Monahan The Man: Is the Calder Trophy the Greatest Award in Sports?

There were rumours – weren’t there? – that the Vancouver Canucks could have moved up that No. 9 draft pick they swapped for goaltender Cory Schneider. Both Calgary and Edmonton were rumoured to be interested – right? – and either of Alberta’s semi-sad sack teams would have netted the Canucks the 6th or 7th overall pick.

Instead, Cory’s a Devil. The Flames took Sean Monahan at six. The Oilers grabbed Darnell Nurse at seven. Monahan has six goals in nine games and, with the way Calgary’s playing (in my own superior opinion), should be considered the frontrunner for this year’s Calder Trophy.

On Wednesday, the Flames announced that Monahan is staying with the big club for the remainder of the season– barring injury, trade (yeah, right), or benching. Rookies are only allowed to play nine NHL games before their three-year entry-level contract kicks in, and many teams – the Oilers with Nurse included – have opted to send their potential young stars back to junior or the AHL for another year of conditioning, prep, and cheap labour.

Monahan, however, is giving Canucks fans a nightly reminder of what could have (maybe) been. While there’s no certainty the Canucks could have moved Cory for that sixth pick or that Calgary would have swapped it, there’s no denying GM Jay Feaster would have listened. While Joey McDonald and Karri Ramo have been fine so far this season, Cory Schneider is Cory Schneider – a franchise goalie you can sign, lock down, and build four lines around.

Of course, saying the Canucks blew a chance at Monahan is doing a major disservice to the guy they did select with the ninth pick, Bo Horvat. The London Knights’ two-way dynamo turned in a solid camp and preseason, and only got better as the shifts got fewer and his audition wore on.

He just wasn’t given an opportunity to shine… I’d put five on red the Canucks didn’t want him to.

Both Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk (who the Canucks took at No. 24) were sent back to their junior clubs before October’s opener. Simply put, there wasn’t any room for them on a team with playoff aspirations. Or, at least, making room for them wasn’t worth sinking a year of their deal.

But that doesn’t mean Horvat’s contribution to the Canucks will be lesser than Monahan’s. Frankly, I should even be talking about this right now. It’s too early and I don’t want to go all Skip Bayless on you, debating whether Andrew Luck will be better than Peyton Manning while the former is practically teething.

For Monahan and Horvat, this is Year 1 in two long, prosperous careers, I hope.

Darnell Nurse was excellent for the Oilers and he’s waiting for his regular season premiere, too. The Oilers aren’t even good – they’re just too full of too many guys they already know and trust, and they have enough high-prized picks that are still ripening.

No. 3 overall pick Jonathan Drouin was sent down by Tampa. Could he have stuck, stayed, and put up points? Yeah. DUH. But the Lightning have enough role players with a higher priority.

Monahan’s fortunate, and he’s earning his luck. He’s also putting away an astounding 28.6 per cent of his shots. That’s an impressive figure, but it’s also unsustainable. Take last year’s early Calder favourites Cory Conacher and Vladimir Tarasenko, who both faded away as the games played and bruises piled up, giving way to three freshmen in Jonathan Huberdeau, Brendan Gallagher, and Brandon Saad, all of whom I’d take above the first two – no questions asked.

(*Huberdeau did win the Calder, in case you were wondering.)

Tarasenko’s or Conacher’s drop-off should give no insight into Monahan’s short-term future, though, and it’s too early to write off either of them, too.

Not only is Monahan scoring, but he’s playing well without the puck. He’s been a leader, a runner, and a finisher. If you’ve watched a Flames game this fall, you’ll notice him.

He’s also saving the tush of fellow rook Sven Baertschi, who has all but eradicated any hype he piled up and is playing himself out of Calgary’s five-year plan.

Next year, it’s highly possible that Horvat, Shinkauk, or Drouin could come in and run away with Huberdeau’s trophy. They’ll also be joined by a new class of draft, some of whom will stick and burn the first year of that precious entry-level deal.

It’s also possible that this year’s rookie base – headlined, so far, by Dallas’s Alex Chiasson, Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, Nashville’s Seth Jones, Toronto’s Morgan Rielly, and (maybe) Columbus’s Ryan Murray – will have toppled Monahan by this year’s midway point, too.

That really is the wonderful thing about the Calder Trophy: it’s the only completely individual award in the NHL that is not decided before the season starts.

Think of the Hart Trophy. You know, from Game 1, that you’re already going to be talking about Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Steven Stamkos.

Look at the Heisman, which is similar to the Calder in the sense that you’re handing out hardware to 18-to-20-year-old athletes and laying the weight of a city, state, or (even worse) Vegas’s shoulders. At the start of this college football season, we knew Johnny Manziel would be gunning for a second Heisman. Jadeveon Clowney picked up some early votes. Then, after a couple weeks, we re-tooled it to include Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Teddy Bridgewater was in the conversation, too, before his Louisville Cardinals blew an easy win to some half-a-school in Central, Eastern, or Southern Florida.

Before the BCS even released its initial rankings, we had cleaned and dried a dozen potential college MVPs.

How many of these kids can just go out there and play, and won’t they play better – maybe even Heisman-worthy – if they’re allowed to do so?

The Heisman isn’t an honourable tradition anymore: it’s a reality show.

The NHL is the most team-oriented sport in North America. Last names and egos need not apply. Hell, Winnipeg’s Evander Kane has been called a problem player because a fan in Ottawa made up a rumour he once skipped out on a restaurant bill. Meanwhile, Michael Jordan is retired and humiliating high school kids. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s decade-old rivalry has nothing to do with the logos on their helmets. Pele has about as much grace in his old age as Hyman Roth from The Godfather: Part II.

But the NHL is different.

The league’s nine-game rookie contract conundrum makes it all about the individual while really making it about the team: Monahan could be great. He could be on the road to some serious bonus money and a nice shiny statue. But, if it’s not going to help the Calgary Flames, he’s not going to play.

Good on CowTown for finding a way to feed them and their cattle.