A year ago, Ray Ferraro was pondering retirement. Now, he's looking forward to being an offensive leader for the expansion Atlanta Thrashers.
The 35-year-old Ferraro, convinced his injured knees are fully recovered, agreed to a two-year contract with the NHL's newest team Monday.
Ferraro had 13 goals and 18 assists in 65 games for the Los Angeles Kings, but he was plagued most of last season by sore knees. He underwent surgery in May 1998 to remove loose cartilage from his left knee, then tore cartilage in his right knee last December and needed an arthroscopic procedure.
"I went into last year expecting it to be my last year," Ferraro said. "The game had lost its appeal, lost its fun. The workouts were becoming workouts."
But his knees began to feel better over the final 25 games last season, forcing him to change his mind set.
"When I took off my skates after the final game, I knew 100 percent that I was not ready to go," Ferraro said. "I know I can still play this game. I love this game again."
The Thrashers, desperate for scoring punch heading into their inaugural season, are hopeful Ferraro can recapture some of the form that has made him a 346-goal scorer during his 15-year career, which has included stints with Hartford, the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers. He also has 395 assists.
Of the players selected by Atlanta in the expansion draft, none had more than nine goals last season. The Thrashers have bolstered their offense somewhat during free agency by signing right wing Nelson Emerson, who had 13 goals and 24 assists last season, and Ferraro.
"This give us another guy with a proven track record, a proven 20-goal scorer," general manager Don Waddell said. "It's hard to find those kind of guys."
The Thrashers put Ferraro through a comprehensive exam to ensure his knees are sound, and they structured his contract to protect themselves just in case he's not fully recovered. He will make about $1 million this season, plus incentives, but the second year of the contract is based largely on his production this season.
"Sure, we're taking a chance," Waddell said. "But it's a gamble every time you sign a player. Given the opportunity, he's at least done it in the NHL. We're counting on a lot of guys who've never done it in the NHL."
Ferraro has scored at least 20 goals 10 times, including a career-high 41 with Hartford in 1988-89. He played in the 1992 All-Star game as a member of the Islanders.
While conceding that patience is not a strength, Ferraro said is looking forward to playing with the Thrashers.
"I've never won a Stanley Cup, and I would have to think that doing that is an unrealistic goal this season," Ferraro said. "On the other hand, if you look at the success of Florida and Nashville, they showed if you can get a team to work hard, respectability will come ong in very quick fashion."
Waddell is counting on players like Ferraro and Emerson to help ease the transition for 18-year-old Patrik Stefan, the top pick in the entry draft.
"You can't put big pressure on the guy," Waddell said. "He's going to be a great player, we truly believe that, but it's going to happen in time. ... I'm not worried about what he does the next two years. I'm looking at what he does over the next 10 years."
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