Upon arriving in Toronto on March 18, Ray Ferraro had a text waiting to be read. It was from Landon Ferraro, the ex-Whaler’s son. Landon Ferraro informed his old man that he would be in warm-ups that night for the Red Wings against the Maple Leafs at Joe Louis Arena.
That’s all he knew. It was enough to sell dad to board the next flight to Detroit.
When Ray Ferraro arrived at the Joe, warm-ups were almost over. The Red Wings had completed their line rushes. Like every other fan, Ferraro had to hang on for the official lineup. His patience was rewarded.
Because of injuries to Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Stephen Weiss, Daniel Cleary, Justin Abdelkader, and Darren Helm, Landon Ferraro made his NHL debut. Ferraro, skating with Cory Emmerton and defenseman-turned-forward Brendan Smith, landed one shot in 9:45 of ice time. Detroit beat Toronto, 3-2.
“I had to wait until the scratches were announced, and he wasn’t one of them, that he’d get to play,” Ray Ferraro recalled. “It was a phenomenal day.”
As a father, the 49-year-old Ferraro wants nothing more than to see his son become a full-time Red Wing. But in his professional capacity as one of TSN’s sharpest analysts, Ferraro understands that rapid acceleration to the varsity is not the Detroit way.
Landon Ferraro is a third-year pro. The Wings drafted Ferraro 32d overall in 2009. Detroit general manager Ken Holland believes in development through Grand Rapids, the Wings’ AHL proving ground. Aside from call-ups because of injuries, the Wings will only consider their youngsters for promotions when they consider them ready for permanent varsity status.
That rule stood for Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, and Tomas Jurco. They played for the Wings in the first-round loss to the Bruins. But they also spent plenty of time in Grand Rapids.
The 22-year-old Ferraro projects to be a bottom-six NHL grinder. As a second-year pro, Ferraro scored 24 goals and 23 assists for Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill. Ferraro added five goals and 11 assists in 24 playoff games as the Griffins won the Calder Cup.
Ferraro is a good AHL player. But he’s probably not ready to become one of Mike Babcock’s regular foot soldiers.
“If they get here too early, coaches, fans, and managers get down on them,” Holland explained during his end-of-season news conference. “It’s why young players get traded to other organizations. They get there too quick and they’re not quite ready for the challenge. People get down on them, the manager and the coach. Then they go to another city. I’m hoping to keep players away from here as long as possible so when they do get here, the growing pains are as short as possible.”
Ray Ferraro didn’t have the same experience. Hartford picked Ferraro in the fifth round of the 1982 draft. Ferraro was a finisher. During his final season in junior, Ferraro scored 108 goals in 72 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Ferraro needed only 37 AHL games before the Whalers recalled him from Binghamton. It wasn’t because Ferraro was ready. It was because the Whalers were dropping fast. Other players earning early calls included Ulf Samuelsson, Paul MacDermid, Dean Evason, Paul Fenton, and Brad Shaw.
“Hartford was terrible,” Ferraro said. “When I say that, it’s the absolute truth. They were terrible and older. They decided to go with a bunch of young guys. They told us to just play. They were already out of the playoffs.”
Ferraro scored in his second NHL game. A slap shot by Ray Neufeld glanced off Ferraro’s knee and went in the net. Twenty-four more games ticked off the calendar before Ferraro scored again.
Ferraro was lucky. The organization didn’t mind that it took until his 25th game before he scored a goal with his stick. The Whalers didn’t send him back to the AHL. Ferraro worked through it.
“It was dumb luck,” Ferraro said. “My opportunity came because Hartford was changing from an older team to a younger team. I happened to be standing there.”
It’s different for his son. The Red Wings, like the Whalers once did, are transitioning from the graybeards (Todd Bertuzzi, Daniel Alfredsson, David Legwand, Mikael Samuelsson, Cleary) to the young group that stumbled against the Bruins.
But the Wings have no intention of rushing their prospects. It’s not easy to progress from junior to the AHL to the NHL.
Lane MacDermid, son of Paul, Ferraro’s former Hartford teammate, learned this the hard way. Like Landon Ferraro, Lane MacDermid was drafted in 2009. But the Bruins traded MacDermid to Dallas in the Jaromir Jagr deal on April 2, 2013. On Nov. 22, 2013, Dallas traded MacDermid to Calgary for a 2014 sixth-round pick. MacDermid, unable to make the Calgary roster full time, retired in February. The 24-year-old appeared in 21 career NHL games.
Ray Ferraro had a very good NHL career. He played for six franchises. In 1,258 games, Ferraro scored 408 goals and 490 assists. But his two favorite moments in hockey are not from his own career. On June 27, 2009, at the Bell Centre, Holland announced his son’s name as the 32d pick.
“It was the greatest thing I’ve ever experienced in an NHL rink,” Ferraro said. “It was only topped this year when he played his first game. Those are two moments where it’s impossible not to be emotional and proud. You think of all the good times and the bad times — driving home after a game that didn’t go so well. To hear him drafted by Detroit and this year, seeing him put the sweater on, it’s just incredible, incredible pride. This is his dream. All these kids are chasing their dreams.”
With diploma, Florek reaches another goal
Justin Florek has had a busy three months. He and his wife welcomed daughter Lilian in February. The Bruins recalled Florek from Providence April 15, and he served as the No. 3 left wing for all five games of the first-round series against Detroit. He scored his first career playoff goal in Game 2 against the Wings after he picked off Jimmy Howard’s clearing attempt.
On May 3, Florek became a college graduate.
Florek played at Northern Michigan for four years, but he came up 18 credits short (approximately one semester) of earning his diploma in community health before he started his pro career in Providence in 2012.
“I made it a goal to myself, my coach at college, and to my family that I’d get that degree,” Florek said. “I chipped away at it the last two years. I finally got it.”
Northern Michigan is in Marquette, Florek’s hometown. After settling on community health as his major (he switched from nursing and education), Florek took classes in the summer.
During the season, Providence played most of its games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Monday would be an offday. Not for Florek. While his teammates rested, Florek crammed online courses and papers into the offday.
Upon the conclusion of his playing career, Florek plans to use his degree in some way involving sports, fitness, nutrition, and health.
“It’s something I look forward to,” Florek said. “Hopefully in the far, far future.”
Hurricanes’ Francis quickly making moves
Ron Francis didn’t wait long to make some noise. On Monday, one week after taking over the Carolina helm from Jim Rutherford, the GM sacked coach Kirk Muller and assistants Dave Lewis and John MacLean. Muller, who earned notice around the league as a Montreal assistant, failed to make the playoffs in any of the three seasons he spent in Carolina.
It was no coincidence that Francis did not let go of assistant Rod Brind’Amour. They were teammates in Carolina. It’s likely that Francis will pursue another ex-teammate to replace Muller.
“I have a few good friends who are coaches around the league that I’ve played with,” Francis said at a news conference following Muller’s firing. “I admire the job they do. I know their personalities and how they operate. If I can find a guy that emulates those traits, it wouldn’t hurt.”
Like all GMs, Francis wants a coach who can teach the game, communicate with his charges, and get the most out of his players. There are a handful of Francis’s former teammates who fit this profile: Kevin Dineen, Ulf Samuelsson, Rick Tocchet, Dean Evason, and Doug Jarvis.
All five have head coaching experience. Dineen coached Florida the last three years before he was fired by the Panthers on Nov. 8, 2013. Samuelsson was the head man for MoDo of the Swedish Elite League before returning stateside to serve as an assistant to Alain Vigneault in New York. Tocchet was the Lightning’s coach for two years until he was replaced by Guy Boucher. The last two seasons, Evason has coached Milwaukee, Nashville’s AHL affiliate. Jarvis was the head coach of Hamilton, Montreal’s farm team.
Whomever Francis hires, he’ll have to straighten out Carolina’s best players. Jordan Staal (15-25—40 in 82 games) is big, smart, and good with the puck. Staal is an effective two-way center, but there’s more he can give offensively. Same goes for big brother Eric Staal, who is coming off a 21-goal season. That’s the captain’s worst goal-scoring output since his rookie year in 2003-04, when he scored 11 times. (Staal was on pace to score 31 goals in 2012-13.)
Francis has work of his own. His biggest order of business will be to find a taker for Cam Ward. It won’t be easy. Ward has two years left at $6.3 million annually, according to www.capgeek.com. He can’t stay healthy. His game and confidence have tumbled. But Carolina can’t afford a No. 2 goalie absorbing such a large percentage of its cap space.
Blashill a rising star in coaching ranks
Partly because of the change he’s seen in son Landon Ferraro’s play in Grand Rapids, Ray Ferraro does not believe Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill will be working in western Michigan much longer. “There’s no question Jeff Blashill will be an NHL coach, whether it’s now, in a year, or however it works out,” Ray Ferraro said. The Red Wings will not allow other teams permission to interview Blashill. But that could change upon the conclusion of Blashill’s contract after the 2014-15 season.
Defense name of Nashville’s game
In 2009-10, as coach of the Flyers, Peter Laviolette rolled out Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, and Braydon Coburn as his top four defensemen. The Flyers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final before their slipshod goaltending — they leaned on Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher, and Johan Backlund — did them in against Chicago. Laviolette, hired Tuesday as Barry Trotz’s replacement in Nashville, will take over a team with a comparable defense and an even better goalie. Shea Weber is a superstar. Roman Josi scored 13 goals and 27 assists while averaging 26:25 of ice time, not far off Weber’s pace (26:54). They have young pace-pushers in Seth Jones, Ryan Ellis, and Michael Del Zotto, who will be expected to support the attack in Laviolette’s go-go system. If Pekka Rinne is healthy, the Predators have an ace goalie. “I’m so bullish on our defense,” GM David Poile said after announcing Laviolette’s hiring. “It doesn’t have a lot of experience. But we’re getting there. It’s a defense that will be intact for 10 years. Give me Pekka and our defense for the next 10 years.” Rinne and the defensemen will be critical if Laviolette wants to lead the Predators back to the playoffs. Nashville has neither a go-to scorer nor up-front depth. Opposing coaches don’t need to hard-match against Craig Smith (24 goals) or Patric Hornqvist (22). Poile is counting on Rinne, an active defense, and Laviolette’s ability to get more out of Colin Wilson and Viktor Stalberg.
Hextall’s background fit for a King
Ron Hextall didn’t replace Paul Holmgren as Philadelphia’s GM because of his playing ties to the Flyers. The hot-headed goalie’s best grooming took place as an unemotional and methodical assistant GM to Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles. From 2006-12, Hextall played a major role in turning LA into a development machine. In that time, the Kings’ draft picks include can’t-misses (Drew Doughty, No. 2 in 2008) and passed-over grunts (Jordan Nolan, Dwight King, Linden Vey). LA also signed undrafted goalie Martin Jones, who made Ben Scrivens expendable. Once director of amateur scouting Michael Futa makes his picks, the Kings turn their prospects over to Mark Morris in Manchester. They mature in the AHL and make immediate impacts in LA. When Lombardi needs help, he acts swiftly and aggressively, as he did in acquiring Mike Richards and Jeff Carter prior to their 2012 championship. The Kings will be good for a long time. Hextall promises to do the same in Philadelphia.
Assistants walk the plank
It will not take long next season to determine how much influence Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin had in devising and implementing the Maple Leafs’ system. The locals (Gordon is from Easton, Cronin from Arlington) were sacked on Thursday, the same day the Toronto bosses gave Randy Carlyle a two-year extension. Toronto was a mess in 2013-14. If not for Jonathan Bernier (26-19-7, 2.68 GAA, .923 save percentage) and an opportunistic power play, the Leafs would have battled the Sabres for the bottom spot in the East. The Leafs played on different pages. The forwards forechecked too hard and backchecked with little purpose. The defensemen kept slack gaps. They regularly strayed onto the walls and into the corners instead of occupying the net-front area in the defensive zone. Perhaps new assistants will address these deficiencies. Maybe new boss Brendan Shanahan and GM Dave Nonis determined that Carlyle is better at big-picture, motivational coaching than systems work. We’ll see shortly whether they’re right.
Rookie Michael Bournival has been a dependable player for Montreal in the playoffs. The 21-year-old left wing has taken some shifts on the No. 2 line in place of Brandon Prust. Colorado originally picked Bournival with the 71st pick of the 2010 draft. The Canadiens acquired Bournival from the Avalanche for Ryan O’Byrne. The Quebec native is smart, a good skater, and trustworthy defensively. He’s got a little bit of Sean Couturier in his game . . . On Wednesday, NBC landed Olympic TV rights through 2032. The deal is worth $7.65 billion. The NHL has yet to commit to Olympic participation in 2018. But all that cash that NBC is paying will go a long way toward convincing the league and its owners to let the players go to South Korea. Money talks, even if it doesn’t do the league much good to go dark while its stars beat each other up.