Eggs Bennett 22-21
August 21, 2022
On Thursday the Montreal Canadiens acquired Sean Monahan and a conditional first round pick from the Calgary Flames in exchange for future considerations. In this deal, two general managers collaborated to make lemonade out of the lemons they had been handed.
Brad Treliving’s lemons have been well documented.
The early part of the off-season was not kind to the Flames GM, with Johnny Gaudreau leaving Calgary in free agency, and then Matthew Tkachuk intimating that he would also be pursuing free agency next summer. In the weeks that followed, Treliving took his two-lemon offering and produced lemonade, trading Tkachuk for a haul, re-signing the key component of that haul in Jonathan Huberdeau, and then signing top free agent Nazem Kadri. In order to make that happen, he had to find a new home for a player who had deteriorated in recent years due to injury.
One man’s lemon is another man’s lemonade.
That’s probably not how the saying goes, but in this situation it works. GM Kent Hughes has his own lemons to address this off-season. He took over a team bound for a last place finish while carrying several mammoth contracts and riding the salary cap ceiling. The task was not enviable – improve the team with no cap space while carrying some contracts that would be very difficult to move, and giant questions concerning Carey Price drifting deep into the off-season.
In recent weeks, Price’s situation became clear enough for Hughes to feel comfortable enough to turn his lemon into lemonade. With Price bound for long term injury reserve (LTIR), Hughes was able to relieve Treliving of a lemon contract, while also obtaining a sweetener. A nifty bit of late off-season business indeed.
Why would Hughes be interested in Sean Monahan?
Some fans – and dare I say, even some pundits if you use the term loosely – were confused by the interest in Monahan. The player is about to turn 28, has a year left on a contract that carries a $6.375M AAV, and is a few seasons away from being a dominant player. Why would a team that needs to clear cap space be adding a cap-heavy player who has been in decline?
The answer is simple – with Price heading to LTIR the cap situation has shifted, and they are able to absorb Monahan into their cap structure. The reason they’d want to do that is, first and foremost, the first round pick the Flames paid to make it happen. Since their installation, Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton (HuGo) have consistently stated their long-term vision for the team – they want to make the Habs a consistent contender, year after year, for years to come. While fans would have loved a 2023 first rounder, gaining one for out years (2024, 2025 or 2026, depending on the conditions) contributes to that vision of long-term contention.
Turning the disappointment of Carey Price’s health situation into a first-round pick is Grade A lemonade production.
What will they do with Monahan?
If Monahan can stay healthy for the first time in years, he can contribute. Another 80-point season is a reach, but perhaps he can be that veteran centre to support Nick Suzuki that Hughes said he wanted to add this off-season.
In the worst-case scenario, Monahan is unable to return and contribute. The Habs let the contract expire next summer and they still have that first rounder to look forward to. Lemonade.
Perhaps Monahan plays well enough that he becomes attractive at the trade deadline, and the Habs obtain another asset for him. In the meanwhile, he’s taken some pressure off the kids for one season. Lemonade.
In another scenario, Monahan is healthy and able to contribute enough that the Habs see him being a strong placeholder while the kids develop, so they re-sign him to another contract. That scenario is only on the table if it improves the Montreal Canadiens, and if another team doesn’t make a deadline offer Hughes can’t refuse. Lemonade.
But don’t the Habs have too many centremen now?
Nonsense. There is no such thing as too many centremen. When you have the luxury to play a centre on the wing, that’s a strength to your forward group. If Stamkos and Draisaitl can play wing when it works for the team, so can any of these guys the Habs have available up the middle. One model I have always advocated is to play a veteran centre on a line with a young centre. Nick Suzuki and Kirby Dach may each benefit from Monahan playing on their left wing. He could sure help either of them in the face-off circle.
I will concede what Jeff Gorton did in a recent interview – the Habs have too many forwards on their current roster, with some kids knocking on the door for a look-in. I don’t believe Hughes is done. I do expect a forward or two to be moved before the season opens, but perhaps not until teams see what they’ve got in training camp.
The Montreal Canadiens have been a lemon, but they’re becoming lemonade.
It’s been just seven months since Jeff Gorton hired Kent Hughes, having been hired himself less than two months earlier. They were handed a lemon, but what they have accomplished in a short time is remarkable. First round picks were acquired for Tyler Toffoli, then Ben Chiarot, then Alexander Romanov, and now for future considerations because they were able to relieve the Flames of the Monahan contract. Never mind the former first round picks and other assets that were acquired, or the tough contracts that were moved in that time.
This deal was another stroke of genius by Kent Hughes, regardless of what becomes of Sean Monahan in the next few months. We would be wise to consider that Monahan is a player with plenty to prove, a young man still, whose career has been hindered by injuries, but who is finally feeling healthy again.
The first rounder alone is a tall, cold drink of lemonade, but Canadiens fans might be drinking deeper from that glass than initially anticipated if Monahan can return to form.