Monahan's Fate No Easy Decision


With six games of their 2013-2014 regular season already in the books, one very important question looms larger and larger for the Calgary Flames: should Sean Monahan stay with the club for the duration of the season?

All NHL teams have nine games to evaluate their rookie players before their entry-level contracts kick in. If a rookie continues to play past these first nine games, the season is counted as a full contract year, even if the player is sent back to his junior club later in the campaign.

The sixth overall pick of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft is enjoying a sensational start to his NHL career, and has played an integral role in the Flames’ quick start. But while his early-season success may lead some to believe that the answer to the aforementioned query is a clear and resounding “yes”, the complexity of Monahan’s position within the organization makes the correct answer to this question anything but obvious.

There is more than enough empirical evidence to build a compelling case for making Monahan’s first NHL season a full one; with six points in as many games, the rookie centre is tied with captain Mark Giordano for second place in team scoring, two points behind Flames point-leader Jiri Hudler. Monahan also leads Calgary with four goals, one of which proved to be the game-winner in a 3-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils. Tellingly, the Flames are 3-1-2 over that same six-game span, with their lone regulation loss coming against Anaheim, a game in which the rookie failed to record a shot on net.

Monahan’s already significant impact on Calgary’s performance is augmented by the fact that he is a natural centre on a team that has an alarming lack of depth up the middle of the ice. This deficit of bona fide centres has been a problem for the Flames for several seasons, and was a major factor in Calgary’s inability to successfully build around the offensive prowess of Jarome Iginla. But with the Flames looking to mould a new identity for themselves after finally embracing the reality of a rebuild, and with Monahan winning 42.1 percent of his draws through six contests, Calgary’s management team will be looking to get the rebuild off to a strong start by shoring up the hole at centre ice immediately.

But Monahan’s arrival and subsequent success in Calgary comes in a time of turmoil, with both franchise and fanbase anxiously hoping for the emergence of a player who can lead the way into a winning era. The rebuild in which the Flames now find themselves was forecasted several seasons ago, and for several seasons fans in Calgary have agitated over a promising but relatively underwhelming prospect cupboard, while mistrusting controversial moves by general manager Jay Feaster on the draft floor. The Flames’ rebuild could gain massive momentum on the shoulders of an exceptional individual youngster, and Feaster and the rest of Calgary’s head offices would like nothing better than for Sean Monahan to be that individual, and as soon as possible. And, of course, the fans would like to see the immediate arrival of that individual in Monahan, too. Just not at the expense of his development. And that’s the danger.

Many talented prospects enjoy success immediately upon arriving in the league. But of those, there are often several who gradually grow slightly overwhelmed by the new calibre of play and pressure they face, and suffer in their maturity and skill development as a result. Often, this is credited as the work of teams’ management squads, whom many often accuse of rushing players into the professional league.

Jay Feaster and the Flames management staff will obviously try their hardest to avoid such a calamity, but they have reason to push Monahan’s limits from the outset; scouting reports of Monahan’s impressive maturity level have been confirmed by coach and management feedback on the rookie’s play through camp, the preseason, and the early goings of the regular season. But Calgary’s staff shouldn’t be looking to press Monahan too hard, too fast, because as mature as Monahan may already be, he’ll face a challenge with the pressure-cooker that is Calgary.

The Flames face the pressure of a Canadian market, one that has been severely frustrated with continued failure, and is anxious for an overdue overhaul of the team. In a city that is known for holding star individuals under very heavy scrutiny, Monahan will have his hands full if he stays on for the entirety of the season. Especially when it can’t be predicted what message will come from Calgary’s head offices next, now that Brian Burke is the Flames’ president of hockey operations. Though Burke has a reputation for constructing successful teams, his outspoken and sometimes aggressive approach to the media will likely ensure that this rebuild is not without an appropriate dose of drama. And while it seems that Monahan presently finds himself in Burke`s good books, he`ll have to be mindful of avoiding a fate similar to that of teammate Sven Baertschi, whom Burke recently criticized in front of media for his work ethic and two-way play. If Monahan stays, he will feel significant pressure on all fronts: management and fans share high hopes for his performance, his on-ice duties will grow as he continues to develop in his role in the lineup, and the media will keep him under a heavy spotlight.

On Saturday night, the Flames face San Jose in the second of five straight road games, and the first of three in four nights. This means that Tuesday`s tilt against the Coyotes, Calgary’s ninth game of the season, could be Sean Monahan’s final game with the Flames this season. With Tuesday not far off, the deadline for this decision is fast approaching. And it seems that when Tuesday`s deadline arrives, this decision won’t be any easier to make.


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