Canadiens Set at Center with Monahan but Playoffs Still Unlikely

The Montreal Canadiens set themselves up at center fairly nicely this offseason, adding Sean Monahan from the Calgary Flames as an exclamation point. Even with all the Canadiens’ depth at center and up front in general though, they’ll be hard-pressed to make the playoffs… which has to be the plan at this point.

Related: Canadiens’ Best Bet for Long-Term Success Is to Tank 2022-23

Consider it a not-so secret master plan on the part of general manager Kent Hughes. Ultimately, when Hughes reveals goalie Carey Price may not play in 2022-23 at all, it explains why the Canadiens felt they could make this deal. Hughes expects the goalie’s $10.5 million cap hit to go on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), giving them the cap space to acquire Monahan ($6,375,000) and then some.

Current-Montreal Canadiens forward Sean Monahan – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Canadiens even presumably have enough space to re-sign fellow-center Kirby Dach. That gives the Habs no fewer than five theoretical centers, with Nick Suzuki, Christian Dvorak and Jake Evans, with whom Monahan already trains regularly, rounding out the Canadiens’ newfound depth down the middle.

Canadiens Complement Dach with Monahan

It’s an obvious upgrade from last season, before which the Canadiens lost Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, with Dvorak ultimately serving as the team’s No. 2 center. However, the Canadiens had already acquired Dach to be the team’s theoretical No. 2 center this season.

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At least Hughes has confirmed in the past that the idea is for Dach to develop at center. However, seeing as Dach has struggled at faceoffs so far in his career (34.6%), it doesn’t hurt to properly insulate him moving forward. That’s what Monahan (50.4%) brings to the table, at least in the immediate future.

Kirby Dach Chicago Blackhawks
Current-Montreal Canadiens forward Kirby Dach – (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

After all, Monahan is a pending unrestricted free agent. If the update on Price’s health status is why the Canadiens felt they could make this deal, Monahan’s free-agent status is likely just the why they made this deal in general.

Canadiens Still Lack Depth in Net Without Price

The fact that the Canadiens used Price’s presumed LTIR space to acquire Monahan and not, say, another goalie, is all you need to know. Jake Allen is not a No. 1, as his history with the St. Louis Blues has proven. Meanwhile, Samuel Montembeault is more so a No. 3 rather than a legitimate NHL backup.

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So, if that’s the tandem with which the Canadiens are going, it’s clear they’ve resigned themselves to a long season, which is all right. They’re rebuilding. Another high draft pick is in order. Draft picks in general, really.

Kent Hughes, Montreal Canadiens GM
Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes – (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

With that in mind, the Canadiens really didn’t trade for Monahan. Instead, they traded for the first-round pick they also got in the Monahan trade. Monahan himself was the cost to acquire it (along with “future considerations,” all so that the Flames could make room to sign Nazem Kadri).

Canadiens Get Monahan++

If the Canadiens do have their sights set on a lottery pick, and they should with whatever goaltending they do have playing behind a largely inexperienced defense, Monahan is almost inconsequential. It really doesn’t make a difference if he returns to form, after scoring 82 points in 2018-19, but 99 total the last three seasons.

If he doesn’t, what does it matter? He should nevertheless help Dach along in some fashion. However, what if he does? It’s at least a possibility.

Monahan did tell the Montreal media upon his acquisition that he’s feeling like himself again, expecting to be healthy for the season. He had effectively been playing been hurt the last few, having hip surgery in each of the past two years.

If Monahan is able to regain his offensive touch, which saw him score 30 goals in two straight seasons at his peak, the soon-to-be 28-year-old still likely wouldn’t have much impact on the end result. Remember, the aforementioned lack of goaltending and defense? He would however presumably cost a prettier penny at the trade deadline (so another first-round pick hopefully).

Habs Have Eyes Still Set Firmly on Future

Monahan is only a long-term solution through that lens. He’s not old by any stretch, but he just wouldn’t fit in with what the Canadiens are looking to accomplish. There are two extremes here. Either Monahan falls flat, in which case the Canadiens wouldn’t want to keep him past this season, or he becomes the Monahan of old, in which case the Canadiens likely wouldn’t be able to fit him under the cap, similar to the Flames, who paid an arm and leg just to get rid of him.

You can’t count on Price going on LTIR forever. You also can’t count on Monahan becoming a No. 1 center again. Thankfully, the Canadiens don’t seem to be doing either, with Monahan conceivably slotting in as high as a No. 2 center behind Suzuki. Dach, who was shifted to the wing by the Blackhawks last season, remains the future at the position, because otherwise there would have been no reason to trade Alexander Romanov to acquire him. In the here and now though, it’s possible Monahan takes over the role to help bring him along more slowly.

Carey Price Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There is probably a school of thought that the Habs should throw Dach into the deep end at center right away and let him sink or swim. In what will almost certainly be a losing season, no one should expect so much from Dach that he is able to firmly establish himself as that second center the Canadiens so desperately need. Giving Monahan the tougher assignment at center during a long season could work.

Success in 2022-23 for the Canadiens will look drastically different than in past seasons, and that should extend throughout the lineup, Dach included. It also extends to the front office and Hughes and the Canadiens are getting the job done. Overall, it won’t be pretty. However, the Canadiens just acquired Monahan (and the first) for as close to nothing as you can get, with the potential to parlay him into additional futures next trade deadline. So, this specific deal? Nothing short of a thing of beauty.