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How Can Sean Monahan Help The Winnipeg Jets?

Oct 28, 2023; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele (55) plays the puck against Montreal Canadiens center Sean Monahan (91) during the first period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

I had what was destined to be a great article almost completed about the choices the Winnipeg Jets had as they approached the trade deadline, but Kevin Cheveldayoff pulled the rug out from under me by making a move early. Since my review was mainly about adding another center to the lineup, there is no point in publishing it as is, but I will give myself a pat on the back for correctly predicting what Chevy would do to get a new pivot.

With the news coming on Friday that the Winnipeg Jets traded a 2024 1st rounder and a conditional 3rd rounder to the Montreal Canadiens for Sean Monahan, the reactions from fans and media has been pouring in. The professional experts have for the most part fallen into the “pricey, but good add” category, while the fans opinions have varied much more. Surfing the net, I discovered that the members at CapFriendly voted for the winner of the transaction as follows: Montreal 88 votes, Fair Deal 46 votes, and Winnipeg 10 votes. On various fan sites, there were the “Winnipeg got fleeced” takes, but those were countered by the “solid but not great addition at a reasonable deadline price” arguments.

In my opinion, a lot of the praise the Habs are getting is due to the franchise picking up two 1st round draft picks thanks to Monahan. I am 100% in agreement that it was a nice piece of GMing by Kent Hughes, but you have to remember that it was the Calgary Flames who paid the Canadiens to take the oft-injured center off their hands. A lot of NHL fans seemed to balk at the price of a 1st rounder, with some of them suggesting that just because a team once paid to get rid of Monahan that his value could never be that high. Others argued that the loss of a 1st round selection was too much to give up for a non-dominant forward. I did notice that this reaction often came from fans of teams like the Oilers, Avalanche, Bruins, and Maple Leafs….all franchises with sparsely filled prospect cupboards. While Winnipeg has plenty of quality prospects in their pool (Rutger McGroarty, Colby Barlow, Brad Lambert, Elias Salomonsson) and they were unlikely to fill their biggest need (a game changing defenseman, preferably a right hander) with a selection likely to end up in the 20th to 32nd range. Especially when you consider Winnipeg still has what should be an early 2nd round selection (depending on where Montreal ends up).

When we get to the Jets’ fans, there seemed to be very few negative takes other than regretting the loss of a first rounder…even our favourite grump ForgetTeemu had this thought “I’ve been reading more about Monahan and the trade looks better than I first thought. Could end up being quite a useful add. Hopefully it works out and the rest of the team gets back on track.

While I would have preferred to give up a 2nd rounder, I am happy that Chevy added to the team while keeping all his key prospects for the future. One of the best aspects of the deal for Winnipeg is the timing of the move. By pulling the deal off early, Monahan will have 35 regular season games to learn the system and build the necessary chemistry with his new linemates. That is a huge advantage over the approximately 20 games a deadline deal normally nets. Our cautious GM has dealt first rounders in 3 of 5 “buyer” situations and we all hope that his latest will turn out more like the Paul Stastny transaction and not like the Kevin Hayes move.

After the initial reactions to Winnipeg’s trade were noted, I opted to do a deeper dive into Sean Monahan’s 2023-24 NHL season to see how he can help the Jets in their quest for a Cup (will anyone regret that extra 3rd rounder we have to cough up if we lift Lord Stanley’s Cup this season?). The center has averaged 18:27 of ice time (13:45 even strength, 3:30 PP, 1:10 PK) with the Canadiens this season and here’s how his regular & advanced stats look (courtesy of MoneyPuck):

Breaking down those numbers a bit, Monahan’s 35 points puts him tied with Nikolaj Ehlers for 2nd on the Jets, his 13 goals places him in 5th, and his 14 primary assists is good for a tie with Josh Morrissey for 2nd. However, his 30.1% share of ice-time would give him the 3rd most playing time with Winnipeg forwards, but he is unlikely to see that much ice post-trade. Sean’s advanced stats aren’t in the upper echelon for Jets’ forwards, but that is hardly surprising coming from a youthful Canadiens franchise. As I’ve seen with the Manitoba Moose this season, a bevy of talented young players doesn’t typically result in a large win total. That being said, we can take solace from the fact that he has positive numbers while playing for a Habs’ team with a -39 goal differential.

Before Winnipeg made the move on Friday, it was pretty much agreed that the Jets needed to add to their center depth, get someone who could win face-offs, play well defensively, and help with scoring at regular strength & on the powerplay. Chevy needed to do all that without altering team chemistry or giving up key prospects. So let’s see how the acquisition of Sean Monahan checks those boxes……

Things start off good with Monahan being a center who can win face-offs consistently, as shown by his 55% win rate in 2023-24, so that checks the first two boxes. To see how that compares to the current Winnipeg centers, check out the table below.

When it comes to the defensive aspect of the game, Monahan will never be confused with a Selke candidate, but he doesn’t disappear without the puck either. The center isn’t a big bodychecker (11 hits on the year), but he is very effective on the forecheck. The new addition is only 2nd in the NHL to Auston Matthews with 72 stick checks in the offensive zone, has the 7th most defensive plays in the offensive zone (103), and has won 114 puck battles this year. Sean has broken even in penalties taken/given and turnovers/takeaways, but the Canadiens were able to score 10 more goals than they allowed with him on the ice (now might be a good time to remember that -39 team goal differential for Montreal). Overall, I think Monahan will fit in enough defensively, especially when you consider the role he will be asked to play at 5 on 5 (will expand on this later), so let’s give Chevy another check.

When it comes to scoring, I don’t think there is any doubt that our new center can do his part since his point totals put him close to the top of Winnipeg’s forwards. Monahan also possesses a 12.5 shooting percentage this season (7th for Jets’ forwards) and he misses the net on 28.3% of unblocked shots (8th for forwards), so he isn’t exactly a sniper either but he hits the net more than his new linemate Ehlers (31.1%). I did like to see that Sean has 11 goals from the inner slot this year, so that means he is able to find space in the high scoring areas of the ice. Check out where Monahan has taken his shots and scored his goals from this season in the images below (courtesy of MoneyPuck).

Shots at 5 on 5

Goals (all situations)

Moving on to look at how Monahan will impact Winnipeg’s man-advantage units, the fact that a good chunk of his points came with the extra skater is probably a good sign. I’m not sure if he will continue to get 65.2% of PP ice-time with the Jets, but it might be worth it for Rick Bowness to give it some thought. The center’s face-off percentage improves to 68.3% on the PP, which should allow Winnipeg to start with the puck more often and ease the demand on Adam Lowry’s services in that area. The image below displays where Sean has gotten his scoring chances with Montreal’s powerplay.

When it comes to team chemistry, based on the quote below, it doesn’t sound like Chevy has any concerns about Monahan.

One of the things that was really impressive about him when I was talking to the coaches, and the coaches were doing their due diligence in watching some extra film, was how he interacted with the young players,” said Cheveldayoff. “You watched him in Montreal and how he’d come back to the bench and he’d be talking with Cole Caufield or he’d be talking to Juraj Slafkovský and you’d see that kind of mentorship, that quiet leadership on the bench. That’s exactly what you want in a pro.

Since Winnipeg didn’t lose any key prospects in the move, I think that wraps up our check list and from my point of view, the Jets’ GM probably made the best move out of the available options. Cheveldayoff continues to try to straddle that fence separating making a serious Cup run and the long-term health of the franchise. Considering the market is in no mood for a rebuild anytime soon, it’s probably the correct approach.

I will try to provide insight from a person other than myself when I quote Sportsnet’s Jason Bukala and provide his thoughts on what Monahan is bringing to the Winnipeg Jets.

“Monahan isn’t a burner in open ice and he isn’t a dynamic transition threat offensively. He’s most dangerous from the hash marks down in the offensive zone. Monahan has fantastic puck touch and a quick catch and release. He’s always leaned shooter more than distributor.
Defensively, Monahan doesn’t cut corners or cheat his responsibilities. The Jets’ coaching staff are getting a player who they can trust in all defensive scenarios.

In the end, I will applaud the front office’s move because the transaction should impact all the desired areas to some degree without swinging for the fences. As you all know, I believe that Brad Lambert is primed to take a center spot with the Jets next season, so happy that this deal is something I can live with as a pure rental. Personally, I don’t think Winnipeg is “one player away” from the Cup so appreciate the more conservative choice, but I do think their defensive strategy and goaltending should allow them a chance to win any playoff series they are in. Despite Monahan’s addition making two lines better, I still think Bowness & company will continue to ride the Lowry line against top six opponents, so believe the lineup below will be an accurate reflection of ice-time. That being said, I hope Ehlers & Cole Perfetti gel quickly with their new center and allow the staff to even out the ice the top 3 units see a bit more. With the potential 4th line capable of handling 10 minutes a night, Bones will have to find the right mix for the Mark Scheifele, Monahan, and Lowry lines with the remaining 50.

I’m not sure that the Winnipeg Jets are done making moves, but I would bet that there won’t be any more additions to the forward units. Can Chevy pry someone like Anaheim’s Ilya Lyubushkin or Chicago’s Nikita Zaitsev from their GMs to strengthen the right side of the defense? CapFriendly is projecting the Jets to have $3.278M in space by March 8th, so there is no need for Winnipeg to sit on their hands if an opportunity arises.

I know a lot of you shared your thoughts on the initial trade article, but would enjoy hearing whether any of the stats I just threw at you altered your opinion. If you were grading the pick, would Chevy get a passing grade (i.e. C) or did he do better/worse?

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