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What We Learned: Flames must ignore temptation, demote Sean Monahan

Ryan Lambert
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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

The Calgary Flames are, improbably enough, sitting in an extremely good position: eight points from their first five games, no regulation losses, and playing a genuinely entertaining and exciting brand of hockey.

Anyone who has watched the team in the last three years knows that any of those three occurrences happening at any given time was a rarity, and certainly given that they sold anyone who was especially good or at least still had trade value last spring, this is an extremely surprising turn of events. The reason for it, of course, is luck. The Flames have failed to lose their first five games in regulation despite having both Joey MacDonald and Kari Ramo posting .897 save percentages, the skaters posting a corsi-for percentage of just 46.7, and their PDO through those five was 108.6, second in the league behind only San Jose.

Nonetheless, the underlying numbers have done nothing to dampen anyone's enthusiasm for the Flames in Calgary, where no team has ever started a season like this. A big part of the reason that's the case is the fact that Sean Monahan, the sixth overall pick in this summer's draft and the center upon whom Jay Feaster is essentially staking his reputation, has been positively electrifying.

Calgary has played five games, and he has points in all of them. His four goals are double what the next-closest players on the team have. His most recent tally was a late and very nice game-winner. He has been in every way a revelation for coach Bob Hartley and his time on ice has gone up steadily as a result, from 11:40 in his first game to 16:31 in his fifth, in a trend that only seems likely to continue, though as you might imagine exactly zero seconds of that has been played on the penalty kill.

As a junior-eligible rookie — he just turned 19 on Saturday — has four games left in his tryout period with the Flames, at which point the team will have to make a decision about whether to keep him up with the big club or send him back to Ottawa of the OHL for another year. Given that he's point-a-game and the rumblings that he's "making it hard" for the Flames to stash him away for another year for a good week at this point, it looks for all the world as though the Flames are going to keep him.

And they absolutely shouldn't.

From a production standpoint it is obviously becoming an increasingly impossible proposition to have the kid bus it around Ontario for another year. However, and not to get too much into a conspiracy theory, but the Flames seem to be working very, very hard to make the case for keeping him up.

His personal underlying numbers (relative corsi of 9.0, fourth on the team) only seem to get better as he's sheltered from tough competition — he's facing the weakest opponents of anyone on the Flames, as you might expect — and beginning just 25 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone, and yet 48.5 percent end there. His shooting percentage is at 30.8, which almost couldn't be more unsustainable.

All those points, all those timely goals, making it pretty easy to ignore all the times he's getting hemmed into his own zone and watching as other teams score around him; not to put too much stock into plus-minus, but of the 16 goals the Flames allowed through five games (which, hoo boy that's a lot), Monahan has been on the ice for six.

But even beyond the hockey-related arguments, there's the business side of things to consider as well. Monahan could score a point a game all season long (he won't) and the team would still finish well out of the playoffs; again, the stats for the whole team are horrifyingly bad and frankly counterproductive to the tanking they're meant to be doing. This is a squad that's going to hit a wall, probably soon, and the result is going to be ugly.

So what, then, is the point of having Monahan around, and burning a year of his entry-level contract, on a team that is going to finish very far out of the playoff picture?

He doesn't make the team better, or at least not better-enough, to justify it. The Flames are, realistically, a good three and maybe even four or five years away from being any good at all, and based on this start might even have a little bit farther too fall before they bottom out entirely. Keeping him just serves to make Monahan more expensive sooner, and there's no reason for it at all.

There's also the argument that playing 16 or so minutes a night in the NHL — which is all you can reasonably expect to be able to give someone if they're only lining up across from the worst other teams have to offer — might not be as good for his game as getting 25-plus in the OHL, where he can kill penalties and still take full two-minute power play shifts if he really wants.

That thing we always hear when guys are traded or sign with other teams is that hockey is a business, and it seems as though Calgary would be wise to keep that in mind when dealing with this seemingly precocious rookie who's doing everything right at this early stage in his career. Even if it were a good short-term hockey decision to keep him in Calgary, in the long run it's a bad business decision that also has a really good chance of becoming an even better hockey decision.

Not that this kind of rationality will ever enter into such a decision. The Flames are trying to sell hope even as they crash out in the standings. Monahan's goal total does that better than prudence and the promise of lottery picks to come. Maybe that's the only good business decision ownership is letting them care about.


What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: It's getting to the point where it feels like you could put literally any NHL player on the wing with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf and get them at least 60 points in a season. The Ducks' injury situation early in the season gives them a chance to try out that theory.

Boston Bruins: Loui Eriksson scored his first goal of the season the night after Tyler Seguin, whom the Bruins traded to get him, went 2-2-4 for the Stars. He says he didn't know about Seguin's performance wink nudge.

Buffalo Sabres: The Blackhawks only scored twice on Saturday night but smothered the Sabres in a 2-1 win. The number of Sabres with more than one point through six games, by the way, is three. The number of Sabres with exactly one point is five. The number of Sabres with zero points is 15. It's gonna be a long year.

Calgary Flames: Speaking of Monahan, look at the feed from Sven Baertschi on Monahan's game-winner from Friday night. Of course the chip along the boards from Monahan in no small way contributes to that play staying alive. The kid really is pretty good in the offensive zone.

Carolina Hurricanes: Jeff Skinner is first on the Hurricanes in scoring, going 1-5-6 in five games. Nathan Gerbe second, Justin Faulk third, Andrej Sekera fourth, Radek Dvorak fifth. Ah, there's Eric Staal, tied for sixth with Jay Harrison and Ryan Murphy. Jordan Staal has as many points as Patrick Dwyer.

Chicago Blackhawks: Say guys I don't know about you but it looks to me like this Jonathan Toews kid is pretty good.

Colorado Avalanche: Congrats to Nathan MacKinnon getting his first NHL goal. Real good job to get into space there.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The reason Nathan Horton walked away from Boston last season had less to do with that zoo and more to do with the fact that the Bruins didn't bother trying to truly negotiate with him until well after the season ended. Horton also didn't like their offer very much.

Dallas Stars: Dallas was outshot 36-19 on Saturday night and the Stars' backup goalie problems don't seem to be going anywhere. Cristopher Nilstorp and Richard Bachman were a combined 3.20/.889 last season, and Dan Ellis is currently 4.24/.898. Kari Lehtonen, by the way, missed the game with a "lower body injury." If he's out for any amount of time there's gonna be a serious issue.

Detroit Red Wings: Apparently pummeling the Flyers 5-2 wasn't good enough for Mike Babcock. I guess three of those five goals coming on the power play didn't really do a lot to encourage him about the team's even-strength play.

Edmonton Oilers: "What has happened to Devan Dubnyk?" This is a great question: kid's save percentage this season is .829. I'm gonna type that out so you don't think it's a typo: Eight-twenty-nine. That's a full 92 (ninety-two) points lower than last year's .921.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers are bad this season but Kevin Dineen doesn't want to blame the schedule, which gave the team a four-game road trip at the beginning of the year, and their home opener was their third game in four days. Don't blame the schedule, but do feel free to blame the really not very good roster.

Los Angeles Kings: Jake Muzzin is a minus-5 so far this season, and that's with his having been a healthy scratch for two straight games. Oof.

Minnesota Wild: Matt Dumba and Justin Fontaine both scored the first NHL goals of their careers on Saturday night so I can't show both of them. Fontaine's was nicer, though, and 12 seconds into the game. Not that Dumba's was bad or anything.

Montreal Canadiens: Big night for Carey Price in his home province, stopping 39 of 40 against the Canucks, and now he's up to 2.27/.929. He's looked very, very good this season. The Olympics await.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: A thousand bald eagles weep tears of joy.

New Jersey Devils: Did you know 0-2-3 is the worst start in Devils history? I don't know why that surprised me but it did.

New York Islanders: Barry Trotz said the Islanders are "one of the best teams in the league." Someone tell their corsi percentage, cuz it's 28th.

New York Rangers: Listen to some of these stats on the Rangers: Outscored 16-4 at even strength, 1.8 goals per game, 5.0 goals against. That's genuinely and amazingly awful.

Ottawa Senators: I'm not trying to tell the Senators how to play hockey here but giving the San Jose Sharks four power plays in the third period of a tied game really seems counterproductive.

Philadelphia Flyers: Scott Hartnell felt a "stabbing pain" as he received a pass and was originally supposed to miss a week. Then they gave him an MRI. Now it's as much as a month. Vinny Lecavalier is also out for a week. Fun time to be a Flyer.

Phoenix Coyotes: Later today, we're going to find out if Jeff Halpern gets claimed off waivers, or if he does actually play with Phoenix.

Pittsburgh Penguins: I dunno guys I think this Sid Crosby kid's pretty good but maybe that's just me. Look at that release on the last goal. Oh boy.

San Jose Sharks: Saturday night was the Sharks' narrowest margin of victory this season, only 3-2 over Ottawa. It was also considered their weakest performance overall. And they outshot the competition 50-23. Shot attempts were 87-48. That just doesn't seem fair.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues are 4-0 for the first time in franchise history. This, too, surprised me.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The MRSA outbreak that has everyone in the NFL so scared of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is also of particular concern to the Lightning's medical staff. Do you know how hard it is to scrape pus off the ice?

Toronto Maple Leafs: This is the team Randy Carlyle asked for: "My teeth are going to be ground down by the 20-game mark if we keep playing the way we did tonight, as far as exchanging chances and mistakes. But hey, that's hockey and it's early in the season. I'm sure we're going to see a few more like this along the way. We're just fortunate we're on the extra point side of it." For how much longer, though, Randy?

Vancouver Canucks: Really strong finishing around the net by Dan Hamhuis. John Tortorella thinks someone's gotta sell out to get in front of that.

Washington Capitals: The Caps are 1-4 and terrible and everyone's acting all surprised for some reason.

Winnipeg Jets: "Skate 'em till they puke," or have them watch video of Jets games and get the same result. Wonder if Ed Tait still thinks the problem isn't Ondrej Pavelec.

Play of the Weekend

Seriously though how does Nazem Kadri squeeze this shot into that part of the net from that angle with a guy in his face?



Gold Star Award

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Alex Chiasson can't stop scoring for Dallas. Three more points this weekend, running his total to 3-2-5 on the season, and 9-3-12 for his career. In 11 games.

Minus of the Weekend

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The college hockey season started this weekend and No. 1 UMass Lowell hosted No. 59 (with a bullet) Sacred Heart. Lowell went to the Frozen Four in April and Sacred Heart won two games all last season. Sacred Heart won 2-1. I don't get it either.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "Nail Yakupov" is apparently trying to improve his team or something? But like the real Nail Yakupov, he might need a healthy scratch to figure it out.

To Edmonton:
Milan Lucic
2nd round 2014

To Boston:
Taylor Hall

So much "Both sides say no" in this thread. Milan Lucic for Taylor Hall and the Bruins say no? Oh my god I hate hockey so much.

Signoff

If you want a role model, choose an old guy. By the time you're grown up they're dead.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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