NHL trade grades: Sean Monahan nets Canadiens a first-round draft pick from Jets

By Sean Gentille, Shayna Goldman and Dom Luszczyszyn

Winnipeg Jets get: F Sean Monahan

Montreal Canadiens get: 2024 first-round draft pick and conditional 2027 third-round draft pick

Sean Gentille: Nobody should be surprised that Sean Monahan netted the Canadiens a first-round pick. Impressed? Certainly. Surprised? Absolutely not.

We’ve been building to this sort of return on the 29-year-old for a while now. It started in 2022-23, when he put up 17 points in 25 games before a broken foot ended his first season with the Canadiens. It continued into October, when he scored five times (thrice on the power play) in Montreal’s first nine games, and in the months that followed, as he stayed healthy and productive.

And it entered mortal lock territory on Wednesday night, when Elias Lindholm — the best center believed to be on the market — cost Vancouver a well-spent first-round pick, a roster player and a decent prospect. Some team, likely in the West, was going to need to make a counter-move.

This isn’t a loss, necessarily, for Winnipeg and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. Monahan brings size and skill to the Jets’ middle six and gives them another power-play option. Rental centers are valuable at every deadline, and seemingly more so at this one. Did they want to get better or not? The question can be that simple, and for a team that’s looked as good as theirs, the answer can be simple, too. The Jets are one of the best teams in the Western Conference, with a strong five-on-five game and an elite goaltender in the midst of a Vezina-caliber season. They needed a center, so they went out and got one. You play to win the game, as a wise man once said.

Monahan has his flaws, though. That production (35 points in 49 games) is overly reliant on power-play points, and his play-driving numbers (an expected goals percentage of 44.02) are brutal, even when you consider the caliber of his linemates in Montreal. On some level, the Jets are equipped to deal with his defensive issues, and he has more points than any of their centers not named Mark Scheifele. Still, spotty five-on-five play and a brutal injury history give this more than its share of inherent risk. Credit the Jets for doing something, but it’s just as easy to imagine them regretting this one.

As for the Canadiens? No notes. They got a first-rounder from Calgary as a sweetener for taking on Monahan’s contract, stuck with him through last season’s injury and gave him an opportunity to produce at a level that’d net them another first-rounder on the back side if the conditions were right. Thanks in part to the Lindholm trade, they were. That’s prime asset management.

Jets grade: C+
Canadiens grade: A+

Dom Luszczyszyn: The Canadiens deserve all the credit in the world for their Sean Monahan era — a masterclass in asset management.

They bought low, taking advantage of a team desperate to get his money off the books and netting a first-round pick for the trouble. They gave Monahan time to bounce back and recuperate his value, giving him the opportunity and role to go from liability to asset. And then they sold high, striking quickly at his peak value and taking advantage of another desperate team in a weak trade market. They nabbed a first and a conditional third-round pick on top of that. It’s an absolute coup for the Canadiens.

That they got a first and more for Monahan probably says more about how shallow the center market is than the actual player, but Montreal still deserves a lot of kudos for that.

As for the Jets, Monahan is a fine addition to the team’s scoring depth. He’s a decent passer who can help drive offense at five-on-five and add some punch to Winnipeg’s power play. But he does give a lot back the other way with the Canadiens bleeding chances whenever Monahan was on the ice. Only 14 forwards have been on the ice for more expected goals against per 60 minutes this season than Monahan.

If Monahan can keep scoring at a 60-point clip, it’s probably a worthy trade-off that gives Winnipeg some much-needed middle-six oomph. They have the defensive ability to insulate him, too.

The worry is that Monahan’s production this year might be difficult to replicate in Winnipeg, where he will likely have less offensive opportunity. He tended to disappear when he was lower in the lineup during his final years in Calgary, and there’s a possibility that will happen again with the Jets. There’s also the issue of how much his scoring this year is driven by power-play production on Montreal’s top unit — a role he may not receive in Winnipeg.

A first-round pick (and more!) is usually the cost of business for a sure-fire difference-maker at the deadline. The Jets were outbid for one earlier this week and look to be paying the price for Plan B. If this is Winnipeg’s big splash in a peak season for the team, it feels pretty underwhelming.

Winnipeg grade: C-
Montreal grade: A+

Shayna Goldman: This is an excellent bit of business for the Canadiens. Reclamation projects carry some risk because there’s no guarantee a player will bounce back. But Montreal was in a position to take that leap with Monahan ahead of the 2022-23 season. The forward got healthy and was able to pick up the pace with two solid scoring seasons. And now, management capitalized on it. His game has trended up as late, with 11 points over his last seven games heading into the All-Star break, and the timing couldn’t be better with the trade market starting to heat up.

There are only so many available centers to go around for the teams who missed out on Elias Lindholm, so that raises the cost of acquisition for the few remaining centers on the market. That was a huge benefit to Montreal here. The fact that they were able to capitalize sooner than later also was, because it reduced the risk of him getting injured in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. That’s what stopped the team from sending him off for two playoff runs on a contender last year.

A first-rounder plus a conditional third is a great return for Montreal, and it’s even better that the team didn’t have to waste one of its few salary retention slots, either.

The review can’t be as glowing for Winnipeg, though. This is an overpayment on a player with a handful of drawbacks. As much as he’s rebounded in recent seasons, there’s reason to think that may not continue with the Jets. Monahan isn’t going to see the same ice time there that he just did with Montreal, and that could weigh on his production — just look at how his game trended down when his usage did in Calgary at the end.

Maybe management is hoping that it was the injury versus the role that weighed him down between 2020 and 2022. It’s entirely possible, and if that’s the case, Winnipeg just bolstered its secondary scoring. But is that the bet to make with a first-rounder?

Plus, there’s his game on the other end of the ice to consider. Monahan’s teams tend to give up a lot of quality offense in his minutes, and his scoring may not be able to outpace that. The Jets are familiar with having to maximize defensively flawed forwards, but can there be enough sheltered minutes to support all of their forwards who struggle in their own zone? It seems that’s what management is betting on in the Rick Bowness system that’s clicking so well in Winnipeg.

Teams are going to have to overpay for centers this year. But this trade carries so much uncertainty, at such a high cost.

Jets grade: C
Canadiens grade: A+

(Photo of Sean Monahan: Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images)

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