Have Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan played their final game as a member of the Calgary Flames? You’d have to think at least one of them is gone after the team lost in the first round for the third time in four years.
As two-thirds of Calgary’s top line – with right winger Elias Lindholm – Gaudreau and Monahan have failed yet again to show they can raise their game a notch when the NHL’s intensity level ramps up. The Flames offensive leaders were reduced to little more than ornaments during 5-on-5 play for most of Calgary’s first-round loss to the Dallas Stars. That was the case last year as well in a five-game upset loss to Colorado.
I suspect GM Brad Treliving has seen enough and will make some high-profile personnel changes in the off-season. It’s not like Gaudreau and Monahan are kids anymore. Gaudreau just turned 27 and Monahan turns 26 in October. It’s unlikely their one-way offensive game that dries up at crunch time is going to evolve as they approach 30.
But that doesn’t mean they will or should be thrown overboard for pennies on the dollar. Gaudreau is a dynamic puck mover who can generate quality chances for himself and linemates under ordinary regular-season intensity levels. He’s topped 24 goals four times in six seasons and is close to a point per game for his 464-game career. He’s ninth in league scoring since he was a rookie in 2014-15 and was the consensus virtual leader for the Hart Trophy halfway through 2018-19.
So where would Gaudreau go?
For another team just aiming to make the playoffs next season – think New Jersey, Buffalo, Florida and Columbus in the east – Gaudreau can be a difference-maker during the regular season. Buyer beware though, Gaudreau has a lousy track record in the playoffs – 19 points in 30 games, only seven of which came during 5-on-5 play.
On Calgary’s side of the ledger, the return should be decent. Gaudreau is on a team-friendly contract of $6.75 million for the next two seasons. That ranks 47th among the highest-paid NHL forwards. (There has been chatter Gaudreau would prefer to play in the Eastern U.S. when he becomes a UFA in 2022, but that’s speculation.)
Monahan has averaged close to 30 goals per 82 games during his seven-year career. But he’s something of a one-trick Mony – he’s weak in his own end, doesn’t forecheck well, doesn’t have a physical component to his game even though he’s a big man and doesn’t drive play. Because his skating is just average, he doesn’t stack up well against other No. 1 centers in the Western Conference. Put him with a playmaking winger, however, and he’s a shooting machine.
But it’s just not working for Monahan playing next to Gaudreau anymore. The offensive magic they shared that spawned purple Gatorade squirts into each other’s mouths on the bench last season has turned to white vinegar. In fact, things look uncomfortable between the two on the ice. The chemistry is no longer there and surely Treliving sees that.
So my question is does one go or do both go? If I’m Calgary, I’d really like to see how Gaudreau does with a play-driving center, a position Lindholm has played a lot in the past. It’s no big secret the Flames would like to pursue pending UFA Taylor Hall in the off-season. He’s a left winger, but do you give him or Gaudreau a shot on the right side with Lindholm in the middle?
Then again, Gaudreau is more marketable than Monahan and the Flames are in dire need of a young defenseman for their aging and UFA-filled blueline.
That’s why I think both Gaudreau and Monahan will be referred to as former Flames by the end of 2020.