stretch either, as this has been going on for some time. He has just one goal and three points in his last 23 games and has only eight goals and 22 points total on the season. Things weren’t much better in 2020-21 either, as he managed just 10 goals and 28 points in 50 games.
Career in Calgary Coming to an End
Monahan’s downfall is an extremely unfortunate story, as it really does appear injuries have taken away from what was once a very impressive career. With how long he has been struggling, it seems safe to suggest this is more than just a confidence issue. While it would be great to see him get back to what he once was and help this team out down the stretch, it doesn’t seem likely that will happen, and at this point, Sutter may be better off to have him sit out as a healthy scratch for a while.
Regardless of how this season ends, it is a near guarantee that Monahan is not in a Flames uniform in 2022-23. General manager Brad Treliving will look for a trading partner, but moving his $6.375 million cap hit won’t be an easy feat. There is also the option of a buyout, and that may be explored if there are no willing trade partners. Buying him out this summer would save the Flames $4 million next season, but would keep an extra $2 million on the books for 2023-24. Moving on from him won’t be an easy decision for Treliving, just like making him a healthy scratch won’t be easy for Sutter. Given his recent play, however, both will be beneficial to this team in the end.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.