The second-most-recent lockout* brought about quite a few perks, even if those improvements (some longer lasting than others) didn’t Febreze the unfathomable stench of losing an entire season. For general managers, limiting how much a rookie can earn in the three years of their entry-level deal has been a real boon.
Well, at least if the chips fall in place and you handle it well.
The funny thing about the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup run is that many will look back at it as a classic moment of salary cap mismanagement. Instead, it was a brilliant example of how things can fall perfectly into place every now and then, just like when you’re totally about to win in Guess Who?.
It’s easy to forget that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews won that championship as their rookie deals were expiring because a) they received extensions before that incredible title run and b) the ‘Hawks were forced to part ways with valuable - but ultimately, as we saw in 2013, expendable - pieces such as Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and even Antti Niemi.
Another thing that’s easily forgotten: the Blackhawks basically gave Toews a “redshirt” season, even as the third pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, clearing the way for Chicago’s dynamic duo to debut together. Would Chicago have won that Cup if Toews was making big bucks a year earlier? It’s tough to say (but affording someone like Marian Hossa certainly would have been more difficult).
In many cases, fantasy owners face amusing and lower-risk** versions of what many sports decision-makers do in real situations, but we don’t really need to wrestle with that “redshirt” decision. And good thing, because it’s challenging enough to think a month or two in the future … imagine going years? (Keepers excluded.) No thanks, that sounds too much like real life.
NHL teams fight that tough present vs. the future question each year, and the Calgary Flames have a real riddle with Sean Monahan.
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Usually, I have friendly/condescending advice for GMs who are actually experienced and did hard work to earn their gigs. (They didn’t just click on the Yahoo! Hockey Pool link above.) Sometimes that advice even angers a very specific subset of people. But it’s not often that I answer mostly with a shoulder shrug.
But man, the Flames are facing a tough decision. Let me lay out the considerations, from fantasy to reality, as Calgary have three more games to decide what to do with Sean Monahan in 2013-14. Even if we circle back to shrugging our shoulders.
Sean Monahan isn’t languishing on the fourth line, just trying to keep up with the speed of the NHL. Instead, he’s a first-liner … well, at least what the Flames call a first-liner … alongside Sven Baertschi and Jiri Hudler. He already has six points in six games, and it's not like most of his points came from one wild night (*cough* Tyler Seguin *cough* possible double-meaning *cough cough*); Monahan's only game without a point came on Wednesday. Other than that, he's been steady.
He's not getting amazing ice time, however, although it's generally going up lately. It might just be best to look at his production game-by-game:
Oct. 16: zero points and zero shots on goal, 15:18 TOI
Oct. 11: goal, 1 SOG, 16:31 TOI
Oct. 9: goal, assist, 3 SOG, 15:41 TOI
Oct. 6: goal, 5 SOG, 13:42 TOI
Oct. 4: goal, 2 SOG, 13:20 TOI
Oct. 3: assist, 2 SOG, 11:40 TOI
(He's getting 1:33 of power-play time on ice per game, by the way.)
Most importantly, Monahan’s been lucky. His four goals have come on just 13 SOG, an unsustainable rate of 30.8 percent. If he stays in the NHL, his goals almost certainly won't come at the same rate.
Also, the Flames might be headed for a fall after a pleasant surprise of a start. They lost to the Ducks 3-2 last night and they could be in a very different situation come Monahan decision time. Here are their next three contests:
Saturday: at San Jose
Monday: at Los Angeles
Tuesday: At Phoenix
Is Monahan as tempting to keep at 3-4-2 as he is at 3-1-2? Probably not.
One could argue that if the Flames are truly serious about rebuilding, it wouldn’t be a question: Monahan would be sent down to junior.
Basically all of the recent stories about the Flames come down to “Hey, Calgary isn’t awful!” But how many people really think this will last? Joey MacDonald might have three wins, but he also has an .891 save percentage and the resume of a guy who bounced between the AHL and NHL for several years (which is what he is).
While the likeliness of their mediocre-to-bad status mostly says “ship Monahan,” there is the whole “giving an angsty fan base something to cling to” factor. If Calgary keeps him, Dennis Wideman will be the only guy still under contract when Monahan’s rookie deal expires (as of this writing, obviously). So, while it’s often nice to get the most value out of each year of an entry-level contract … it’s not like the Flames have a bevy of stars who will need big raises when Monahan might need his own.
At least as far as how things look right now.
All things considered, I would send Monahan down to junior if I were Jay Feaster. (I’d also wish my last name wasn’t Feaster.)
Still, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for the Flames to keep him around. It’s easy to say “The Future is Bright” but it’s easier to make that argument when your fans can witness the growth of such prospects. Even if it’s possible that it might not be the greatest road to development.
Ultimately, Monahan owners should note that his puck luck has been through the roof and that the nine-game entry-level deadline is coming (possibly on Tuesday). The rest will work itself out, one way or another.
After the jump: two game notes and injury bits.
* - Sheesh, the NHL shuts down often enough that we might as well come up with dinosaur-age style names for each period following a lockout. This latest one might be the “Can You Really Maintain a Playable Ice Surface in California?” Era.
** - Despite the unbearable agony you could face at the water cooler if your co-worker beats you …