Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, both RFAs, should earn big raises in Calgary. One is worth more than the other, but will they get matching deals?
Johnny Gaudreau is going to get P.A.I.D. as a restricted free agent this off-season. The Calgary Flames would be wise to forget about a bridge contract. He’s established himself as their most dynamic young player since Jarome Iginla first burst on the scene.
Calgary’s front office does have an unusual amount of leverage for a player in Gaudreau’s situation, as he’s exempt from offer sheets. But Gaudreau has earned a good-faith gesture at this point. A contract akin to Vladimir Tarasenko’s eight-year, $60-million pact seems spot-on. Tarasenko was 23 when he signed his extension and had played 179 games, racking up 66 goals and 135 points. ‘Johnny Hockey,’ who turns 23 in August, has 52 goals and 136 points in 153 games. He’s been more productive on a weaker team. Even if the lack of an offer sheet creates a slight discount, we should book him for a Tarasenko-esque deal.
The much tougher contract situation to read this off-season? That of Gaudreau’s centerman and fellow RFA Sean Monahan. Will he cash in as big as Johnny Hockey?
On one hand, Monahan has a few advantages. With three full years of NHL service under his belt to Gaudreau’s two, Monahan is susceptible to an offer sheet. He’s a year younger than Gaudreau, and Monahan plays the more premium position as a 6-foot-3 Western Conference center. Of the top 25 salary cap hits in the NHL right now, 10 belong to centers, five to defensemen, five to right wingers, three to left wingers and two to goalies. Elite pivots, in theory, are the guys supposed to make everyone around them better and shoulder the most responsibility across all 200 feet of the ice surface.
And, a year ago, it appeared Monahan was that guy. He was arguably Calgary’s most important forward. He played roughly two minutes more than Gaudreau per contest. Monahan tied Jiri Hudler with a team-best 31 goals, too, and Monahan was just 20 at the time.
The underlying numbers, though, suggest Gaudreau may have already been the more effective player. Per war-on-ice.com, His 5-on-5 score adjusted Corsi percentage was slightly superior to Monahan’s in 2014-15. Per puckalytics.com, Monahan and Gaudreau posted a 5-on-5 Corsi percentage of 46.8 together, but while Gaudreau held at 46.4 without Monahan, Monahan dipped to 44.7 without Gaudreau, implying Gaudreau was making Monahan better, not the other way around.
This season, Gaudreau’s pure offensive numbers have greatly exceeded Monahan’s. Gaudreau has a 16-point lead on Monahan in the same number of games. Gaudreau has overtaken Monahan in average ice time, topping 20 minutes per game. Gaudreau’s 5-on-5 score-adjusted Corsi is 1.72 percent higher than the team average, whereas Monahan’s is 0.26 percent below average. And the Corsi numbers with and without each other (a stat known as WOWY, or “with or without you,” U2 fans) are even more pronounced this time. Together 5-on-5 this season, they produce a mark of 49.9. Gaudreau without Monahan: 47.2. Monahan without Gaudreau: a hideous 36.2 percent. For perspective, the Colorado Avalanche have the league’s worst 5-on-5 team Corsi this season at 44.1 percent.
Monahan’s offensive numbers flirt with what he did last year, but he has 12 goals and 26 points in 24 games since Feb. 1. By that point, the Flames sat 26th overall in the NHL standings, so Monahan’s scoring binge seemed to start when the games stopped mattering.
Monahan is still, of course, quite a promising young player. He’s outstandingly productive at a young age, and he’s beginning to show more physicality to match that big frame of his. He’s a player you build around. There’s no denying that. It’s just clear Gaudreau is the better player right now. The surface numbers and the underlying analytics show ‘Johnny Hockey’ is Calgary’s true catalyst. Gaudreau deserves more money.
But the guess here is both players end up with the same contract, and that neither gets a bridge deal. It won’t be the easiest financial situation for GM Brad Treliving to sort through. The Flames currently operate close to the cap and, even with their goaltenders coming off the books and the cap likely inflating ever so slightly to $74 million, Calgary has Joe Colborne to re-sign as an RFA, too, and Sam Bennett a year later. Even if the Flames go cheap when they shop for goalies, it will still cost some money, so they’ll likely have to ship out an established veteran or two at another position. Dennis Wideman, no-movement clause by damned, is the standout candidate, though his trade value has likely taken a gash after his nightmarish season. Still, the Flames must and will find a way to lock up Gaudreau and Monahan. The Chicago Blackhawks have made a living off repeatedly dealing away supporting pieces and committing long-term to their most important players. It’s what smart teams do.
Gaudreau has the better numbers, but Monahan’s unique advantages – the threat of an offer sheet, his size, his age and his position – will level the financial playing field. It would not be surprising to see a situation akin to Chicago’s at the end of Jonathan Toews’ and Patrick Kane’s entry-level contracts, in which both players received identical deals.
I’ll say eight years and $60 million for both star Flames. What do you think?
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin