Sean Monahan’s future with the Canadiens is overshadowed by a present he cherishes

As the Canadiens suffered their first loss of the season at home to the Dallas Stars on Saturday, it was impossible not to see the contrast between what was happening at the Bell Center and what was happening with the organization’s hopes. elsewhere in the world of hockey.

Filip Mesar scored his second goal of the game in overtime for the Kitchener Rangers, giving him three goals and three assists in two OHL games. Owen Beck scored two goals and added an assist in the first period of a loss to the Mississauga Steelheads, giving him nine points in four periods and 12 points in seven games this season. Lane Hutson scored his first NCAA goal for the Boston University Terriers, while Jayden Struble scored for the Northeastern Huskies. You know what I mean.

Back in Montreal, Arber Xhekaj scored his first NHL goal, Jordan Harris had another great game and the team lost, all positives for the future of the organization.

There are players at the Habs who are clearly part of the future, and others who are clearly not, players who will eventually make way for some of the bright prospects elsewhere and young players who shine in this moment with the big club.

And then there’s Sean Monahan.

On the surface, one could imagine him as the president of the second group, among those players who are not part of the future and who will serve to acquire assets in order to further help this future. General manager Kent Hughes has made it clear he hopes to add a third first-round pick to the 2023 draft by the trade deadline, and Monahan is likely his top candidate, who has scored 30 goals on three occasions. and who hopes to use this season to restore his NHL star status.

Monahan is currently on the Canadiens’ first line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, a position that could help him produce at a level that will make him more attractive to more competitive teams later in the season.

It’s the business side of hockey, and it’s important. But there is also a personal side to hockey, and for Monahan, the opportunity he gets in Montreal is much more important.

« I really like being here, » Monahan said Thursday morning. It’s been fun so far. At the same time, it’s only been four games, but I’m enjoying it. I like organization. The facilities are great. And the guys in the locker room are amazing. »

What’s been even more amazing for Monahan is being able to play the sport he loves without the hip pain that plagued him for three or four years. He had surgery on his left hip in 2021, then had surgery on his right hip last April. He arrived at the Canadiens’ training camp without pain, and that continued for the first two weeks of the season.

(Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

More than anything, the message coach Martin St-Louis wanted Monahan to receive about his time in Montreal was that he learn to love hockey again.

“We talked about the possibility of me starting on the wing and that sort of thing. And then also, just to play freely, Monahan said. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to play hockey, be comfortable and be healthy. And I think I appreciate it a lot more game now that I’m healthy. I used to dread the moment I put on my gear when I wasn’t able to do what I wanted to do. So I really appreciate the game, I have a lot of fun and I love coming to the rink. It was a great change of scenery for me. »

Monahan said that for almost three years he was unable to sleep for more than an hour at a time due to his hip problems. For every hour he slept, he estimates he was awake for half an hour. Every night. During three years.

“I had to sleep on my back with my leg bent, because as soon as I straightened it, the femur went straight into the socket of the hip and got stuck,” Monahan says. So I had to wake up and move. »

And in the midst of this terrible reality, Monahan was supposed to perform well in the NHL. Knowing what he knows now, Monahan would have had surgery on both hips four years ago, as soon as he started feeling discomfort. But that’s not how he’s made, and that’s not how an NHL player is made. The idea that there is a difference between being hurt and being injured permeates all levels of hockey culture.

Paul Byron struggled with debilitating hip pain for years before having surgery and now, after some encouraging moments last season, his career is on the line. Luckily for Monahan, the surgery worked and he is able to perform as he could before this pain took over his life.

« It’s one of those injuries that’s right there, » Monahan said. I mean, you can still do things, but you can’t do them at a high level and you’re still uncomfortable. It’s quite taxing mentally. But that’s behind me now. I do my routines and I feel good.

“That’s how I was brought up. I never complained. You are an athlete, you just want to play. That’s why we do what we do. But, yeah, from a very young age, it’s always been that way, and obviously I learned the hard way. You have to take care of yourself. And I mean, sometimes you have to put yourself first, and usually that’s hard for a lot of athletes to do. »

Given what we’ve seen in Montreal lately, with Byron, with Carey Price taking his knee capabilities to the point of no return, perhaps Monahan’s experience should serve as a lesson to players from across the league. Saturday night we saw Brendan Gallagher crash into the tape hard and leave in considerable pain. He tried to come back for an appearance and had to go back to the locker room a second time. He finally came back for the third period and ended the game.

These players may need to understand that you have to look at things in the longer term.

« Hockey players are a different breed, like most athletes, » Monahan said. But looking at other leagues, like the NBA, you see guys having treatment days and taking games off, things like that. You rarely see that in hockey. I don’t know if we’ll get there one day, but 82 games is a long time. If you have tension somewhere and you keep playing, it usually stays with you all season. I don’t know if there will ever be a change, but you never know. »

Monahan can only hope his current absence of pain is permanent. The Canadian must hope so too.

Since St-Louis took the reins of CH last February, he has been looking for someone, anyone, who could fill the place next to Suzuki and Caufield. Josh Anderson, Mike Hoffman and Gallagher all had auditions and none of them were able to come out on top.

That’s why St. Louis immediately identified Monahan as an option and felt the need to tell him he could start the season on the wing.

“Monny is left-handed,” explained St-Louis. I don’t like having three right-handers or three left-handers on the same line, I feel that we are not as much of a threat on both sides in the offensive zone. Second, he is a professional. He’s a veteran. You know, Suzy is still young, and so is Cole, and I think he brings calmness to this line and some two-way awareness. It’s something I wanted to try earlier, but Suzy didn’t play much at camp and Monny wasn’t really around either. We are able to see that now and we will see where it takes us. »

By « conscience, » St-Louis means that Monahan is able to identify situations where his young linemates decide to focus entirely on creating offense and that he can help mitigate that situation.

“When you play with offensive guys like that, those guys play with some calculated risk,” added St-Louis. And I think as a third man he’s able to protect the more vulnerable side by understanding the kind of risk they just took. I think Monny has a good defensive awareness at this level and that he won’t compromise too much offensively if the other two are already too committed. »

Another thing Monahan can bring to his two linemates is his ability to slow things down on offense, work the puck a bit and keep time in the offensive zone, something St. Louis has asked of any the team to make more often instead of attempting doomed plays that result in the opposing team driving the puck in the other direction.

« He likes to slow down the game, make plays, » Suzuki said. He’s been doing that his whole career, sort of. »

Monahan compared playing with Suzuki to playing with Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary in how they think about the game and how they can create opportunities for their teammates through their vision. When Suzuki was told of the comparison, he smiled.

“It’s not bad, it’s pretty good. I hadn’t seen that, said Suzuki. It’s fun to play with Monny. We still have a few things to sort out, but I think we can be a solid trio. »

Monahan just turned 28. As a prospective unrestricted free agent, his motivation to perform this season should be obvious, as his performances could lead to a contract even more lucrative than the $44.625 million he earned under his current deal. After all, the player the Flames signed after trading Monahan to make way for him, Nazem Kadri, got a seven-year, $49 million contract largely because of an incredibly productive season, an exception in his career. Nothing says Monahan couldn’t cash in the same amount if he shows this season that the healthy version of who he is is the guy who was scoring 30 goals a year before.

But Monahan isn’t worried about that. And he hopes it will work in Montreal. Again, the personal aspect of hockey is more important to him, and for now, his dog is doing well in Westmount.

“I have a dog so it’s tons of walks, I walk a lot around town and go to dog parks. Mine has a few friends now, Monahan said. I went to a few dinners, my parents came, my wife’s parents came, my sister went out. Everyone likes it. It’s a pretty special place to play hockey. »

When Monahan played three seasons of junior hockey with the Ottawa 67’s, he estimates his parents missed three of his games in three years. Although they didn’t attend Saturday’s game, he expects them to be in Montreal often, as they are five hours away.

In short, Monahan looks like someone who would rather stay than leave. But the irony is that the way for him to make that happen would be for him to perform, and that would also be the way for him to make sure he left before the deadline. trades, so that he gives Hughes the opportunity to add that third first-round pick he covets.

But in the end, Monahan doesn’t care about any of that. All he cares about is playing the sport he loves without pain for the first time in years.

Whether or not he’s part of the team’s future doesn’t matter when the present is so sweet.

(Photo: Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports)

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