Since Jiri Hudler in the 2014-15 season, the Flames have had a fair bit of trouble with finding a right winger to play with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Hudler was magic with the duo in the year the Flames went to the playoffs, but he fell off a cliff the following season, and then he was traded.
That line has had a mostly rotating cast since, with multiple other forwards getting the call and none of them really working out.
One of those guys was Micheal Ferland. In the 2015-16 season, he played 144:47 5v5 minutes with Gaudreau and Monahan. The line had a CF of 53.8%, but their GF was a mere 45.5%. They looked great, but they weren’t really producing tangible results, things didn’t stick, and the Flames had a miserable season, anyway.
Against the Predators the Flames continued to have a not-miserable if inconsistent season, kicked off with Ferland back on that line and scoring two goals to show for it.
Options through the seasons
In 2015-16, Gaudreau and Monahan’s most common linemates, after Hudler, were Ferland, David Jones, Joe Colborne, Josh Jooris, even Sam Bennett – a general inconsistent mess with seemingly no answer.
So it’s really no wonder the team was unable to find another linemate to go with the pair. Bennett is naturally a centre and not a long-term fit for them anyway, and of the wingers, Ferland is the only one who is still actually a Flame.
This season, Gaudreau and Monahan have been split up even more. After Monahan, Gaudreau’s most common linemates have been Alex Chiasson, Bennett, and Troy Brouwer. Monahan’s have been Brouwer, Versteeg, and Chiasson. Both players have spent at least 100 5v5 minutes with these guys, but once again, nobody has really seemed to stick.
Ferland should be playing more, anyway
It’s a drum we’ve kind of been banging on all season long: Ferland deserves way more ice time than he currently gets.
This season, Ferland has averaged just 10:48 a game. Freddie Hamilton and Garnet Hathaway are the only somewhat regular forwards who average less ice time than he does. He’s played just 19:55 on the powerplay – 10th among forwards, and nearly 30 fewer minutes than Chiasson – and doesn’t get penalty kill time.
Ferland has, by any account, been treated as a fourth liner this season.
Despite that, he has 10 goals and 17 points in 56 games, good for 13th in team scoring. Matt Stajan averages about two more minutes a game than Ferland; Ferland is one point back of him. Brouwer averages over six more minutes in ice time than Ferland and gets powerplay time; Ferland is two points back of him. He’s three points back of Bennett and six points back of Versteeg, two more players who have gotten much more ice time to work with. Imagine what he’d be able to do with those minutes?
Further to that, Ferland has been far from a defensive liability. There’s been no reason to bench him – his 49.45% CF is just on the cusp of making him a positive corsi guy, and that’s with 27.39% offensive zone starts, which are the eighth worst on the Flames. No, he’s not putting up Backlund-level underlying numbers, but they’re still pretty good for the situation he’s been placed in, all the same.
Really, barely using Ferland has been puzzling. Doubly so once he started playing more shifts on the right wing, all the while there’s been a glaring hole for a right winger in the Flames’ top six.
Revisiting Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland
Via Corsica, the Flames’ best 5v5 CF% line in the 2015-16 season, minimum 100 minutes played together, was actually those three.
Yeah, that does sound a little suspicious given what we know of Backlund and Frolik, but aside from the old line with Hudler as well, those two make up the other two top combinations (along with Colborne and Bennett).
But fact of the matter is, Ferland was really, really good with Gaudreau and Monahan.
Except they couldn’t score. And remember, last season, Ferland certainly got his looks, but only had a shooting percentage of 3.3%. It just wasn’t happening for him that year. This season, though, his shooting percentage has swung the other direction – up to 14.3% – and while that’s probably not the real Ferland either, tangible results do make a pretty big difference.
Last season, Ferland was great on that line, but the line couldn’t score. This season, they’re off to a much better start.
What if this is the solution?
It’s been one game. It’s been one game of success, coupled with almost 150 minutes of what looked like it had potential from a year ago. It’s so, so far from a sure thing.
The Flames have a glaring hole in their top six. They still need at least one more impact forward before they can really start to be taken seriously. Hell, this season Backlund’s line has pretty much been the only one really worth a damn.
But if the success Ferland has hinted at having alongside Gaudreau and Monahan is for real – and it really is far too early to say it is, but the potential is at least there – then that’s a major problem solved for the Flames. It’s not enough in the long run, but considering how Ferland is only 24 and costs nothing to acquire because he’s already on the team, it would be beyond massive if it turns out he’s the final piece that line needs.
And seeing as how nobody else has really shown that much potential since Hudler, Ferland deserves time – maybe even the rest of the season – to prove that he’s the fit. That’s barring anything like a trade that could potentially yield a better option, but if we’re going with the status quo, it’s Ferland’s turn.
It’s long past being Ferland’s turn.