VANCOUVER – Since Vancouver Canucks winger Micheal Ferland tried to rouse his team Oct. 30 in Los Angeles by fighting the Kings’ Kyle Clifford from a faceoff early in the first period — and instead suffered another concussion — there have been 38 fights in the National Hockey League.
Only three of them were "staged" fights from a faceoff, according to the fight log on hockeyfights.com.
Thankfully, the era of heavyweights agreeing to pummel one another because both needed a job in the NHL is all but over.
With hockey’s changing culture, the premeditated fight is increasingly unnecessary. And with what we know about brain injuries and the risk of volunteering to take punches to the head, it is also spectacularly reckless.
After missing 17 games and five-and-a-half weeks with his second concussion in as many seasons, Ferland may return to the lineup for the Canucks’ matinee game Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres. If not that game, then Ferland will play Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. We think — because you never know with head injuries.
Whenever Ferland plays, don’t expect the 27-year-old winger to come out swinging.
Able to skate, hit and score goals, Ferland doesn’t need to stage fights to stay in the NHL. He does, however, have to stay healthy.
"For sure going to be a little bit smarter now, picking and choosing when to fight," Ferland told reporters after fully practising Friday in Burnaby, B.C. "The game is definitely changed now where you don’t necessarily need to fight that early in the game.
"Clifford has been around the league a long time. It was kind of a stale game… and we just kind of wanted to spark each other. The times where you square up like that? I don’t even know how many times that’s happened throughout the year. Definitely got to be smarter picking and choosing when to fight."
The Canucks were trailing the Kings 1-0 early at Staples Center when Ferland and Clifford agreed before a faceoff in the Kings’ zone to fight as soon as the puck was dropped.
Neither player absorbed a "big" punch. But Clifford landed a glancing blow on Ferland’s chin and a shot to the back of his head after the Canuck lost his helmet. It really didn’t look like anything, but Ferland hasn’t played since.
He is in the first season of the four-year, $12-million contract he signed in July.
"It was tough to watch the video to see where I got the concussion," Ferland said. "I remember in the fight there, the exact time I got hit, it’s tough to see but I definitely felt it. You definitely know the symptoms a lot more when you’ve been through couple (of concussions), and the symptoms seem to be the exact same ones I had the last couple of times, so I can measure where I’m at and, I guess, know where I’m at physically.
"The big one was the one on the back of the head. It doesn’t look like much on the video, but definitely in the fight you could feel it."
The Canucks looked into Ferland’s medical history with the Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames before signing the unrestricted free agent on July 10 as a first-line partner and bodyguard for young stars Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser.
That combination lasted two regular-season games before Canucks coach Travis Green dropped Ferland to the third line and reduced his ice time. After finishing last season with 17 goals and 40 points in 71 games in Carolina, Ferland scored just once (and had no assists) in his first nine games for Vancouver.
But he started to play more effectively shortly before his injury. Two days before that Kings game, Ferland registered two assists, three hits and logged 12:15 of ice time, the most since his demotion, in a 7-2 win against the Florida Panthers. The game before that, Ferland had an assist and a season-high four shots on net during a 6-5 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals.
The Canucks ended up beating the Kings 5-3, but lost eight of their next 10 games without Ferland, whose absence was compounded by several other injuries among Vancouver’s bottom six forwards. Centres Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle also practised Friday and could return against the Sabres or Leafs.
Ferland needs to play physically, but that doesn’t necessarily mean fighting. And if he does fight, there’s a huge difference between coming to the aid of teammates and trying to wake them up.
"It’s not my first time I’ve been through this," he said. "The biggest thing for me, if I get in (Saturday), is just get into it physically. Be solid on the defensive side of pucks, get pucks in and just be physical and just try to get back into the game that way. I’m not going to try to look to do too much."
On his concussion, he said: "Yeah, it sucks. (But) until the doc tells me there’s a (style) I can’t play anymore… I’m just going to keep playing the way I know I can."
• A cavalry charge back from the injured list will force the Canucks to do some roster and salary-cap gymnastics. Minor-league callup Nikolay Goldobin was returned Friday to the Utica Comets and winger Zack MacEwen could soon follow him back to the American League.
• Another callup, 23-year-old Adam Gaudette, has 13 points in 19 games and is no longer waiver-exempt after playing his 80th NHL game in Tuesday’s 5-2 win against the Ottawa Senators. So, the return of Ferland, Beagle and Sutter could force the Canucks to dump $36-million-man Loui Eriksson in the minors.