Friday, July 14, 2017

Back-to-Back Victories: First, for Ferland the Person, Now for Ferland the Player

For Micheal Ferland, game 1 in his breakout offensively came at a critical juncture last season.

Two days after the Flames had been publicly ripped by coach Glen Gulutzan after a lethargic 5-1 loss in Montreal.

One day after the team's infamous train trip to Ottawa that featured some beers and some honesty.

One day before the NHL's all-star break.

Desperately seeking some kind of spark, Ferland delivered halfway through the second period in a game at the Canadian Tire Centre. Getting his own rebound, he fired a goal past Mike Condon to end a personal 15-game scoring drought and open the scoring in what would end up being a pivotal 3-2 win over the Senators.

It was just the lift Calgary needed.

Ferland Leading the Way

Starting that evening, the Flames went on an incredible 15-2-1 tear to get back into a playoff spot. They wouldn't let it slip away.

Front and center in that red-hot seven-week run was Ferland. In 18 games, he rattled home a team-high nine goals. They all didn't come while whirling around on the top unit either. His promotion onto the Gaudreau-Monahan line came didn't come until halfway through that stretch. He was doing it without them. Then he kept it going with them.

It really is quite the contrast if you compare his career production up until that point with what he's done since.

Going into that game in Ottawa, Ferland had played 144 career NHL games. He had scored 11 goals.

Over the remainder of the regular season, he scored 10 goals in 29 games. Even more impressively, all 10 came at even-strength. That was the best on the team, two better than Sean Monahan, three more than Mikael Backlund, four better than Johnny Gaudreau.

In fact, over the final two-and-a-half months of the regular season, those 10 even-strength goals tied Ferland for 24th in the league. There weren’t a lot of cheapies in there either. This guy can wire a hockey puck into the top corner like the best of them.

One of the NHL's Most Productive Players

As we try to put his electric finish to 2016-17 in context, we also have to keep in mind that he averaged less than 13 minutes per night in ice time over that period. Heck, he played about as much on the Flames power play last season as Hakan Loob.

As part of the NHL’s advanced stats offering, there is a statistic called G/60, which is your total goals per 60 minutes of ice time. Now you’re really talking business with Ferland given his lethal production came while not playing a ton.

NHL G/60 – From Jan. 26 Through End of Regular Season (min of 15 games)

1. Evgeni Malkin PIT, 2.32
2. Jeff Skinner CAR, 2.09
3. Brad Marchand BOS, 2.09
4. Jonathan Marchessault FLA, 2.02
5. Nikita Kucherov TB, 2.01
6. Viktor Arvidsson MIL, 1.86
7. Vladimir Tarasenko STL, 1.76
8. T.J. Oshie OTT, 1.73
9. Patrick Kane CHI, 1.73
10. Patrik Laine WPG, 1.72
11. Anders  Lee NYI, 1.71
12. Patrick Eaves ANA, 1.66
13. Auston Matthews TOR, 1.61
14. Micheal Ferland CGY, 1.61
15. Filip Forsberg NSH, 1.54

That’s some pretty good company. Heck, if I was to drill down even further and look at even-strength goals only, he'd surely be in the top 10.

His Winding Career in Major Junior

Ferland’s hockey career going back to youth hockey has been an interesting case. As the story goes, he got started in the sport late, but was a natural and climbed fast.

In his draft year in 2010, he was the 188th ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting in the mid-term ranking. Only 210 players are drafted. Plus, you still have North American goalies as well as European skaters and goalies to factor in.

Micheal Ferland
He eventually climbed to 144th on the North American skater list by the final rankings and was selected 133rd by Calgary. It was the year the Flames didn’t have a first or second round pick and used their two third-round picks on Max Reinhart and Joey Leach. The fourth round didn’t net them much either in John Ramage and Bill Arnold.

But the tough-as-nails kid from Swan River, Manitoba, that general manager Darryl Sutter selected in round 5. Who knew that this physical left winger from the Brandon Wheat Kings, coming off a rookie season in the WHL in which he scored just nine goals in 61 games, would turn out to be the valedictorian from that Calgary draft class.

In his next couple seasons, his production really took off. Often playing on a line with Ottawa Senator right winger Mark Stone, younger brother of Flames defenceman Michael Stone, Ferland’s totals jumped to 23 goals in 56 games in his second season. In his third year, he sniped 47 goals in 68 games then lit the lamp there more times in the playoffs to give him an even 50.

But the jump to pro wasn’t smooth. Out of shape and with a drinking problem he didn't yet realize he had, he played 10 games split between the AHL and ECHL in 2012-13, before being returned to junior for his overage season -- one in which he ended up traded from Brandon to Saskatoon.

Pro Hockey and the Eventual Intervention

The next year went much better, especially after he got going. Pointless in his first 11 games, Ferland rattled off 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists) in the next 14 games and was on the cusp of being a Flames call-up when he hurt his knee in a collision in practice. The result was season-ending surgery.

But the season concluded with a different kind of rehab.

While rehabbing his knee in Calgary, eventually it was his elbow, as in his drinking elbow, that became the point of focus. In late March, after a meeting with coach Bob Hartley, Ferland was whisked away to the NHL’s treatment facility in Malibu, California. It’s the same spot where Emile Poirier just spent two months.

Sober ever since, it's been a great success story for Ferland, the person.

On Thursday, signing a two-year/$3.5 million contract, that's a success story for Ferland, the hockey player.

Eyes on the Prize

His $1.75 million annual salary for the next two seasons is more than double what he made the last two seasons.

His take-home pay will net out to even more given his sober lifestyle – 39-plus months and counting. Know that a lot of that new found wealth will go to much better causes being the women in his life: Mother Diane, who raised him on her own, his significant other Kayleigh, and the couple's 15-month old daughter Brynlee.

The two-year deal takes Ferland right to unrestricted free agency where Ferland will be in for a substantial raise should he continue on the same trajectory he’s on.

While that's bad news for Calgary if they hope to re-sign him, that would also be a real good thing for the Flames because it will have meant he strung together two excellent seasons.

And that would be a wonderful thing for Ferland the person, as it means his hockey career has continued to blossom.

Final Word

Now is his shooting percentage due to regress from the 14.2 percent last year? Probably. But one way you can mitigate the impact of that is to shoot the puck more often and if he stays on the No. 1 line, he'll get those opportunities.

Even when he isn’t scoring, we all know Ferland can have an impact on games. We all fondly remember the Flames-Canucks playoff series three years ago. Those 40 hits in six games. The non-stop war on and off the ice with Kevin Bieksa and others.

Add in the offensive side that has really come around – the deceptive speed, heavy shot, smooth hands and high IQ, and now you really have something.

As a lifetime writer, I’m always a sucker for a good story. But even more so, I love a great ending.

Considering where he was at with his hockey career five years ago, to where he is today, it doesn’t get much better.

So rather than saying it's a new chapter coming up, let’s call 2017-18 the first chapter in Micheal Ferland - The Sequel. Here's hoping it turns out as good as the original as that one is a best-seller.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


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    1. I really enjoyed this read, nice work mister. Does Ferland remind you of Lindros?

      1. hockey became very business like, players make too much money for the average joe ho go to work and make the bills payed .and so the story goes!!!

    2. Well earned Ferkland!!!

    3. Darren

      Another great article, and a great life lesson to people living in the nightmare of addition. I commend Hartley and the Flames for treating Michael like a person not a commodity. What they did for him has been paid back in spades.

      This is also the reason I predict that Poirier will be the player no one saw coming when camp opens. Here is a player who had first round talent, came with a full box of tools whose life was derailed due to addiction issues.

      After a person admits the problem and seeks help their whole world changes, it's like the weight of the world comes off their shoulders, their eyes are filled with life and their reborn. They no longer feel the guilt, shame, self loathing and loneliness they had when drinking. It's especially nice to see Ferland and Big Urn offering Emile their continued support.

      I think the future is bright and trending up for both of these young men and I would not be surprised to see them both playing with the Flames in the upcoming season.

      1. I agree that a Flames line-up with both Ferland and Poirier in it would be really something. Two great Human interest stories that make both of them easy to root for. You wish them both hockey success and continued success in life overall in staying on the right track. Two young men with a lot of life still to live.