Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Michael Ferland having an outsized effect on the Canucks-Flames series.

The Vancouver Canucks have had their problems dealing with physical or gritty players in recent history, especially during the playoffs, when the referees let most every infraction slide, and teams that try to intimidate can be more effective using that style, because of that additional leeway.

Offhand, I can think of Ben Eager, Mike Bolland, Dustin Byfuglien, and Brad Marchand, if not the the whole Bruins roster really, as players who've been bugaboos for the Canucks.

We can now add Michael Ferland's name to the list of players who will reside in Canucks' fans nightmares for the foreseeable future.  He's been playing low minutes for Bob Hartley's Flames, but having an impact far greater in proportion to his icetime.  He's big and strong and tough, and has been treading the line between finishing his checks and charging effectively, at least in the eyes of the refs.

And he's in the heads of the Canucks.  After Game 2, Kevin Bieksa was quoted as calling him "Ferklund, or whatever his name is", and stating he was "irrelevant".  Sure enough, the next game, Kevin Bieksa got into a furious fistfight with the Flames rookie, deciding enough was enough, despite his irrelevance.

We first became aware of Michael Ferland while watching Sportsnet's "Road to the Memorial Cup" series during the 2012-13 season.  Head Coach Lorne Molleken acted as the GM, and could be seen making some phone calls to other GM's to bolster his roster for their Memorial Cup appearance, one that was guaranteed since they were playing host to the tournament.  The Blades hemmed and hawed at the steep cost to acquire the 20-year-old, but finally gave in, thinking his combo of size and scoring was too good to pass up.

In the end, while Mr. Ferland was effective, he couldn't be the difference-maker, and the Blades were swept out of the tournament.  As a Habs fan though, I couldn't help but wonder how much a better fit he might have been in our prospect pool than Patrick Holland was after the Mike Cammalleri trade, or how he might be a good throw-in to seek in any Danny Kristo trade, as was rumoured for a while.

It transpired in time that Michael Ferland had some issues of his own to deal.  Warning flags such as starting out his 20-year-old season in the AHL, then being sent back to the WHL, then being traded to another team.  He was involved in a fight outside a bar in 2012, for which he was charged with assault but eventually found not guilty, and then sued civilly.

While playing with the Abbottsford Heat, there were some rumours in the Vancouver area of him partying way too hard, and it seemingly affected his play and production.  He suffered a knee injury, then spent the end of the 2014 season in alcohol rehab.

Now clean and sober, having turned his career around, he's a one-man wrecking crew, emboldened by the indulgence of the referees, and repeatedly compared to Milan Lucic by the HNIC crew.  No Canucks can match up to his 6'2", 220 lbs size, and his abrasiveness is forcing them to change their game, proving to be the proverbial distraction.

Still as a Canadiens fan, I now wonder, after having written off the youngster when he struggled in Abbotsford, how he'd fold into the Canadiens roster, whether he'd help against intimidation campaigns by the Senators, and the Bruins.  His skating is still suspect, he might be accused as Devante Smith-Pelly currently is of being "too slow", unable to contribute in the Canadiens' system.
But it would be such a relief, a pleasant change in these thuggish playoffs being prosecuted this spring, to have on our team a player that other teams struggle to contain, one who's the hammer, for once, instead of being another resilient, fleet-of-foot nail.

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