Two and a half seasons into his NHL career, Micheal Ferland has an uncertain future.
It’s not a bad thing. It isn’t a case of Ferland underperforming; rather, it’s a case of not knowing just what Ferland’s actually capable of. We know he belongs in the NHL. We know he has a good shot and decent hands. We know he’s tough and physical. He doesn’t play at an elite level – unless he’s a late bloomer, which I suppose is possible – but we know he’s good.
The question is, just where does he actually fit in the lineup in 2017-18?
Claimed in the expansion draft
Technically, it’s possible. Though he finished the previous season on a line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, Ferland isn’t at the same untouchable level they are. There isn’t any guarantee the Flames choose to protect him in the upcoming expansion draft.
… But if they don’t, they’re certified idiots. If Ferland goes unprotected, he gets claimed. It’s that simple. It would take two major forward additions to see him left out, and that just isn’t likely to happen. Ferland will probably be a Flame to start next season.
Traded for an upgrade
Unless he’s able to provide just a little more value off the ice than on it.
Ferland is a fantastic player, and the kind of guy any team would love to have on its roster – as a support level player. But fact is, he’s not elite. He’s good, but he’s not someone you build around.
If the Flames can find an upgrade at forward with favourable trade circumstances – if, say, the expansion draft forces someone else’s hand, or cap concerns do – then they should pull the trigger. But if it’s a meaningful upgrade, then even with the other team being put in a position to make a trade, you still have to give to get. And Ferland is probably the most likely forward to fall in this category. He isn’t a core player, but he’s a good enough player that his inclusion in a trade offer wouldn’t be an insult, and might actually succeed in getting something done.
And if something is going to happen this offseason, well, it’s possible the Flames’ lack of picks will force them to move a roster player to further build up instead.
It’s not that anyone would want to see Ferland go – but if he’s the key to upgrading the overall forward group, it has to be done.
Back on the fourth line
Throughout his time on the Flames, we’ve seen Ferland consistently undervalued. Even when he was promoted to the first line for the final quarter of games this past season, he still wasn’t playing as much as he could have been, and only got powerplay time once the games were meaningless.
It should be hard to see the Flames go back to undervaluing Ferland, but unfortunately, it’s not. And depending on how the future lineup shakes out, not to mention which bottom six players remain (will Lance Bouma be in the NHL or AHL? Will or Troy Brouwer Alex Chiasson or Matt Stajan be in Calgary or Vegas?), it’s possible he might end up back on the fourth line.
On the one hand, if Ferland is on your fourth line, you’ve probably got a really good one. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine the Flames picking up and promoting enough forwards that Ferland would be the 10th best option for them – and that would indicate poor usage of him once again.
His shooting percentage spike and overall play with Gaudreau and Monahan to finish the season shouldn’t see this happen, though.
Comfortably in the top nine
Throughout his NHL career to date, Ferland has proven he’s better than what he’s been allotted. And since the Flames won’t be switching coaches over this offseason, their current coach – Glen Gulutzan – knows what he has in Ferland. And he should know he has a player who can slot in throughout the lineup and be trusted with more responsibilities.
If the Flames want to experiment with their roster configuration, then one way to do it would probably be to remove Ferland from Gaudreau and Monahan’s line. Technically it’s a demotion – but if, say, the replacement is the higher level Matthew Tkachuk, then why not slot Ferland in Tkachuk’s old spot to form an all-Mike shutdown line? Ferland’s scoring isn’t on the same level as Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik’s, but there’s good reason to believe he can keep up with them. He doesn’t get his head kicked in possession-wise. He could be a good part of a shutdown line.
Or what about giving Sam Bennett a linemate upgrade? Two physical players with offensive talent – though Bennett has more than Ferland – who are also willing to drop the gloves on the same line could be a mess for other teams.
Even if Ferland doesn’t stay with Gaudreau and Monahan, there are still good players in the lineup for him to play with. And while powerplay time may not be a thing, depending on how the forward unit is restructured, perhaps the penalty kill could be an option.
How likely are the Flames to find a significant upgrade at forward? How likely are they to pull the trigger on it? It’s fun to dream of acquiring big names, but Dougie Hamilton-style trades aren’t all that common. That’s what makes them so special to begin with.
So sure, maybe the Flames are able to add a notable name to their forward group, but it isn’t exactly something to bet on.
And considering just how long it took for the team to find line combinations that actually worked – they weren’t finalized until very late in the season, when Brouwer and Chiasson switched lines – how inclined do you think Gulutzan is to mess with his group out of the gate?
The Flames have been searching for someone to fill out Gaudreau and Monahan’s line since Jiri Hudler’s play dropped and he ultimately departed a little over a year ago. Ferland has had two kicks at the can already: one in a season he shot 3.3%, and the next at 14.2%. Both are extremes. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. But Ferland visibly kept up with Gaudreau and Monahan, and barring any clearcut upgrades, it should be his spot to lose.
What’s going to happen?
Ferland is probably going to stay a Flame, and he’s probably going to start the season with Gaudreau and Monahan, barring something awesome happening. If that’s the default move, then you’re in a pretty decent place.
Whether he finishes the season on that line is another question entirely – my bet would be on no – but I do think Ferland’s time being underestimated in this organization is over.