December 3, 2022
With Christmas approaching, Habs fans have their eyes on the gift that keeps on giving – Sean Monahan.
Monahan was acquired from the Calgary Flames in a deal that has been lauded as a stroke of genius by GM Kent Hughes. The Flames were desperate to sign free agent Nazem Kadri and needed the cap space to do it, so they were willing to deal Monahan and a first round pick to Montreal for future considerations.
When acquired, it was assumed that Hughes would flip Monahan at the trade deadline for another asset. Even in those early days, Renaud Lavoie reported that the Canadiens may consider extending Monahan if the fit was there. With just a quarter of the season done, it’s fairly obvious that the fit has been there. In 23 games Monahan has 5 goals and 11 assists, which both increases his value on the trade market and his appeal to Habs management.
On Thursday night Montreal was in Calgary to face the Flames, and Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun raised some eyebrows when he reported that while the Habs were most likely to move Monahan at the deadline, the management group was considering whether they should extend him.
Fans are divided about what the Montreal Canadiens should do with Sean Monahan. There are three options, and several considerations to keep in mind for each.
Option 1 – Sign Monahan to a Contract Extension
Monahan has played well and he’s fit in. His former coach Darryl Sutter, not known for throwing around compliments, described him as a captain. Monahan is still an effective middle six centre and is a fantastic mentor for some of the young players coming up. There are many reasons to keep him around.
One giant hiccup is whether Monahan even wants to stay. Approaching free agency, why wouldn’t he want to keep his doors open? Why wouldn’t he be interested in a deadline deal and a chance to compete for a Stanley Cup?
Even if Monahan was open to an extension, questions need to be asked – questions about Monahan’s health and the term and dollars he would be seeking. Do those things make sense for the Habs vision of an extended contention period?
A contract extension only makes sense if a lot of things line up. In addition to Monahan’s health and contract specifications, an extension would almost certainly mean the Habs will have moved Christian Dvorak for value, and that they have received another offer to land the additional first rounder that Hughes covets for the upcoming deep draft.
An extension would also raise questions about their interest in Pierre-Luc Dubois, who will be a free agent in a year and has expressed interest in playing for the Canadiens. Another consideration is where the Habs wind up in the draft order, and the players that become available to them. Would keeping Monahan close other doors?
Option 2 – Flip Monahan at the Deadline for an Asset
The easiest thing for the Canadiens to do is to sell Monahan to the highest bidder. They can’t lose with this option since they already have a first round pick and several months of service for free. Whatever the return, they have already won. The more likely outcome is an even bigger win as teams line up for his services come February.
Option 3 – Flip Monahan at the Deadline and Sign Him as a Free Agent
The third option is a hybrid of the first two. Can the Habs have their cake and eat it too? Perhaps. Certainly, they can deal him at the deadline for full value, and send him off with a message that he is welcome back in free agency. But this is an option with two caveats.
The first caveat holds the same considerations as the first option. Monahan has to want to return to Montreal, the contract must have the right term and value, and he would have to fit in the bigger picture of what the Habs are doing. One bonus of this option is that by the time free agency opens, Hughes will have better insight into how the big picture is shaping up.
The second caveat is that once Monahan is released, there is no guarantee that he would be as available to the Habs for a longish-term contract as he is now. Hughes would be competing with other GMs for Monahan’s services, and that guarantees a price hike. There is not a lot of precedence for players being traded at the deadline, and then signing with the team that traded them when free agency opens.
The good news is that the Montreal Canadiens do not need to make a decision today. The trade deadline is March 3rd, leaving another three months for HuGo to assess whether Monahan is a player they want to keep, while they gather trade proposals from teams who covet his services to compete for a Stanley Cup.
As I wrote at the time of the trade, if Sean Monahan were a beverage he’d be lemonade.