Flames appear close to making struggling Monahan a healthy scratch

The green practice jersey that separated Sean Monahan from all but one other player was a pretty significant hint.

The lengthy post-practice chat with associate coach Kirk Muller added to the intrigue.

Days after the deadline acquisition of another depth centre, there were plenty of signs that Monahan is likely to be a healthy scratch for the first time this season.

It’s definitely coming.

And it’s warranted.

Not as a punishment or sign that his days as a regular fixture in the lineup are necessarily over.

No one questions his heart, passion or leadership.

But the Calgary Flames need more from him, and with the arrival of Ryan Carpenter at Thursday’s skate, it’s obvious this team has yet another viable option.

As good as the Calgary Flames have been this season, the elephant in the room is Monahan, one of the only players on a surging squad whose stock is diminishing.

“Not the season that probably he would like to have,” said assistant coach Ryan Huska when asked to describe the season the former 30-goal scorer is having.

“He used to score goals. That’s what he’s done from the time he’s been here.

But what he has done is commit to playing a role for our team that he’s been asked to play right from the beginning of the year.

“He’s been challenged in different ways, from missing some power-play time and taken off of power-play time. He’s seen shifts with different lines up and down our lineup.

“But that’s what we need, is for people to accept different roles for us to have success.

“That’s what Sean is doing right now. He’s bought into what he’s being asked. He’s been a good soldier in that.”

Sure, full marks for the effort.

But it’s not working.

On a team sitting third in the league with a plus-65 goal differential, Monahan is a team-low minus-16.

Every member on the top line Monahan used to anchor is plus-38 or better.

After eclipsing the 20-goal mark his first seven seasons in the NHL, the 27-year-old scored just 10 times last season after being separated from Johnny Gaudreau and suffering through the bulk of the year with a hip injury that required surgery.

He said at the start of this season he had plenty to prove.

Alas, things have gotten worse.

His struggles this year have seen him drop to strict fourth-line duties that no longer include power-play assignments, leaving him with just eight goals to sit 10th in team scoring.

Only three have come at even strength and just one has come in the last 26 games.

His current shooting percentage is half of his career-average of 14 per cent, and he’s been logging between 11 and 12 minutes a night of late.

The transition from being a finisher, to becoming a shut-down, energy-providing defender, has not gone smoothly.

It’s a stunning fall from grace for the alternate captain, whose $6.375 million contract may very well be bought out this summer if he’s unable to turn things around in the playoffs.

Popular in the dressing room and forthright with the media, the litany of injuries and post-season surgeries appear to have compromised his abilities and tested his confidence.

And so, as early as Friday night against Arizona, he may find himself out of the lineup.

If not then, perhaps Saturday against Edmonton.

“I wouldn’t read anything into our lines or lineup from today,” warned Huska, following a skate in which Carpenter centered Milan Lucic and Brett Ritchie, while Monahan and Trevor Lewis were the odd men out.

“You’ve seen that over the course of the year that we change things around fairly significantly. I never said he was going to be a healthy scratch.”

Fair enough, but the writing is on the wall, especially given how deep and versatile the Flames roster is.

“It’s competition and I think that is a beautiful thing,” said Huska of the options his team has.

“This is the way it works now for us in the NHL, where it maybe hadn’t in the past. Part of us changing our culture is there’s accountability with regards to how we need each individual to play.”

Asked how a player can avoid or learn from being a scratch, Huska said, “the one thing is you have to do something different to not put yourself in that position.”

On a team that counts on rolling four lines, if there’s one thing the coach needs most from his fourth line it’s having confidence the trio is not a defensive liability.

Hours after the Flames lost Brad Richardson on waivers Monday, Carpenter was acquired from Chicago to shore up the position.

Surely he’ll get a chance to show his worth right away.

“He’s known now for his defensive starts and how he plays in his own zone,” said Huska of the 31-year-old, who earned cred through a run to the Stanley Cup Final with Vegas.

“He understands the competitive side of being a guy that is maybe used in the lower part of the lineup. He’s a penalty killer so he has a really good mind for the defensive side of the game, which is something we’re excited about.”

As he continues trying to modify his game, Monahan could learn plenty from Carpenter.

He may soon have to do so from a seat in the press box.

Leave a Reply