Decision to keep Sean Monahan made purely for hockey reasons
Flames ownership gave management a green light to decide super rookie’s fate based on his level of play
Dallas — The determination, in a way, is refreshing.
Because it had been made without concern for salary-cap implications, without concern for sliding contracts, without concern for whatever fine print could be dug up.
It had been a hockey call, pure and simple.
As Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster put it, returning Sean Monahan to the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League would have left a “big hole” in his lineup. Think about that.
So the lad stays — and his entry-level contract kicks in, with the blessing of ownership.
“They made it clear, ‘Don’t make what you’d perceive to be a financial decision . . . make a hockey decision,’ ” Feaster said Wednesday evening in the lobby of the team’s downtown hotel in Dallas. “That’s what we did. We’ve seen his skill. We’ve seen his smarts.
“He’s earned this. We don’t decide, players decide. In this case, he made that decision for us, really.”
Monahan, who turned 19 earlier this month, produced nine points in nine appearances, swiftly turning into a go-to presence for the upstart Flames. Meaning nearly everyone in the hockey world had been expecting this outcome.
Nevertheless, Monahan received “100-ish” text messages Wednesday. (First outgoing text? To his mom.)
“Once I got the news, I was pretty excited,” said Monahan, deadpan delivery in place. “It’s been a great day, but nothing really has changed. I’m here to do the same job I’ve been doing.
“There’s still a lot more to come and I still have to prove myself.”
The team had been insistent on one condition — that Monahan be billeted. So he’s out of Jiri Hudler’s house and into the digs of one of the Flames alumni.
“You get him into a family situation,” said Feaster, “and it’s not everyday, all hockey, all the time.”
Asked when the Flames brass made up its mind, Feaster acknowledged that everyone had been impressed with the lad’s first five outings. Looming, though, was this road trip — with the first three engagements against California squads and their high-profile centremen.
“I looked at it,” explained Feaster, “and said, ‘Unless this kid has a train wreck in California, we’re going to recommend that we keep him.’ ”
Swimmingly, Monahan passed tests in Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles. Along the way, comparisons started to stack up for the six-foot-two, 200-pounder.
Could he turn into Ron Francis? Brent Sutter? Anze Kopitar?
“I don’t know who I would want to project him to be,” said Feaster. “But I know who he reminds me of in terms of his maturity, the way he carries himself, the seriousness, the studiousness . . . Brad Richards in Tampa. Brad was a real student of the game. He worked hard. He was a consummate pro. This guy reminds me of Brad in so many ways.”
After Tuesday’s game in Phoenix — the ninth and potentially final appearance of Monahan’s NHL season — Feaster told the youngster that they needed to meet the next morning.
Was the rookie given any hint of the decision to come?
“Nope, nope — let him have a sleepless night,” cackled Feaster. “(In the morning) I asked him, ‘If you were the general manager of this hockey team, what would you do with Sean Monahan?’ And he said, ‘I’d keep me.’ ”
Now, with the latest hurdle hopped, Feaster is careful about managing pressure. Monahan is going to endure rough patches, which is both inevitable and natural.
“We have tempered expectations,” said Feaster. “It’s not about, ‘This guy is going to lead us in scoring all year.’ In fact, I told him, ‘I’m going to fight like hell and battle tooth and nail . . . that I’m not looking for you to be the face of the franchise.’ But the things he has to work on — the skating, the keeping up with the speed, winning faceoffs, getting stronger — are all things that we feel our coaches are better suited to help him achieve . . . than to go back and play at the pace of junior.”
Up in the air is Monahan’s involvement with Canada’s entry at the 2014 world junior tourney.
“Philosophically, we believe it’s a very valuable experience,” said Feaster. “We’ll evaluate it when we get to that time period, see where he is. How many minutes a night he’s playing? Where is he in our lineup at that point? And where are we, vis-a-vis, the playoff chase.”
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