December 21 2016 10:00AM
Assuming the Calgary Flames elect to protect one goalie, three defencemen, and seven forwards in June's expansion draft, the team is going to face one tough decision: who should that seventh protected forward be?
While I think there might be some debate among Flames fans, the decision is pretty clear to me. Of the possibilities, Micheal Ferland makes the most sense to be Calgary's final protected player.
Below is a breakdown of how things will likely break down if the Flames decide to go with the 7,3,1 format come June.
There's a couple things to note in that chart above. First off, I only included players we consider to be NHLers right now, so I didn't include Jon Gillies, for instance. Regardless, Gillies will not count on the protected list as we've been able to confirm he'll fall under the exempt list. Matthew Tkachuk will also be protected by virtue of exemption leaving the unbolded players up for consideration. I also included Kris Versteeg, who is a pending unrestricted free agent, considering there's a decent chance he'll be re-signed.
Of course this all changes if for some reason the Flames decide to go the other route and protect eight skaters and one goalie. I can't see them doing that, but you never know. So why is Ferland the guy they should protect from the group above?
On the ice
Ferland is an interesting case in his three seasons in the league. We all remember him bursting onto the scene during Calgary's 2015 first round playoff series with Vancouver and he followed that up with a passable, but not outstanding, first full NHL season last year. This season is where we're really starting to see indications as to what Ferland can be as full-time NHLer, though.
Above is a look at some of Ferland's even strength metrics through 35 games this season and where he ranks among forwards, via Corsica. As you can see, he's been one of Calgary's more effective players as we approach the halfway point of the campaign. Used primarily as a bottom six player, Ferland has done a nice job of winning the possession and scoring battles against similar depth opposition and is doing so while being deployed in a primarily defensive role.
I also like where Ferland is trending. At the age of 24, Ferland is an effective depth player right now and I think there's still a ceiling he hasn't hit. While Ferland hasn't popped when given the opportunity to play higher up the depth chart, we also have to remember he's still a fairly green NHLer. As he continues to become more comfortable and more consistent, I think he'll be more effective when asked in the future to play a larger role.
Finally, Ferland brings something on the ice that no one else on the Flames does. While the term "physicality" is commonly snickered at among our dork community, Ferland has the ability to change momentum on any given shift. No other Calgary player possesses that same ability and no one can deny the impact it has made at different points this season.
Off the ice
Two things tilt the scales Ferland's way away from what he does on the ice. First off, at 24, he's still relatively young and won't be 25 until April. That's six years younger than the guy I think is his closest competition in this conversation in Versteeg (more on that later). Because he's a late bloomer, I also think Ferland has a chance to be more effective into his late 20s than other guys do in today's game.
Second, I don't think Ferland's contract is ever going to become overly unwieldy. Ferland is in the final year of a two-year deal that pays him $825,000 and is a pending restricted free agent, so he'll need a new deal for next season. While I think he'll get a raise on that, I don't think we're going to be talking about a massive bump.
Ferland is on pace for 12 goals and 26 points this season which, coupled with the other things he brings to the game, could push him over the $1 million mark. Assuming the Flames don't give Ferland a massive Bouma-esque bump, he could give them some really good bang for their buck on a three- or four-year extension this summer.
As I said earlier, the only other player truly in this conversation is Versteeg as he's been an extremely effective player this season, especially offensively. But if it comes down to one or the other for the seventh protected forward spot, I still lean Ferland's way. Before we get into the reasoning, let's compare the two players using the metrics from above (rank is among forwards).
The comparison between the two players certainly makes this conversation really interesting. Versteeg is the superior player when it comes to goal and point production, but Ferland has been more effective in shot generation and two-way play. As such, both have strong cases here.
So why do I lean to Ferland? Age is the biggest factor to me; as mentioned above, Versteeg is six years older than Ferland. That's a sizeable gap in this day and age and needs to be taken into consideration. Furthermore, I think Ferland still has a ceiling to reach whereas Versteeg, while effective, is what he is at this point in his career.
Finally, I think Ferland ends up being the more affordable player in the long run. While Calgary is getting great value on both players right now, Versteeg could be in line for a significant pay bump as a pending UFA if he continues to produce the way he has this season. I like the prospect of what Ferland's next deal could look like and I think it'll be more reasonable than a potential Versteeg extension.
It's an interesting problem to have if you're the Flames and having tough decisions is better than having no decisions at all. For me, the package of results this year, potential going forward, skill set, age, and affordability make Ferland the ideal candidate to be Calgary's seventh protected forward come June.