“Can you think of Sean Monahan type fits for Winnipeg beyond Sean Monahan?”
It’s a question I’ve asked agents several times in the past two weeks — in person and via text. I’d been told that the Jets had adored Monahan for many years, I’d worked through his most obvious strengths and it seemed clear that he met the template for a Jets acquisition this season: Big, strong, great at faceoffs, plenty of vision and point production that could help Winnipeg on the power play or on its secondary scoring line.
People would talk about the usual suspects — Elias Lindholm or Adam Henrique — or try to go off the board to honour Winnipeg’s history of finding surprisingly good fits. Sometimes, though, the play is to walk through the front door. With Lindholm traded to Vancouver earlier this week, Winnipeg decided it needed to step up now, well in advance of the March 8 trade deadline, and deal a first-round pick it initially didn’t want to part with. Trade talks with Montreal intensified Thursday morning, with an agreement in place by nightfall. Then, following a review of Monahan’s medical information, Kevin Cheveldayoff made it final: Winnipeg acquired Monahan for the Jets’ first-round pick in the 2024 draft. There is also a conditional third-round pick in 2027 headed to Montreal if the Jets win the Stanley Cup this season.
“It can be a game of chicken,” Cheveldayoff said about committing to give up a first-round pick. “But you also have to weigh the alternatives, weigh the options and weigh the fit. When the fit is right, when you believe this is the best option for you, you have to make those tough calls.”
Monahan was the player that the Jets wanted, at a $1.985 million cap hit they could afford. They’re on pace to reach deadline day with approximately $3.3 million in cap space (although they’ll likely protect $850,000 of that to make room for Cole Perfetti’s bonuses), so this early acquisition doesn’t mean the Jets are done adding. If anything, the Jets’ willingness to spend that first-round pick is an indication that they’re all-in on attempting a Cup run. This is the best Jets team since 2018 and Winnipeg is determined to make a longer playoff run than the five games they got one year ago.
So why are the Jets betting on Monahan? How will Rick Bowness use him? Let’s dig into Cheveldayoff’s comments, analytics, video and Winnipeg’s season to date to project Monahan’s fit.
‘Exactly what you want in a pro’
Winnipeg’s forward lineup has two known quantities. Mark Scheifele is the No. 1 centre, likely to enjoy the offensive excellence of Kyle Connor and Gabriel Vilardi on his wings once everybody is healthy. Adam Lowry is the No. 2 centre, owing in part to Rick Bowness’ love of a matchup line that can handle any competition. Nino Niederreiter and Mason Appleton are his go-to wingers.
The Jets tend to run their second scoring line (most recently, Perfetti, Nikolaj Ehlers and Vladislav Namestnikov) third off the bench in regular rotation and third again after TV timeouts. When penalties create chaos in the line rotation, Ehlers, Perfetti and Namestnikov tend to see their shift count drop. That’s fine for an average team, but make no mistake: Winnipeg’s goal is to be much more successful than that this season. A Cup-contending team needs three lines — minimum — that it can count on. Monahan’s biggest impact at five-on-five is that he immediately makes the Perfetti/Ehlers duo more viable in their coach’s eyes.
“You watch him in Montreal and he would come back to the bench and he’d be talking to Cole Caufield or he’d be talking to (Juraj) Slafkovský,” Cheveldayoff said. “You would see that kind of mentorship that he had: quiet leadership on the bench. That’s exactly what you want in a pro.”
Monahan is seen as a cultural fit. He’s also terrific at faceoffs, particularly on the left side, and Lowry can’t take every draw. Every faceoff that Bowness entrusts to Monahan is one more shift for Ehlers — as dangerous of a “secondary” scoring option as there is in the NHL.
Thus his acquisition is a gift to the coaching staff and also to Ehlers and Perfetti. We’ve seen how ripple effects work in Winnipeg this season: One line’s great defensive shift helps the next maintain good numbers. One heavy, hard forechecking shift helps the next one score goals. Monahan’s arrival cements the Jets’ top nine as a matchup problem for all but the deepest opponents.
Now let’s talk about that vision.
Monahan is not a dominant 200-foot player. What he is, in the best moments, is a player with eyes on the back of his head. He played the bumper role on Montreal’s power play, moving his feet to create lanes and making quick decisions with the puck to tee up his teammates. He’s up to 10 power-play assists so far this season and is on pace for a career high. Plays like this are a big part of why:
— BradTheMTLHabsFan🇨🇦 (@bradlightning1) January 28, 2024
It’s easy to imagine a power play with Scheifele on the half-wall, Monahan in the middle of the ice, Vilardi down low, Connor shooting from his off wing on the right side and Josh Morrissey at the point. This would allow the Jets a second unit featuring Perfetti, Ehlers, Niederreiter and two defencemen, along with the option of playing Lowry’s line on the first five-on-five shift with the other team’s top players back on the ice after every Jets power play. Again, it’s about ripple effects: every shift can have an impact on the one that comes after it. Monahan’s power play impact is a known quantity; if he can help the Jets on that front, it will be even more impactful than his faceoff work.
‘You weigh the risk/reward’
Monahan’s biggest weakness is his defensive impact. Even in his best offensive years in Calgary, back when Monahan scored 363 points before his 24th birthday, teams were generally able to create scoring chances against his line, too. This is why it’s important to be realistic in naming what Winnipeg just acquired: I don’t think the Jets picked up a stalwart “second-line” centre. I think it would be more fair to call Monahan a “middle-six” or third-line centre while Lowry gets the bulk of the defensive matchups.
Given his probable linemates and role, though, I think Monahan is in a much better position to out-chance and outscore his minutes in a secondary scoring role in Winnipeg than he was in Montreal. Defensive impact tends to be more about context than raw offensive ability. Monahan not going to step in and star in a shutdown capacity; he’s going to go into a role more suited to his ability on a team that’s set up to spend less time in its own zone. And, if he gets Ehlers as a linemate, I think a player of Monahan’s vision will figure out how to exploit Ehlers’ speed to create entries and transition offence.
The biggest concern is Monahan’s injury history. He’s had two hip surgeries. He broke his foot and played through it last season, then tore his groin and had surgery on that, too. He may be nursing an injury now, as he took treatment instead of practising in Montreal on a few recent occasions. The Jets were clearly satisfied by the medical reports that they got.
“You ask as many questions as you can,” said Cheveldayoff. “You get as much knowledge as you can and then you weigh the risk-reward and then, if you choose to go for it, you go for it.”
Monahan is not a home run swing. He’s a likely fit. As long as we keep our expectations in check regarding point totals, it’s easy to see how Monahan fits Winnipeg’s two biggest needs: secondary scoring, particularly on the power play, and faceoff help in high-leverage situations. Note that contract negotiations on a potential extension have not begun — Monahan is scheduled to become a free agent this summer — as Cheveldayoff keeps his to-do list focused on continuing to improve the Jets in the short term.
Finally, a numbers note: Monahan wore No. 91 for two seasons in Montreal. Bob Gainey’s No. 23 was retired, meaning Monahan had to pick something new. I understand that Monahan will go back to No. 23 in Winnipeg, leaving Perfetti with 91.
(Photo of Sean Monahan and Adam Lowry: Jonathan Kozub / NHLI via Getty Images)