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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.