It's September. The 2015-16 NHL season is just around the corner. Hell, training camps are even closer - and even closer are rookie camps. The annual Penticton Tournament is just over a week from now. We are fast approaching the beginning of hockey season: very, very fast. And yet, after an extremely eventful and extremely productive summer, the Calgary Flames have one item remaining on their checklist.
Restricted free agent Micheal Ferland remains unsigned.
He cannot attend training camp without a contract. He has just a couple of weeks to get that.
With 26 regular games played this past season, as well as nine playoff games, Ferland is officially no longer a rookie. With the years spent up on his first contract, he is no longer waiver exempt. And after that playoff performance he had, it's officially go time for him.
And it's weird. Because Ferland has been seen around town in Flames gear, meeting with people and taking part in charitable contributions - and yet, no contract.
Tsu Tina nation powwow! It's unbelievable the support I get from the native communities around Calgary. Thank you! pic.twitter.com/XwYI1DoIbh— Micheal Ferland (@ferdaddy27) July 26, 2015
This isn't the sign of an unhappy player. This is the sign of a player fully committed to the organization he plays for, but without that fancy document to prove that commitment. As a restricted free agent, his rights are still held exclusively by the Flames, but right now, he isn't really, technically, on the team - as much as we'd like him to be.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves
It's very easy to be excited about Ferland. Hockey is such a quick, unpredictable game, and emotions tend to take over. This is especially true for the playoffs, where Ferland really rose to prominence (or notoriety, if you're a Canucks fan).
After a lacklustre beginning to his NHL career, Ferland made the playoffs opening lineup - and made his presence felt. Literally. He was a hitting machine, occasionally charging, completely getting into the Canucks' heads and throwing some of them off their games. Derek Dorsett, a veteran, did it to him at first; a few games later, Ferland turned the tables on him. He burrowed himself into Kevin Bieksa's side, too, an ever-present thorn of growing relevance.
In the end, Ferland made himself most known in the most painful way: on the scoreboard. With the chance to close the series out at home, the Flames fell behind 3-0 to the Canucks. Ferland scored the first home goal to make sure his team was on the board before the first period ended, and he scored the last goal, too: a second, completely unnecessary empty netter in the dying seconds to make a 7-4 score, delaying Vancouver's inevitable playoff death just a little longer.
It was awesome.
But it's important to remember: it was just one playoff series.
Ferland's loss was felt when he was too injured to dress against the Ducks in the second round, true; but Ferland alone wouldn't have elevated the Flames above what was, quite simply, a much better team. Maybe in time, he'll be able to do that - but not now.
He had one good playoff series. That was it. And in the other 29 NHL games he played that season, he wasn't nearly the factor he was there.
Ferland technically isn't a rookie anymore, but his rookie year was filled with growing pains, and we should expect those growing pains to linger throughout this upcoming season.
Ferland is in a precarious position - not the Flames
Treliving said "money & term" were causing hold up w/Micheal Ferland's contract. Reiterated he can't go to camp unless he has a contract.— Kristen Odland (@KristenOdlandCH) September 2, 2015
Here's the problem with that: Ferland really doesn't have a leg to stand on.
Of course, he can't be forced to sign any contract he doesn't want to. But the clock is ticking. It's been ticking all summer long, but with summer ending, well, time is really starting to run out. It's not prudential to miss out on training camp at any stage in your career, but it's especially foolish when your career is just getting started.
And the Flames aren't in position to have to bend to Ferland's wants. The team is overloaded at the forward position as is, and while Ferland is better than some present options - Brandon Bollig, Mason Raymond - there's no reason to think he'd be missed were he to not start the season with the team.
Ferland still has to actually earn a spot, and you can't do that without a contract. And considering his lack of experience, even if he does earn a spot, there's no guarantee he's able to keep it. With as many forwards as the Flames have available, capable players are going to have to sit in the pressbox no matter what, and as someone who has yet to officially make the lineup as a regular, Ferland may find himself being one of those guys.
I wasn't too fond of Lance Bouma's contract, but to his credit, he has 200 NHL games under his belt. He's someone you can take a risk on, because worst case scenario, you already know he's an NHLer.
Ferland's 35 games - 26 in the regular season, with an average ice time of 10:31 - can't compare to that. He doesn't have that luxury. For all we know, he's a flash in the pan.
What should his next contract look like?
As far as money goes, he's certainly not worthy of Bouma money just yet. He's a sub-million player as it currently stands. After all, his teammates Drew Shore, Paul Byron, and Josh Jooris all make less than that, and they've all shown far more in the NHL than Ferland has, even if they don't have the mythos of a playoff series to back them up. To give him seven figures this quickly is unearned.
Term is a little more complicated. To date, Ferland has just one year of professional experience. He needs another three to be eligible to file for arbitration. Of course, Ferland would want term for job security - that's something most players seem to like - but there's another nice consequence for him about that three-year deal: he'd be able to file for arbitration come his next contract.
Of course, arbitration isn't a preferred option. The Flames met Bouma head on in arbitration, and ended up caving to term and money after coming away from it (but before an actual ruling was issued). The fewer players you potentially face that problem with, the better.
And looking at the Flames' current cap situation, there's an impending crunch not this year, but the year after. Too many expensive contracts on less-than-desirable players don't expire for another two seasons, meaning the Flames will need good players on friendly deals two seasons from now. Ferland could very well be one of those guys.
Ferland on a two-year, sub-million contract seems optimal for the Flames. It's not a strictly "show me" deal, but if Ferland wants more security than just one year, he'd have it: but it would come at a reduced price, and leave him unable to file for arbitration upon its expiration.
This is all speculation, but that could be a potential holdup in his second contract. If he wants term, three years is too much. And a one-year "show me" deal could prove risky for both parties.
The ball is firmly in Ferland's court, though. He's the one who stands to lose the most if he doesn't sign a new deal, and soon.