MONTREAL — It’s a one-year, $1.985-million contract that gives Sean Monahan a chance to prove his value.
It also gives the Montreal Canadiens a chance to capitalize on it.
More than anything, the contract both parties agreed to signifies Monahan is healthy and prepared to continue his hockey career, which is something both he and the Canadiens hoped would happen closer to six months ago.
That’s when Monahan was rehabbing a foot injury and taking what was supposed to be two-to-three weeks off so he could return to the lineup and continue providing the type of contributions that could’ve potentially netted the Canadiens a first- or second-round pick in a 2023 deadline trade.
He then suffered a groin tear which eliminated that possibility and cut his season to just 25 games.
Monahan tried several times—ultimately in vain—to make it back before eventually conceding to season-ending surgery in early-April.
When the Brampton, Ont., native met with the reporters two weeks later, at the Canadiens’ season-ending availability, he lamented the possibility that it might be his last appearance in the team’s fabled dressing room.
“I loved my time here,” Monahan said. “Made some lifelong friends in a short time. This is a team that I think will be competitive really soon. To come back here would be pretty special. I don’t think I got to play enough games here at the Bell Centre. It would be pretty special to come back.”
Tuesday’s contract guaranteed that reality, giving Monahan a chance to show he can be every bit the player who collected six goals and 17 points in 25 games and prove he’s still got plenty of miles left on the odometer, despite all the wear and tear the vehicle has suffered over the years.
Yes, Monahan’s had both hips resurfaced, gone under the knife for two groin injuries, and he’s suffered several other bumps, bruises and breaks along the way.
But he’s a seven-time 20-goal scorer who’s topped 30 twice, an extremely versatile centre who can also play wing, contribute at both ends of the ice and on both special teams units, and a player who can provide leadership. He turns 29 in October and could be looking at a great opportunity in free agency come July of 2024—with the salary cap set to potentially increase by then by at least $4 million and continue rising incrementally over the term of whatever long-term contract he might earn if he stays healthy.
Meanwhile, the Canadiens got a conditional 2025 first-round pick from the Calgary Flames when they took Monahan and his expiring $6.375-million in August of 2022 and the deal they just signed with him wouldn’t prohibit them from acquiring a similar asset in a trade at the 2024 deadline should he return to form and remain unscathed.
That’s not the only value Monahan has the potential to provide the Canadiens on this contract, however.
General manager Kent Hughes said in his end-of-season press conference he expects the Canadiens to be far more competitive this coming season. He said, “We want to try to make the playoffs,” and the stability Monahan can offer up the middle of the ice—or anywhere needed up front—can help that aim.
Stability. That was the word Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis emphasized when he was asked on April, 3, after it was announced Monahan had groin surgery, just what the player offered the Canadiens when he was healthy.
“He came in with a great baggage of experience,” St. Louis said. “It was a great pickup for us. He can do so many things. He’s a presence, too, in the dressing room, so we lost more than just what he did on the ice. But also, he can play wing, he can play centre, he can play the PK, he can play the PP and he’s very responsible on the ice. He brought some stability that, obviously with all the injuries, was hard to find.
“I know he’s gone through another surgery, but I’m hopeful that there’s a lot of hockey in front of him left.”
Monahan is, too.
“I have a good team that I work with back home,” he said on April 17. “I’m just looking forward to playing hockey again, to prove myself, and I think I owe it to myself to have a good season. I’m 28 years old and I have lots of hockey left.”
“I’m confident in myself that I can produce in this league at a high level and, wherever I am, and help a team win,” Monahan added.
That’s the bet the Canadiens made on Tuesday.
It’s not one without risk, given Monahan’s extensive injury portfolio.
He hasn’t completed a full season since the abridged 2020 campaign, hasn’t produced to near the same level he did through the first half of his lucrative seven-year deal with the Flames, and he’s coming off yet another significant procedure.
There are no guarantees Monahan can at least return at the same level he played at through 25 games last season, and none he can remain healthy.
But if Monahan can, and if his body holds up, the rewards for both him and the Canadiens could be substantial.