Over two weeks ago, I replied to a Tweet from well respected former NHL player turned successful hockey analyst Ray Ferraro. A very good player whose career proved to be one of the better gems of the 1982 NHL Draft.
Selected in the fifth round at number 88 by the Hartford Whalers, Ferraro proved he could make up for his smallish 5-9 size with good skating, skill and intelligence to go with hard work. In the first part of his NHL career, Ferraro scored 20 goals or better for the Whalers during five of his first six seasons spent in Connecticut.
That included a career best 47 assists to go with 30 goals and 77 points in his second season for the Whale. By age 24, he hit the 40 goal mark when he netted 41 to go with 35 assists for 76 points in 80 games during ’88-89. The breakdown was 11 power play goals and 30 even strength with a career best seven game-winners.
In fact, the Whalers made the playoffs in all but one of his seasons spent at Hartford. That included a tough second round series loss in the Adams Division Finals to the Canadiens. A closely fought series that the Habs won thanks to then rookie Claude Lemieux in sudden death at the Montreal Forum. Had they prevailed, who knows. Maybe Hartford also gets by the Rangers and plays for the Stanley Cup.
It was during Ferraro’s seventh year that Hartford made a big mistake. On Nov. 13, 1990, they traded him to the Islanders in exchange for defenseman Doug Crossman. Nothing against Crossman, who had a solid career. But he was near the end and strictly a rental for the Whalers, who after qualifying for the postseason were ousted in the Adams Division Semifinals by bitter nemesis Boston. Crossman didn’t play in the six-game series loss and left for Detroit.
Meanwhile, Ferraro became a fixture on Long Island. Although he spent only five seasons there, he was a reliable second center. First, behind Pat LaFontaine and then Pierre Turgeon, who came over from Buffalo as part of a blockbuster trade involving seven players on Oct. 25, 1991. Interestingly, Benoit Hogue and Uwe Krupp became key players for the Islanders along with centerpiece Turgeon. He and Ferraro eventually formed a good 1-2 punch at center.
After only going 19-16-35 over 61 games in his first season at Nassau Coliseum, Ferraro rebounded nicely by posting a 40-40-80 line with a plus-25 in 80 contests during ’91-92. Although they missed the playoffs, some good young talent was being assembled to help a core that featured Turgeon, Ferraro, Derek King, Hogue, Steve Thomas, Pat Flatley, Krupp, Tom Kurvers, Jeff Norton and David Volek. That included Scott Lachance, Vladimir Malakhov and a tough as nails kid from Lithuania named Darius Kasparaitis. There also were Marty McInnis and Travis Green.
Although he only got into 46 games during the ’92-93 regular season, Ferraro would be instrumental in helping lead the upstart Islanders to a pair of upsets over the Capitals and two-time defending champion Pens to reach the Conference Finals. After Dale Hunter’s deliberate cheap shot injured Turgeon following a goal, Ferraro took over as the leader. He would score a team best 13 goals during the run and set up seven more to total 20 points in 18 games. That included two gigantic overtime winners against the Caps in Games 3 and 4 of that intense second round series at a raucous Nassau Coliseum.
He was phenomenal during that playoff run. If he didn’t have the respect of his peers before, he certainly earned it with that virtuoso performance. After spending one more season on Long Island, Ferraro signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Manhattan rival Rangers. My initial reaction was shock. But here was a good player who could help the roster for ’95-96.
In an interesting off-season that also saw Team President and General Manager Neil Smith trade Sergei Zubov and Petr Nedved to the Penguins in exchange for Ulf Samuelsson and Luc Robitaille, the changes made were a bit puzzling. On one hand, they added a high character second line center in Ferraro to play behind Mark Messier. On the other, they traded away ’94 Stanley Cup champion Zubov, who was a key part of that team. While I liked getting the proven Robitaille, I didn’t understand the rationale for dealing the future Hall Of Fame defenseman. At the time, there were other off ice issues which were probably a factor in the deal.
Another strange move was signing former Devil Bruce Driver to help fill the void left by Zubov. Although I respected Driver, it was obvious he couldn’t replace what Zubov brought. Especially on the power play. Samuelsson was brought in to beef up the blue line. A slight overreaction to losing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Legion of Doom Flyers. Can you even imagine acquiring players from three of your closest division rivals now? It would never happen.
As much as I disliked the Zubov part of the trade with Pittsburgh, I was looking forward to seeing what Robitaille could do. He was one of the game’s best ever scoring left wings. Most of it came while starring for the Kings where he produced at a record clip while teamed with Wayne Gretzky. Now, Lucky Luc would fill a role on the second line with Ferraro and Alexei Kovalev. It had good potential to improve team scoring behind a strong top line featuring Messier, Adam Graves and Pat Verbeek.
With two-way pivot Sergei Nemchinov still around for the third line along with rookie Niklas Sundstrom and ’94 hero Stephane Matteau, the Blueshirts were formidable. Especially with Brian Leetch patrolling a blue line that still featured Jeff Beukeboom, Kevin Lowe and Alexander Karpovtsev along with Samuelsson and Driver added. They had the reliable duo of Mike Richter and Glenn Healy in net. There was a lot to like despite the subtraction of Zubov.
For most of the ’95-96 season, the Rangers were playing up to expectations. The trio of Messier, Graves and Verbeek were producing at a great clip. In fact, both Messier and Verbeek each scored over 40 goals. With Graves riding shotgun to provide another strong season and Ferraro fitting in well alongside Robitaille and Kovalev, it looked like this team could compete for a Stanley Cup.
While Matteau never could live up to the hype after his memorable playoff performance in ’94, he was dealt to the Blues for Ian Laperriere. A younger center who played with high energy. Although he didn’t score much, Laperriere was becoming a fan favorite due to his big hits and willingness to scrap. If only his Rangers’ career had lasted more than 28 games. Perplexing stuff.
With the Blueshirts, Ferraro was having a good season. He had scored 25 goals with 29 assists for a total of 54 points and plus-13 rating in 65 games. Even skeptics took to him. He was a winning hockey player who worked hard to produce. Ferraro was a fast skater who made things happen. So, it was a good fit. He was working out well. Then came the mind boggling trade out of nowhere on March 14, 1996.
Having already added solid checker Bill Berg and former Canuck Sergio Momesso from Toronto, Smith pulled the trigger on a seven-player blockbuster trade with the Kings that didn’t make any sense. He packaged Ferraro, Laperriere, Nathan Lafayette and promising defenseman Mattias Norstrom with a fourth round pick to Los Angeles for veterans Jari Kurri, Marty McSorley and Shane Churla.
My first reaction was similar to Trader Neil getting rid of Zubov on a hot summer day in ’95. Why? They had just given up their steady second line center who was playing well with Robitaille and Kovalev for former Edmonton Oiler Jari Kurri. At one time, he was considered one of the greatest finishers as well as a tremendous two-way player. However, by that point of his outstanding career, Kurri was near the end. While I respected his obvious resume, it didn’t make sense. To his credit, he performed better in the playoffs.
As for McSorley, he had a reputation of a huge hitter who could flatten opponents with heavy checks and fight. He was tough and had size along with toughness. It was obvious what the Rangers were going for here. Another former Oiler who won with Messier in the 80’s before fitting in well with the Gretzky Kings, he was a disaster in the Big Apple. Some players just aren’t meant to play here. Unfortunately, McSorley’s Rangers stint was short-lived. The less said about it, the better.
Interestingly enough, Shane Churla actually was a solid addition to the fourth line. Along with Darren Langdon, he helped replace popular enforcer Joey Kocur, who they dealt to Vancouver for Kay Whitmore. Seriously. For parts of two years, Churla finished checks and dropped the gloves. Ironically, his only two goals as a Ranger came in the ’96 postseason. He contributed more than McSorley, who only got into four games before departing for the Sharks in free agency.
Following the deal, the Rangers weren’t the same team. As if to confirm it, they got humiliated by the Pens on March 24, 1996. They skated circles around them and easily won the game 8-2 at MSG on Dad’s birthday. No. We weren’t there thankfully. But I distinctly remember that game being embarrassing. They had already started to head in the wrong direction losing two of three following that awful trade. Pens bust Alek Stojanov scored. They got him from Vancouver for future star Markus Naslund. Oops.
After looking to have straightened out with three straight wins, the Rangers concluded the regular season by losing their last five and six of seven to drop to second in the division. It would prove costly.
Although they dusted themselves off the mat after losing the first two games on home ice to the underdog Canadiens by rallying to take the opening round series in six games, the Blueshirts drew the supremely skilled Pens in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. It was a mismatch.
The game-breaking speed and skill of dynamic duo Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr was too much to overcome. After splitting a pair at the Igloo, it became a two-man show. The combination of Lemieux and Jagr took apart the slower Blueshirts. They absolutely dominated the series which the Pens won in five. Number 66 and 68 combined for 15 goals. Poetically, both Zubov and Nedved had the same amount of points (5) as Messier.
If you don’t think he had some input on that awful trade, you probably believe in the tooth fairy. It had his fingerprints all over it. He also hated Nedved the one season he came over from St. Louis as part of the compensation for Mike Keenan, who took Esa Tikkanen and Doug Lidster with him. Ironically, Nedved would have a better second act on Broadway. However, he wasn’t a good two-way player and those teams were a tire fire during the Dark Ages. Too bad it cost Kovalev, who predictably fulfilled his potential playing in Pittsburgh with Jagr, Martin Straka and Robert Lang.
As for Ferraro, he continued to be a good player for the remainder of his career. While there were some tough times in LA once they traded Gretzky to the Blues before he famously teamed up with Messier once again to help lead the Rangers to one final run to the Eastern Conference Finals, Ferraro would fare better with the then expansion Atlanta Thrashers.
In fact, during the ’00-01 season, he led the team in scoring with 29 goals and 47 assists for 76 points. The man who would affectionately become known to hockey fans as Chicken Parm due to working with John Buccigross and Barry Melrose on ESPN’S NHL2Nite, centered the Thrashers’ top line that included vets Donald Audette and Andrew Brunette. He recorded two hat tricks including the 11th and final one of his career on Feb. 13, 2001 versus Buffalo. He also converted on his only penalty shot that season when he scored in the third period against goalie Arturs Irbe on Feb. 21, 2001 during a 6-3 loss at Carolina.
In his final season, he played in 61 games before being dealt to the Blues for one more playoff push. Ferraro produced well down the stretch of ’01-02. He posted six goals and four helpers for 10 points in 15 games. His last postseason saw St. Louis reach the Western Conference Semifinals where they were eliminated by the eventual champion Red Wings in five. In 10 playoff games, Ferraro tallied three assists.
He retired at 37 following the conclusion of the ’01-02 season. For his 18-year NHL career, Ferraro registered 408 goals with 490 assists for 898 points in 1,258 games. The 408 goals place him in the top 100 all-time. That included 278 even strength goals which rank 96th. His 130 power play goals are 86th.
Ferraro had a very good career with six different teams. While much of his success came with the Whalers along with the most memorable with the Islanders, he was a good Ranger for the one season he played before the untimely trade. A trade that is one of the worst in franchise history. It might not be on the level of Rick Middleton for Ken Hodge. But it definitely ruined what might’ve been a memorable season. Instead, we’re left wondering what could’ve been.
Norstrom would go onto a solid career mostly with LA playing a mean style that would’ve been appreciated in NYC. Laperriere carved out a nice career for himself including in Philadelphia where he remains to this day as the coach of the AHL Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Kurri would spend two more seasons in the NHL with Anaheim and Colorado where he recorded his 600th career goal. He once held the record for most goals, assists and points by a European-born and trained player with 601 goals, 797 assists and 1,398 points. However, Jagr passed him in all three categories. Fellow Finn Teemu Selanne passed him in goals while Nicklas Lidstrom eclipsed Kurri in assists. He’s currently the GM and owner of Jokerit in the KHL.
McSorley spent four more seasons in the NHL with San Jose, Edmonton and Boston before his career ended on a horrible stick-swinging incident in which he injured then Canuck Donald Brashear. He was suspended for the remainder of the ’99-00 season. The incident lead to McSorley being charged and convicted of assault by a judge in British Columbia. He was given 18 months of probation. It increased his NHL suspension until February 21, 2001. After playing in 14 games with IHL Grand Rapids, he retired. He coached the Springfield Falcons in the AHL from 2002 to 2004. He now is an analyst on Sportsnet in Canada and still attends Kings games.
It’s strange how things turned out. When I look at how successful Ferraro is in broadcasting due to his engaging personality and willingness to tell it like it is, it is nice to see him stay in hockey as an analyst. He didn’t have to respond to my Tweet. But it always didn’t sit right with me how he was traded. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be the last player the Rangers mishandled.