Monahan stays with surprising Calgary Flames

Sean Monahan was drafted fifth overall by the Flames in 2013. (Kirk Irwin/Getty)

Front office types can map these things out for as long as they’d like on white board depth charts and contract matrixes. But in Calgary, as it does everywhere else, the Sean Monahan story has unfolded in typical fashion.

In the end, it wasn’t the Calgary Flames brass making the decision for Monahan, but rather Monahan making the decision for the Flames. He stays in Calgary, GM Jay Feaster announced Wednesday, well, because as the team’s No. 2 scorer you couldn’t possibly make any other call. “The players decide,” Feaster said. “In Sean’s case, Sean decided. His development is best served by being with us.”

Could Feaster have stood in front of the cameras and told reporters that Monahan was on a plane back to the Ottawa 67’s? Could he have stood up for “The Plan” in Calgary, laid out some months ago when this long-awaited rebuild was finally embraced? Sure, he could have. Then he would have had to look straight into the lens at Flames Fan and tell them, “We’re tanking the season so we can get that first overall draft pick next June.”

The only ember of a question still smoldering in the “Should Monahan Stay” debate is this one: If the Flames have finally embraced the spirit of a rebuild, doesn’t that philosophy encompass quietly finishing as low in the standings as possible and collecting the draft pick that comes with failure? Are the Flames flip-flopping here? Could keeping Monahan on the roster be the difference between a 29th place finish and a 24th place finish? In return for… what? Yet another season out of the playoffs?

The answer is twofold: Did Taylor Hall dig the Edmonton Oilers out of 30th place as an 18-year-old? Did Ryan Nugent-Hopkins keep them out of 29th the following season? Both were No. 1 overall picks and both were Calder Trophy candidates, neither affected the Oilers’ draft status to any degree.

Monahan may be the equal of both those players, he may be inferior, or perhaps he is even better. It is likely, however, that he is not so superior that he can single-handedly drag the Flames up three or four places in the standings. Realistically, with six goals and nine points through his nine-game National Hockey League audition, all remaining arguments against keeping this 19-year-old in the NHL have been summarily defeated.

Monahan is not stealing anybody’s ice time while playing 15:46 per night. The only every-night forwards averaging less ice time are Brian McGrattan, Joe Colborne, and Sven Baertschi, the latter a youngster whose status on the Flames roster is far more debatable than Monahan’s. He’s a point-per-game player today with a good share of his goals coming from within a couple feet of the blue paint. He’s six-foot-two and 185 lb. Physically this kid is holding his own just fine.

As for burning a year of his entry-level contract, again, look to the north. Have the Oilers had any trouble wrapping up their kids long-term? As long as the cap returns to previous levels, this simply is not a concern. And, it should be said, Calgary needs a few more Sean Monahans before its cap situation gets crowded.

Newly appointed Brian Burke is the one voice around the Flames boardroom that we can imagine speaking against the retention of a first-year pro on an NHL roster. But even Burke could be swayed by Monahan’s level of play, not to mention the need to give Calgarians something of substance for their over-priced hockey ticket. Let’s face it: The entire hockey world has smiled with some level of admiration while Calgary plays well above its payroll early in the season. Just a three-hour drive down the road from First Overall City, this plucky Flames group has rolled up its sleeves and worked like Traktor through the first nine games, posting a 4-3-2 mark.

Here’s hoping it’s going to last, although experience tells us a few things about the Calgary roster that might not. Like goaltending that is ranked 14th in shots-against per game, and 27th in goals-against per game. If this maniacal work ethic slips even a bit, and the shots increase, they just don’t have a goalie to keep them in these 3-2 games. And leading scorer Jiri Hudler has rocketed to 12 points, the only NHL player to have one in each of his team’s games. His career average is 0.55 points per game. Right now he is producing at a 1.33 clip.

For now though, the bright light at the end of the rebuild is highly visible in Calgary, where hockey fans had girded for an absolutely horrible season. Monahan has shown them that perhaps the Feaster regime has some drafting tricks up its sleeve, and by extension, might be trustworthy to get this ship back in the water one day soon.

He is a reason to come to the rink, something Flames fans might be appreciative of come January.

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