The Detroit Red Wings and the Calgary Flames are on opposite sides of the NHL right now. The rebuilding Red Wings are set to make their sixth-straight top-10 selection in the NHL Draft this July. Meanwhile, the Flames were just recently knocked out of the second round of the playoffs after finishing atop the Pacific Division during the regular season. While one team is building towards getting back into the playoffs, the other is building towards their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 2004.
A key difference between rebuilders and contenders in today’s NHL is that the rebuilding teams tend to have a lot more financial flexibility than the contenders due to the salary cap. Good teams are filled with good players, and sooner or later it’s time to pay them what they’re worth. That is the problem facing the Flames as they enter a critical offseason.
The salary cap for next season is set at $82.5 million, exactly $1 million more than this season’s salary cap. Despite that extra wiggle room, the Flames are facing a cap crunch. They are projected to have just a little under $27 million in cap space available, but they have to work out new contracts for key players such as Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane. In total, the Flames only have 13 players on their current roster signed for next season, so it’s not just about working out deals for their top players – they also have to be able to fill out the rest of their roster. With the need to free up some cap space, a player Flames general manager (GM) Brad Treleving has to be looking to move is center Sean Monahan.
The Red Wings, on the other hand, enter the 2022 offseason with the third-most cap space in the NHL, with a projected $35.7 million available to them. While GM Steve Yzerman has some players he will need to re-sign, he should still have around $30 million to play with once he’s locked up the players he wants to keep. While the Red Wings could go fishing for a big free agent, they should also look into the possibility of taking on a “bad contract” from a team that needs to free up some cap space, much like they did a couple years ago when the New York Rangers paid the Red Wings a second round pick to take on Marc Staal’s contract.
I’m sure you’re already beginning to connect the dots.
Flames’ Monahan Needs a Fresh Start
Drafted sixth overall in the 2013 draft, Monahan was once one of the most beloved members of the Flames. He was a complete, two-way centerman who routinely had a positive takeaway/turnover ratio, and he’s never recorded more than 25 penalty minutes in a season (he was a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy in 2018-19, awarded to the league’s most gentlemanly player.) That same 2018-19 season saw him record a career-high in points, notching 82 points through 78 games.
At the age of 21, Monahan became one of the Flames’ alternate captains, with some anointing him as former Flames captain Mark Giordano’s future successor. When he was at his best, he played top line minutes and was on the ice in almost every key situation, all while setting example for his teammates as one of the team’s leaders. He was everything he was drafted to be, and the seven-year deal he signed in 2016 was seen as somewhat of a steal.
Fast forward to today, and his $6.375 million cap-hit is seen as an albatross and a big reason why the Flames may have to say goodbye to a player like Gaudreau.
This season, Monahan had the lowest average ice-time of his career (14:04) while playing a majority of the time on the Flames’ fourth line. His 23 points was the lowest number of his career, and to add insult to injury, he finished the season on long-term injured-reserve after having to undergo surgery on his right hip. Overall, since that career-best 2018-19 season, he has 40 goals and 99 points through 185 games, a points per-game rate of .535.
Monahan has seemingly fallen out of favor with Flames head coach Darryl Sutter as the veteran bench boss made the 27-year-old a healthy scratch on a handful of occasions this season. Considering Monahan is still relatively young and has shown he can make a big impact for his team when he’s on his game, a fresh start seems more than warranted. In order to provide him with that opportunity, the Flames need to find a team that can afford to take on the final year of his contract.
Red Wings Could Use Another Reclamation Project
As has already been mentioned, the Red Wings are no strangers to taking on a bad contract under the right circumstances. After taking on Staal’s contract in the 2020 offseason, the Red Wings not only added an asset in the second round pick the Rangers sent them, but the veteran defenseman has since become a stable force for a young Red Wings team. This season, he was even an alternate captain for the Red Wings, so it seems safe to say that Yzerman’s first time making this type of move worked out pretty well.
The Red Wings also have a couple of players on their roster that found new life in the NHL after their previous teams turned their backs on them. Robby Fabbri was sent to Detroit in the Fall of 2019 after falling out of favor with the St. Louis Blues. Since then, he has been a key fixture in the Red Wings’ top six, leading him to sign three-year extension during this season. Additionally, the Red Wings struck gold when the Washington Capitals sent winger Jakub Vrana to Detroit as part of the Anthony Mantha trade. Since that trade, Vrana has scored 21 goals through 37 games with the Red Wings, easily cementing himself as the team’s best goal-scorer.
Entering this offseason, the Red Wings have an obvious need down the middle. While Pius Suter held down the second line center position for the majority of this season, he produced just 36 points through 82 games, which suggests that he was maybe a bit out of his depth in that role. While there are some intriguing free agent options projected to be available this summer, Yzerman probably doesn’t want to find himself in a bidding war quite yet, especially for a player that isn’t supposed to play a top line role. The Red Wings’ GM has already proven that he’s willing to get creative to fill in holes in his roster, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he opts to address his team’s center depth through means other than free agency.
By taking on the final year of Monahan’s contract, the Red Wings are taking a chance on a player that was a true top line center as recently as 2019. They wouldn’t be asking him to reach those heights again as the team’s second line center, but a fresh start could help him regain the form that once made him a key part of the Flames’ core. With only one season left on the contract, it wouldn’t overburden the Red Wings either, as they have plenty of cap space to work with right now. If all else fails, he has proven to be a good leader and a welcome presence in the locker room – Detroit could use as many of those players as possible.
Laying the Grounds for a Monahan Trade
It’s a little difficult to predict exactly what this kind of move would look like. While this would essentially be a salary dump for the Flames, Monahan isn’t some aging veteran that has limited upside. In a perfect world, Calgary would probably like to try to get him back on track themselves, but the salary cap makes that almost impossible. This is a player in his prime who just seems in need of a fresh start; the Flames would probably like something in return for that type of player.
That “something” more than likely isn’t going to be anything too hard to stomach. A mid-to-late round draft pick probably does the trick, with a fourth round pick being the highest I can see a team being willing to go given the circumstances. The Red Wings have three fourth round picks in the 2022 draft, as well as an extra one in the 2024 draft. If you’re Yzerman, is moving one of those extra picks a worthwhile gamble?
I guess we’ll see soon enough.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.