Expectations were about as low as possible last season for Sean Monahan after he was acquired from Calgary. He then played quite well before his year ended way too early. Now back on a one-year deal, what should the Habs expect from him in 2023-24?
Monahan was a surprise acquisition by the Canadiens in the summer as they jumped in to pick him up to facilitate Calgary’s signing of Nazem Kadri. More specifically, they jumped in to acquire the first-round pick that was sent their way to entice Montreal to pick up the final year of Monahan’s contract. That pick will transfer to the Canadiens somewhere between 2024 and 2026 and features the most thorough conditions I’ve ever seen.
When they picked him up, there were questions as to whether Monahan would even be ready to start the season after recovering from hip surgery. Instead, he played in three preseason games and was in the lineup on opening night. He scored in that game, setting the stage for what was a pretty good two months.
He was among Montreal’s leading scorers before he suffered a broken foot. In a nod to how he played in Calgary (where he frequently played through injuries), he tried to play through it against his former team but one game later, he sustained a groin injury. Originally, the hope was that he’d miss a couple of months but would be back a few weeks before the trade deadline, giving the Canadiens a chance to show that he was healthy before flipping him with salary retention.
Alas, that never happened. Instead, he suffered setbacks and the thought of him bringing back value at the deadline came and went without a move. As it turned out, Monahan wasn’t able to return at all as he wound up missing the final five months of the season. While they weren’t able to get an extra asset for him at the deadline, it’s important to remember that they still have the first-round pick and gave up absolutely nothing to acquire it. A disappointing end but it was still a very good move to make.
Stats: 25 GP, 6-11-17, -5, 16 PIMS, 1 PPG, 0 GWG, 55 shots, 17:22 ATOI, 55.1% faceoffs
5 Year Averages
(The stats for 2019-20 and 2020-21 have been extrapolated to an 82-game rate.)
For most of his appearances last season, Monahan played down the middle on the second line. It wouldn’t be crazy to think he could start there again this year but the situation is a little different now. When Monahan played last year, Kirby Dach was primarily a winger. But when Monahan went down, it was only a matter of time before Dach wound up in his role and all things considered, he fared pretty well. Considering that Dach is part of the future plans and Monahan probably isn’t, will they prioritize Dach’s long-term development and keep him in the 2C slot? That’s a definite possibility.
If that happens, Monahan could wind up in a few different spots. If they want to hedge against Dach’s faceoff struggles, Monahan could play on his wing. Basically, take the faceoffs and then flip spots. It wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. It’s also possible that they put Monahan in that role on the top line. He played a lot with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield on the power play so there is some familiarity and Monahan would add a bit of veteran reliability to that trio while he’s a lot better on the draw than Suzuki. Alternatively, Monahan and Dach could each anchor their lines with one being the second and one being the third. Given Martin St. Louis’ affinity for tinkering with his trios, all three of these could be tried out with some regularity.
From a special teams perspective, Monahan played heavy minutes on the power play last season and should again this year. He has a track record of success with the man advantage and let’s face it, not many players on this team have that. His faceoff ability should keep him seeing regular minutes shorthanded as well although if Montreal is looking to take away some hard minutes to try to lower the risk of injury, they could look to reduce his time here. Early on in the season though, I expect he’ll still be on the second or third wave.
Normally, a five-year average provides a relatively accurate picture for most players but in 2018-19 (pre-hip and groin surgeries), he was better than a point per game. If we take that year out and look at the last four seasons, he’s at a 14-20-34 stat line in 61 games. Still not bad but I think that’s a more accurate depiction of what he has been like lately, even if he played at a 56-point pace last season in a small sample size back when Montreal was reasonably competitive.
If Monahan can stay relatively healthy (and that’s a big if), I could see him landing close to the five-year average offensively. His even-strength minutes might see some heavy variation some nights but he’ll have enough power play utility to offset that to an extent. I don’t think he’s draftable in standard leagues but in deeper pools, he’s worth a late-round dart throw and could be a bit of an upside selection. If he goes undrafted, he’s someone to keep an eye on as if he winds up on the top line, he’s a worthy waiver wire pickup.