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To the surprise of virtually no one, the Calgary Flames decided Wednesday that Sean Monahan would stay with the big club beyond the nine-game trial period for rookies. At the nine-game cutoff, the sixth pick in the 2013 Draft led the team with six goals on 21 shots to go with three assists, and since goals and assists are the only way to judge a hockey player, he was not returned to the OHL’s Ottawa 67′s.

This is, of course, a very shortsighted move by the Flames that can only benefit Monahan, but could also hurt him in the long-term as well.

Judging a just-turned-19-year-old on a mere nine games isn’t easy, but the underlying numbers people either love or hate make it plain to see that Monahan is very likely to hit a wall. This has been hashed out to death, but here are some of the highlights from Monahan’s first nine games courtesy of extraskater.com:

* His Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 is 47.4 and his Fenwick-for percentage at 5-on-5 is 50.6, which ranks him fourth on the Flames in each category and is generally not very good. It basically means Monahan is on the ice for more shots against than shots for but when it comes to the Flames, he’s better than most.

* His Corsi-for percentage with the score close is 44.7 and his Fenwick-for percentage with the score close is 47.7, which ranks him 11th on the Flames in each category. That’s not very good no matter how you slice it.

* His individual PDO at 5-on-5 is 1012, which isn’t overly remarkable but when the score is close, it’s 1050. That’s high. It’s a sign that regression is coming. It’s hard to say just how much regression is coming, as this is Monahan’s first twirl through the NHL, but it’s coming.

* In terms of quality of competition, he has been relatively sheltered in the early going. There’s nothing wrong with that, as he is a rookie, but it’s something coach Bob Hartley can reasonably control over the course of the season.

Despite those fancy bullet points with fancy stats, they only tell the tale of a very small sample size. For all we know, Monahan truly is the next Ron Francis and when the game is on the line, he elevates his game to match the situation. He will not finish the season with 55 goals and 27 assists in 82 games, but he could very well win the Calder Trophy or at least be a finalist.

Here’s the thing the Flames should be asking themselves – so what?

The Flames were off to a nice start by their standards, sitting at 4-3-2 with 10 points through nine games. As nice as that is, they were still in 11th place (now 12th) in the Western Conference, partly because they had played a fewer game than most teams ahead of them, but mostly because the West is ridiculously talented and deep and the Flames are in no way one of the eight best teams in said conference.

The Flames could keep Monahan with them all season, send him down before Game 10, keep him all season but loan him out for the World Junior Championships, clone him, inject him with steroids, hold his family hostage throughout December in an effort to get him to play better, and it will not matter: the Flames are not a playoff team.

Probably the most difficult part of being a general manager like Jay Feaster or a team president like Brian Burke is assessing your team’s talent in an honest fashion. They can look at all the numbers, fancy or otherwise, combine that with what they know about a player’s makeup and personality, and despite decades of experience, either undervalue or overvalue their assets.

But if they are looking at this Flames roster and are under the belief it’s a contender, they need to seek employment in other fields.

When it comes to Monahan, there’s no statistic that can tell them what shipping him back to junior will do to him mentally. He’s certainly played well enough in his audition to stick around the NHL, but I doubt he’s so fragile that if Burke and Feaster sat him down and said, “As well as you’ve played, we’d like you to spend one more year in the OHL. We think it’s best for you and the franchise, and we want you to come back hungry next season,” he’d sulk and pout his way out of a job in 2014-15 and have his career irrevocably destroyed.

Besides, at last check, the NHL isn’t a developmental league and thousands of other NHL players have found a way to use the lower levels to become NHL players.

The Flames have a long way to go before they ever become a contender, and letting Monahan sit in junior for one more year, preventing his NHL contract from activating, would’ve been the prudent thing to do at this juncture instead of giving in to the hype and flash over nine pretty good games. If the Flames had a team built for a trip to the postseason in 2013-14, sure, go for it. But they are on the ground floor of a rebuild that is still a few years away.

But this is all good for Monahan. He’s now another year closer to his second NHL contract, which could be a hefty one if he continues to produce. No matter what that next contract looks like, it will carry a far bigger cap hit than the $925,000 he has right now. Any GM worth his salt knows the value of having production from cheap contracts, and the first three years of a deal like Monahan has are more valuable than gold.

Yes, the cap will rise between now and the expiration of Monahan’s entry-level contract, but so will what Monahan will get if he puts together three solid statistical seasons. If the rebuild is going well, Year 4 could be a pivotal one, and it would make far more sense to have Monahan under contract at $925,000 (before bonuses) at that point instead of, say, $3 million.

It’s very apples and oranges, but there are some lessons to take out of how baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays deal with grooming and calling up their top prospects. They have gone to great lengths to delay the starting of the clock on the contracts of top prospects, including Evan Longoria in 2008. When he was sent to the minors in spring training that year, teammates griped. But he was called up two weeks later (due to an injury) and signed a lengthy contract a week after that.

But by delaying Longoria’s callup, the Rays were able to negotiate on the basis that they would buy three free-agent years into 2016 instead of 2015.  The Rays used similar tactics on Wil Myers, Matt Moore, and David Price, all top prospects who appeared ready long before the callups but were held back for seasoning and contractual reasons. A penny saved is a penny earned and all that.

Longoria, Myers, Moore, Price were all 22 or 23 when they made their major-league debuts. All four were either top or very high draft picks. All four are very good-to-great baseball players now.

Again, very apples and oranges. The Rays were terrible for years to the point where they amassed a bevy of top 5 picks; the Flames clung to mediocrity for years and their farm system is one of the worst in hockey. The Rays need to go to extremes to be fiscally responsible; the Flames have no such problems with financial resources.

But the Flames are working in a salary cap world, and the Rays have proven time and time again that an extra year or two in the minors for elite prospects isn’t some sort of recipe for destroying the player. Delaying the start of a contract by a year or two is an organizational philosophy that has paid dividends in Tampa as the cash-strapped Rays rebuilt and stockpiled picks. Since 2008, Longoria’s first season, the Rays have been to the postseason four times in six seasons after a decade of last-place finishes.

Yet the Flames, despite what seems like an honest desire to tear it down and build it up after trading away Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester last year, have again given into temptation to make another run at ninth in the West in year one of a rebuild.

FOUR LETTERS

Hey Dave – Huge fan. I have a question about your e-mail address. Couldn’t you have crammed another one in there? Was dave1111177@gmail.com taken? 

Thanks,

Craig in Clinton Township

Hi Craig. Thanks for the e-mail. It’s my birthday. My birthday is next month. I put it into my AIM screen name like 15 years ago and it stuck. It serves as reminder of my rapid aging process and for friends to purchase birthday gifts.

So Craig, I’m a size 12 shoe and look best in blue. Again, thanks for the e-mail. All the best in your life. Don’t go broke and find yourself living in a boxcar.

Hi Dave

I know you’ve withheld judgment on them so far this season because there were signs of hope. But are the Devils officially a bad team? It doesn’t seem like they’ve taken any real steps so far except against the Rangers. Should I start drinking now to cope with the fact that they’ll forfeit a No. 1 overall pick?

Dan

They are officially a bad team until they prove otherwise. I don’t care about their underlying numbers or their overlying numbers. They are bad at the sport of hockey right now. I’m not saying they’re dead in the water this early while playing in a division this bad, but they are lying on the floor of their apartment with a numb left arm while a loved one is dialing 9-1-1.

And I don’t know how one copes with not forfeiting the 29th pick in a draft. Go to Vegas for a week. Ride a roller coaster. That usually does it for me.

Hello

Do you think the goals will start coming for the Wild or are we stuck watching low scoring hockey in Minnesota forever. It is like Jacques Lemaire has cursed them for getting rid of him.

Tony

Twenty-four goals through 11 games isn’t great. It’s terrible, actually. They have the great possession numbers and are shooting 4.2 percent at 5-on-5, so it’s only a matter of time before the pucks start hitting the back of the net. Dany Heatley, who has fallen off in a major way, hadzero goals in 10 games before scoring last night. I’m not saying he’s going to score 40, but he won’t finish the year with one. That’s a guarantee and quite a hot take.

Hi Dave,

I’m a Sabres fan and ready to give up. Is it too soon to trade Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller? One win in 11 games has told me all I need to know about this team.

Jesse in NY

The problem the Sabres are going to have when it comes to trading Vanek and Miller is their large cap hits and the fact so few teams have the cap room to take on those contracts. Vanek at $7.1 million is going to be very tough to trade, as will Miller at $6.25 million. The new CBA allows teams to retain salary in order to facilitate a deal, but the Sabres may have to withhold a big chunk of each contract to get it done.

According to CapGeek (AAV deadline is your friend there), there are only five teams that could fit either Vanek’s or Miller’s contract on the roster today; on deadline day, that number rises to 14 teams. Of those 14 teams, only a handful will likely be eyeing a deep playoff run, while other teams bound for the playoffs might not be able to afford either player’s salary. And what team that considers itself a contender at the deadline will really need a goaltender?

Obviously, teams can deal expiring contracts back to the Sabres to remain cap compliant. But moving Vanek and Miller will be a lot harder than you think.

Comments (18)

  1. If the Flames should’ve sent Sean down, then what the hell are the Caps doing with keeping Tom Wilson up and skating 6 minutes a night (with 0-0=0) on the 4th line? Oates and GMGM stated they were worried about him learning bad habits down in Plymouth but even if he became dangliest dangler that ever dangled playing against a bunch of kids, I think he and the team would be the better for it – for the reasons stated above.

    • First, a lot of people (though admittedly not as many nor as loudly) have been as critical of the Caps decision to keep Wilson for the year as of the Flames decision to keep Monahan.

      2nd, and probably more importantly, it has everything to do with the current state of the franchises. The Caps are not a basement dwelling team – they’re not going to run away with their division on the basis of getting to play half of their season against bottom-feeding Southleasters again, but they’re not exactly in the midst of a re-build. Nobody is going to laugh in their faces if they say they think they’re a playoff team this year, particularly considering how terrible the Metropolitan division is. If they feel like Wilson playing 4th line minutes makes them a better team this year, it makes a certain amount of sense to keep him. The Flames, on the other hand, are absolutely not a playoff team this year end of story; everyone is blasting them for keeping Monahan because even if they’re a better team with him than without this year, starting the clock on his ELC in what’s going to be a lost season with or without him is pretty dumb.

      • “The Caps are not a basement dwelling team – they’re not going to run away with their division on the basis of getting to play half of their season against bottom-feeding Southleasters again”

        Yeah they’ll play something like 6 or 8 more games against the Metro and Atlantic. Powerhouses like NJ, NYR, NYI, CBJ, PHI, BUF, CAR. Even if they were good this year the feasting on the southleast/gonna get crushed in the Metro narrative is a myth, but I digress.

        I’m just not sure that having Wilson as a 4th line grinder is better for his development at this point – ELC issues aside. The Caps dont need to rush him, his value to the team is negligible , dont need to sell hope to the fanbase and already have depth at RW. Oates and co. think otherwise so I guess we’ll find out if it was a good idea soon enough.

  2. I reluctantly agree that Monahan should have been shipped back down(though I wouldn’t say that too loud at the saddledome). I was torn between drinking the coolaid here in Calgary with him easily being one of the best 12 forwards coupled with the fact the 67′s are not going to contend, and everything above regardng the ELC. Not exactly a pro when it comes to advanced stats, but even just the shooting % suggests a serious dip in goal scoring is likely. I’m pretty sure the Flames will be bad enough to draft another 9 game dilemma for next year.

  3. Patrick Kane. Drew Doughty. Tyler Seguin. Jordan Staal. All players who made the league right after their draft year and ruined their teams by earning an increased salary one year early. The Flames aren’t necessarily at that calibre, but placing the contract ahead of the player is idiotic. Baseball is a different sport, it would help if you could provide one example from hockey to make your point.

    Longoria was sent to the minors, Flames don’t have the option to send Monahan to the AHL. How is playing against 16 year olds in the OHL better than 16 min a night in the NHL? They’re doing what’s best for his development, a rebuild means more than hoping for last place.

    • Ruined their teams? All of those players you mentioned helped their team win a cup.

    • The point is that those teams kept those rookies up and won with them on their entry level contracts. Its going to take a miracle for the Flames to make the playoffs during Monahan’s ELC, let alone contend for the cup. Playing in the salary cap era, this is absolutely something that has to be considered. It helps the team surround their stars with the strong complementary players that are absolutely vital to winning.

      I can’t say how much the ELC considerations had to do with Toews going back to college for another year after his draft, but it certainly played a part. The direct result of the decision was the Hawks getting Kane and winning two cups.

    • Detroit says ‘hi”.

  4. Not a sellers market for goalies, especially given the players available next summer. I think people will be shocked at how little they get for Miller.

    • as a sabres fan, I’ld be happily surprised if they get a second round pick and a career AHL player who might top out as a 4th-3rd liner.

      Blown away by what they got for Vanek though.

  5. Haha ruined their teams after they helped them accomplish exactly what they wanted to.

  6. The only counter argument i can give for not sending rookies back down is to not set their development back. I know you mentioned the NHL isn’t a developmental league, but it’s littered with guys who came in, and have developed into the players they are today. Certainly the AHL is the developmental league, but there is still plenty of learning and developing to be done in the NHL for a vast number of players. If they think this guy would be best served continuing his progress in the world’s top league, I could see that being a judgement call. I’m not saying that sending him back to the AHL would necessarily ruin his development, but I could at least fathom how it might flat line his development in the mean time.

    With that said, I think in the Flames case specifically, its like you mentioned. They aren’y contending. And they won’t be contending next year. They’re a ways out, and postponing his ELC a year could go a long way as they get to a place where they are back to being contenders.

  7. while i agree that the flames would be better off leaving monahan in junior for a year, i don’t think the point is particularly well argued in this post.

    1) wil myers was a 3rd round pick (by the royals) and matt moore was an 8th round pick. they were not top or very high draft picks.

    2) corsi is subject to small sample size instability, and quoting monahan’s poor corsi numbers from such a small sample is not so different from quoting his excellent goals and assists numbers (acknowledging that corsi will stabilize sooner). that is to say, we don’t know a lot about monahan based on what he’s shown so far at the nhl level.

    3) the current version of the flames has an above average farm system, at least according to hockey prospectus.

    4) the salary structures in baseball and hockey are entirely different. the rays do what they do to maintain years of team control–i.e. the rays know that they won’t be able to sign their free agent players when they are eligible in their 6th year, so they delay the the start of the clock. in the context of the flames, they will be able to sign monahan to a max-years deal if they want to, when the time comes. this means that during the 2016-17 season, they’ll have less cap space than if they had kept him on the entry-level contract. but based on the current roster construction (i.e. they have no elite talent at the nhl-level, a couple of very good young players in brodie and backlund who will get a pay raise, and no contracts that continue into the 2016-17 season other than wideman), it does not look like they’ll be facing a cap crunch in 2016-17, unless (a very big unless) they overpay a bunch of free agents.

    while keeping monahan is not ideal from a salary structure perspective, it does not look likely that it’ll lead to a significant cap crunch down the line, that is in the 2016-17 season.

  8. on Monahan, two points:

    - not sure if TB is the best comp. to a team like Calgary. Unlike TB, Calgary has shown it can and will spend to the cap when the situation calls for it. The desperate fiscal situation of TB is not particularly comparable to a team that will spend to the cap in the NHL, and the specific tactics that make so much more sense for them re: cost-controllable talent make less sense for teams that can eat that lost year of cheap value much easier than uber-small-market TB (or whatever the equivalent is in the NHL – NYI?).

    - too much analysis is focused on Monahan in the NHL, where I think the more important question is Monahan in the CHL. A mediocre corsi is less important for Monahan in the long-term than that he gets his game up to NHL speed, gets his faceoffs up to the NHL level, and gets up to NHL strength. He’s obviously big and strong enough to dominate in the CHL but not in the NHL, where he needs a little more physical strength and a better first step. IIRC he had one of the best even-strength PPG last year in the CHL and one of the highest proportions of points-per-team-goals of any draft-eligible players. I can’t find any really compelling developmental reasons for sending him to the CHL – what more does he have to prove at a lower level vs. NHL experience.

    assuming sheltered minutes, mediocre corsi, and potential PDO regression, 3rd-line minutes in the NHL seems to be the developmental stage that Monahan is at. What would dominating the CHL with a mature-for-the-CHL body and NHL intelligence/maturity do for him at this point? His point production will clearly regress, but the floor that will make sure he doesn’t get blown away in the NHL is also there – he can hang at this level at a minimum level of competency, so why wouldn’t the developmental goals now be building from there? (and not from more CHL dominance)

  9. in short, the choice isn’t fiscally smart thing to do (send him down, save a year) vs. fiscally dumb thing to do, it’s fiscally smart thing to do* vs. potentially developmentally harmful thing to do. If we’re using baseball analogies, there’s no option of sending Monahan to AAA to work on little things and season his game against men like Myers the last season. Sending him back to the CHL is like sending a young player who can hang at the big league level down to A ball to stagnate and dominate against inferiors.

    *which is less important for teams with the willingness to spend later vs. small-market teams forced into it by necessity.

    • more: the idea that this is the Flames prioritizing short-term gains over their long-term future relies on the idea that it’s in Monahan’s developmental best interest to play in the CHL, or that his development as a player is secondary to fiscal concerns. I’m not sure either is true either for Monahan or for the Flames.

      This is the developmental path he’s on: he’s NHL ready, even in a role with sheltered minutes, and the developmental steps he needs to take next are all at the highest level against professionals, not other 19 year olds. I’m perfectly fine with the Flames sacrificing financial value for player development.

  10. Hmmm, turns out moving Vanek wasn’t that hard at all…

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