Saturday, March 14, 2015

Eight from 80 Feet: Special Sean Monahan Edition

It's edition nine of a content feature I started this season called Eight from 80 Feet, which I cobble together every couple of weeks.

Comprised of a blend of anecdotes, recaps, statistics, analysis and maybe an opinion or prediction mixed in too, usually it's a round-up of eight random thoughts on the current goings-on with the Calgary Flames.

Today I'm unveiling a special Sean Monahan edition that features all sorts of interesting and thought-provoking conversation starters that I guarantee will leave you preoccupied all day.

Are you ready? OK, let's go.

1. Heisenberg-Like Line Chemistry

Sean Monahan was good again on Friday in Calgary's 6-3 win over Toronto. In fact, he was really good. He scored his team-leading 26th and 27th goals of the season and he also had an assist for his first career three-point game.

However, it wasn't just Monahan. His entire line with Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gaudreau were superb once again combining for nine points. Each guy is on a six-game points streak, which is a career-high for Gaudreau and Monahan, and they have 16 goals and 30 assists over the last six games in which Calgary has gone a near flawless 5-0-1.

More on one of the hottest lines in the NHL right now, if not the hottest, plus quotes on their success from Monahan, Gaudreau and Bob Hartley can be found right here in my story from Friday night for The Canadian Press.

2. Catching Up with the 2013 NHL Draft Class

The thing with drafts is it takes a very long time to know for sure if you picked the right guy, or if you got a steal. If you look back five years ago at the 2010 NHL Draft, the Taylor Hall (1st) versus Tyler Seguin (2nd) debate is far from over. Nino Niederreiter (5th) was looking like a bust but maybe not so much any more and how high up on the he-should-have-gone meter will Vladimir Tarasenko (16th) ultimately end up.

Generally, you may have to wait as long as ten years before you can safely start doing that 20/20 hindsight thing and agree on what the draft order should have been.

Calgary selected Sean Monahan sixth in the 2013 draft. Obviously, there's no chance he will be a bust like previous Flames No. 6's Daniel Tkaczuk (1997) and Rico Fata (1998).

At this early stage, it's also looking like there's little chance the Flames will end up lamenting that they chose Monahan when (insert TBD name here) was still available. Remember, Edmonton chose Darnell Nurse right after Monahan and he is still in junior.

The bigger question is will Carolina, who chose Elias Lindholm at No. 5 end up regretting passing on Monahan.

Nathan MacKinnon -- the first overall pick from Colorado, is a special talent and is unlikely to be surpassed but by the end of their careers, could Monahan end up being one of the top three players from that draft?

For me, Monahan is having the best sophomore season of all of them as other contenders -- MacKinnon before he got hurt, and Nashville defenceman Seth Jones, have just not been saddled with the same on-ice responsibilities that Monahan has shouldered this season. Monahan's 19:23 in average ice time really stands out.

2013 NHL Draft Class - 2014-15 Season Totals:

1. Sean Monahan CGY, 68 gm, 27-24-51, plus-8, 19:23 TOI
2. Nathan MacKinnon COL, 64 gm, 14-24-38, minus-7, 17:02 TOI
3. Elias Lindholm CAR, 65 gm, 14-19-33, minus-19, 16:20 TOI
4. Jonathan Drouin TB, 58 gm, 2-24-26, plus-2, 13:08 TOI
5. Aleksander Barkov FLA, 56 gm, 11-13-24, minus-5, 17:11 TOI
6. Seth Jones NSH, 69 gm, 6-17-23, plus-5, 19:26 TOI
7. Andre Burakovsky WSH, 50 gm, 9-13-22, plus-12, 13:04 TOI
8. Bo Horvat VAN, 53 gm, 11-9-20, minus-3, 11:49 TOI

2013 NHL Draft Class - Career Goals:

1. Sean Monahan CGY, 6th pick, 143 gm, 49 goals
2. Nathan MacKinnon COL, 1st pick, 146 gm, 38 goals
3. Elias Lindholm CAR, 5th pick, 123 gm, 23 goals
4. Aleksander Barkov, FLA, 2nd pick, 110 gm, 19 goals
5. Valeri Nichushkin DAL, 10th pick, 83 gm, 14 goals

3. Second Most Goals Prior to 21st Birthday

When you think of young stars in Calgary's history, all-time leading Jarome Iginla is the name that immediately springs to mind. However, you may be surprised to learn that when Iginla turned 21, he had only 34 goals on his NHL resume and that was in 152 games. Monahan is knocking on the door of 50 and he's only played 143 games.

In terms of goals prior to his 21st birthday, Monahan moved into second on the Flames all-time list on Friday behind Dan Quinn. However, although he doesn't turn 21 until October 12 of next season, second is also where he is going to end up.

Calgary Flames History - Most Goals Prior to 21st Birthday

1. Dan Quinn (1983 to 1986) - 69
2. Sean Monahan (2013 to 2015) - 49
3. Kevin Lavallee (1980 to 1982) - 47
4. Robert Reichel (1990 to 1992) - 39
5. Jarome Iginla (1996 to 1998) - 34
6. Richard Kromm (1983 to 1985) - 31
7. Dion Phaneuf (2005-06) - 20
8. Derek Morris (1997 to 1999) - 16
9. Theoren Fleury (1988-89) - 14
9. Jim Peplinski (1980 to 1982) - 14

While Monahan may trail Quinn on this list, considering the relatively low-scoring era of today versus the high-flying days of the early-to-mid-80s when Quinn was breaking into the NHL, there is no denying that Monahan has had a much bigger impact and it could certainly be argued Monahan has had the most success of any player in Flames history as a 20-year-old or younger.

Considerations to keep in mind when comparing Monahan to Quinn:

  • Quinn's 69 goals came in 206 games over three seasons while Monahan's 49 goals so far have come in 143 games over two seasons.
  • If you break that down, Monahan's goals-per-game rate is currently 0.34. Quinn was 0.33.
  • During Quinn's three seasons before turning 21, he finished 6th, 8th and 2nd on the team in goals.
  • During Monahan's two seasons, he finished 2nd last year and right now is 1st this year.

4. Monahan vs Nieuwendyk

The best rookie season in Flames history belongs to 1985 second round pick Joe Nieuwendyk, who at age 21, scored 51 goals and had 92 points in 1987-88.

While Monahan's 22 goals as a rookie may pale in comparison, it's important to put Nieuwendyk's season into some context and once you do, you discover that the start to their careers is more similar than you think.

First, you must consider the high calibre of team Nieuwendyk joined when he broke into the NHL. Nieuwendyk was one of four 40-goal scorers that season. There was also Hakan Loob (50), Mike Bullard (48) and Joe Mullen (40). Last season, the Flames had only two 20-goal scorers -- Mike Cammalleri (26) was the other. My goodness, doesn't that sum up the differences in era right there.

They played 80 games back then and in 1987-88, Calgary scored a whopping 397 goals, which was tops in the NHL. That's an average of nearly five goals per game. With 14 games remaining this season, the Flames have scored 199 goals, which is an average of less than three goals per game. It's not like Calgary is near the bottom of the league either. The Flames currently rank sixth in average goals per game.

To give Monahan a fighting chance but also a more fair chance in this comparison, I have lumped together his rookie season and his sophomore season. Now lets compare the start to the careers of Monahan versus Nieuwendyk:
  • Nieuwendyk's 51 goals as a rookie represented 12.8 percent of the Flames offence
  • Monahan's 49 career goals represents 12.2 percent of the Flames offence over the past two seasons

Considering how good Nieuwendyk was for the Flames during his eight seasons, comparing Monahan to him at this early stage is a bit premature. That said, there are similarities that go beyond their offensive totals.
  • Both played centre
  • Nieuwendyk spent time as captain and it would surprise no one if Monahan also ends up wearing the 'C' some day.
  • They're similar in height -- Nieuwendyk was 6-foot-1 while Monahan is an inch taller.
  • Neither plays an aggressive, overly physical game.   

5. Sophomore of the Year

Someone mentioned the other day that it was too bad the NHL didn't have a 'Sophomore of the Year' award because Monahan could be in the running and he wasn't wrong. I researched it and in terms of scoring, Monahan ranks fourth is sophomore scoring behind that trio of young stars in Tampa Bay, who are sweeping the podium at the moment.

2014-15 NHL Sophomores - Most Points:

1. Tyler Johnson TB, 67 gm, 25-40-65
2. Nikita Kucherov TB, 69 gm, 25-31-56
3. Ondrej Palat TB, 64 gm, 15-37-52
4. Sean Monahan, CGY, 68 gm, 27-24-51
5. Ryan Strome NYI, 70 gm, 14-29-43
6. Nick Bjugstad FLA, 67 gm, 24-17-41
6. Tyler Toffoli LA, 61 gm, 20-21-41
8. Brock Nelson NYI, 70 gm, 18-21-39
8. Mark Scheifele WPG, 68 gm, 11-28-39
10. Nathan MacKinnon COL, 64 gm, 14-24-38

6. Sustainable or Unsustainable Shooting Percentage

In his rookie season, Monahan was first on the Flames and 14th in the NHL with a shooting percentage of 15.7 percent.

It was this high, seemingly unsustainable rate that formed the basis of the argument last summer for those that contested Monahan may not reach 20 goals this season.

Well, he's doing it again. Bolstered by a scorching hot streak recently in which he has 10 goals on just 24 shots in the last 13 games, Monahan finds himself right back up there among the league leaders in shooting percentage once again. Going into Saturday's game against Colorado, Monahan's shooting percentage is a lethal 17.3 percent, which is second on the team behind Jiri Hudler, 19.2 percent. Overall, Monahan ranks 10th in the NHL.

Having watched him for two years, it's clear that it's going to be an awfully long wait if you're waiting for Monahan's shooting percentage to regress to the league norm for forwards, which is typically between 10 and 11 percent.

For one, he rarely gains the blue-line and just whistles 50-foot wrister on goal. A majority of his shots seem to come from more dangerous areas such as the low slot or in and around the side of the net. Secondly, playing alongside sublime playmakers like Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler means Monahan is going to get some great scoring chances because they're that slick with their passing. Monahan need only get himself a patch of open ice and one of them will find him.

It's hard to say what Monahan's norm for a shooting percentage will ultimately end up being but given the sample we've seen so far, no one should be surprised if it ends up being well above the norm.

7. Junior Success in the NHL

For me, one of the most interesting angles to Sean Monahan's prolific scoring in the NHL is that during the course of his three-year major junior career with the Ottawa 67's, Monahan topped out at 33 goals in a season. That came in his second OHL season. Now, in his second NHL season, he has 27 goals with still 14 games to go. It's quite remarkable.

Obviously there are many factors. Playing with talented players like Gaudreau and Hudler are sure helping this year, but he was a teammate of Tyler Toffoli that 2011-12 season with Ottawa and with 52 goals and 100 points, you can't say Monahan didn't have some talent to work with. As a team, the 67's also a great year winning their division so while they weren't very good during Monahan's draft year, they weren't a factor the year prior.

Curious to see how Monahan's variance from CHL to NHL compared to others in recent drafts, I looked at top 10 draft picks out of the OHL, WHL or QMJHL for the five year span of 2009 to 2013 and here are the 10 players that have experienced the least variance in terms of goals-per-game. All players have gone down, naturally, but some not as much as others.

Note that I compared their final two seasons of major junior only and compared that to their career NHL totals up until today.

1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins EDM, 1st in 2011, -0.16
2. Sean Monahan CGY, 6th in 2013, -0.19
3. Tyler Seguin DAL, 2nd in 2010, -0.19
4. Matt Duchene COL, 3rd in 2009, -0.20
5. Ryan Johansen CBJ, 4th in 2010, -0.22
6. Gabriel Landeskog COL, 2nd in 2011, -0.24
7. Jeff Skinner CAR, 7th in 2010, -0.25
8. Evander Kane BUF, 4th in 2009, -0.27
9. Nazem Kadri TOR, 7th in 2009, -0.28
10. Taylor Hall EDM, 1st in 2010, -0.29

As for the five worst -- of those that have made the NHL, here they are:

1. Jonathan Drouin TB, 3rd in 2013, -0.70
2. Brett Connolly BOS, 6th in 2010, -0.61
3. Nail Yakupov EDM, 1st in 2012, -0.53
4. Mark Scheifele WPG, 7th in 2011, -0.50
5. Jonathan Huberdeau FLA, 3rd in 2011, -0.48

What I would make of this is it goes to show the value the Flames appear to have gotten in drafting Monahan when they did.

8. Next Contract Conundrum

Next season, Monahan will enter the final season of his three-year entry level contract. It's going to be very interesting to see how the Flames approach it. What I guarantee you won't see next is a four-year deal as that would take him to unrestricted free agency at the end of 2019-20. Imagine, the frenzy that would unfold on July 1 that summer if 25-year-old Sean Monahan landed on the free market. Never mind backing up one Brinks truck, teams may want to bring a whole fleet.

The Flames two choices would be either bridge him for two or three years and prepare to really open up the wallet and pay big time the next time, but that way they'd ultimately lock him up for a longer period by getting into a long-term deal at a later point.

Or, they could buy out some of Monahan's UFA years and offer him a long-term deal with the next contract. It could be the really smart play in many regards, yet still, even if you signed him to the maximum-allowed eight year deal, he would still then be in line to hit unrestricted free agency at age 29 in the summer of 2024.

But maybe you don't fear that. He will have played 11 years with the Flames at that point and there's no saying they couldn't start talking about an extension if everything was going well. Or, Monahan becomes a sought after rental at the 2024 trade deadline. That may be a long, way away but the conversations on what comes next for Monahan are coming very, very soon.


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