Pat Hickey: Canadiens would be smart to sign Sean Monahan long-term

Veteran centre has stayed healthy so far this season and his size, scoring and faceoff skills have been a huge plus for Montreal.

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Who would you rather have in the Canadiens’ lineup for the next three or four years: Sean Monahan or Sacha Boisvert?

Or maybe E.J. Emery? Or Cole Hutson?

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That’s the question the Canadiens’ brain trust must answer between now and the NHL trade deadline on March 8.

When the Canadiens signed Monahan to a one-year, US$1.985-million contract this summer, it was assumed he would have an opportunity to prove that he’s healthy and, if he were productive, Montreal could flip him to a contender for a draft choice.

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So far this season, Monahan has been healthy and productive and that is why he could be a valuable commodity at the deadline, but it also a reason why the Canadiens should give serious consideration to handing him a contract extension.

If they trade him, it will be to a team that either has a playoff spot locked up or is close to one. If they receive a first-round pick in return, it will be in the bottom half of the round and you don’t need advanced analytics to know such a player would probably be three to four years from making his NHL debut. That player also would be unlikely to reach the level of Monahan, who was an elite centre before he experienced hip problems.

This is not to disparage Trois-Rivières native Boisvert, Emery or Hutson — who is Canadiens defence prospect Lane Hutson’s little, but slightly taller, brother — but all three or them will be spending the foreseeable future on U.S. college campuses, while Monahan could be contributing to the rebuild.

Monahan posted seven consecutive 20-goal seasons, including three seasons with 30-plus goals.

He’s on similar pace this season with six goals and seven assists in 19 games and his versatility is reflected in his three power-play goals and two short-handed efforts. He has several of the assets the Canadiens have been missing at centre in recent years. He has size at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds and he is the team’s most reliable faceoff man with a success rate of 58.1 per cent, which ranks sixth in the NHL.

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The die is cast: Only a quarter of the NHL season is in the books, but the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers can begin printing playoff tickets.

Meanwhile, players in Montreal, Chicago, Edmonton and Ottawa can safely book those non-refundable tickets for travel in late April.

We can say that with some degree of certainty because since the salary cap era began, about 75 per cent of teams that hold a playoff position on U.S. Thanksgiving reach the playoffs. Last season, only three teams outside the top eight in either conference reached the postseason.

There have been some notable exceptions. Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen can tell you about the St. Louis Blues, who were dead-last in the standings as late as New Year’s Day in 2019 but went on to win the Stanley Cup.

The Canadiens are currently within hailing distance of a playoff spot and they are capable of producing excitement if not wins. But inconsistent goaltending and a fresh round of injuries will result in Montreal fans facing the worst possible scenario — a record that isn’t good enough to make the playoffs, but not bad enough to garner a top-five pick in the draft.

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While Canadiens fans have accepted and in some cases embraced the concept of a major rebuild, there will be more disappointment in Ottawa and Edmonton.

The Senators, from new owner Michael Andlauer on down, were expected to challenge for a playoff spot for the first time in seven years, but the team is off to a slow start and the already sluggish attendance is down slightly as everyone waits for a winning team and a new downtown arena.

While Montreal and Ottawa are in various stages of rebuilding, there were high expectations in Edmonton, where the Oilers reached the Western Conference finals two years ago before losing to Stanley Cup champion Colorado.

The Oilers are currently 30th overall and a coaching change hasn’t had the desired effect. The Oilers won two games after Kris Knoblauch replaced Jay Woodcroft, but have now lost three straight.

The offensive production from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl has slipped and folks are suddenly complaining that the two superstars can’t play defence.

The Oilers need goaltending and there are rumours of a deal pending with Montreal. Cayden Primeau and Joel Armia for McDavid sounds fair.

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Parade of champions: There was a great turnout for the Alouettes’ Grey Cup parade following last Sunday’s dramatic win over Winnipeg. Let’s hope the support translates into sold-out crowds next season.

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