Ference won't let contract uncertainty become a distraction

Ference won't let contract uncertainty become a distraction
February 26, 2013, 4:45 pm
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UNIONDALE, NY – Andrew Ference isn’t going to pretend like his impending contract status hasn’t crossed his mind this season.

The 33-year-old has spent the last seven seasons in Boston with the Bruins, captured a Stanley Cup with the Black and Gold two years ago, and was named one of the team’s alternate captains last season following Mark Recchi’s retirement.

He also rivals Shawn Thornton as the most active Bruins player in Boston away from the ice with his regular participation in charities across the city and worldwide environmental projects.

So it’s pretty clear Ference wants to stay in Boston when his contract ends following the 2013 season. He is likely seeking something similar to the three-year, $6.75 million deal he signed in 2010 given that he’s been healthy and very productive over the last three years.

Ference finished third among B’s defensemen with 24 points last season and he’s already proven himself to be a strong performer under the playoff microscope.

Those kinds of contract numbers wouldn’t be unreasonable for Ference. Perhaps the term can be dropped to two years as Ference reaches his middle 30’s as an undersized defenseman, and perhaps he takes a few less dollars to stay in a city where he’s built a comfortable home.

But Ference also indicated there have been no discussions or negotiations between the team and his agent since the end of the NHL lockout. Per his consistent policy while running the Bruins, general manager Peter Chiarelli wouldn’t publicly comment on contract negotiations with Ference or any other players. But it’s expected the Bruins will take a wait-and-see approach with both Ference and impending free agent Nathan Horton.

It’s also clear Ference would rather take care of his deal sooner rather than later given his druthers.

“You can only do your side of it, right?” said Ference. “My side of it is to play and to make sure they know where I’m at as far thought process. After that it’s out of my control. You want to be part of a winning organization and continue the job that you’ve been working.

“The first time you get moved it’s always a little tough, but after that it’s a little easier with perspective. Your dream as a kid is to play in the NHL and – no matter what – if you’re still playing it’s great. But of course it’s human nature to want to be picky and hold onto a good situation for yourself [in Boston]. It’s been great here, so you just want to keep it going. We’ve got a good team and a good family here. But it’s not like I’m going to cry myself to sleep if they don’t want me here. If it happens then that’s just the way it is. I just control my side of it.”

The Bruins have a track record of proactively re-signing the players they want to retain prior to free agency. Some like Johnny Boychuk, Shawn Thornton and David Krejci get contracts in the middle of the season prior to free agency, and others like Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell have to wait until the offseason to get things done.

Ference has effectively made his home in Boston with his wife and two daughters over the last few years, and planted deep roots in the community while carving out a solid career with the Bruins.

The uncertainty following this season isn’t something foreign to a player like Ference that’s been traded a couple of times in his career. But the unknown beyond this year has also prompted a different kind of conversation with his family when he’s away from the rink.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about [the contract status]. It’s human nature to think about it,” said Ference. “But you can’t let it be a lead weight on you. It’s one thing if you’re home and away from the rink, and you’re talking about things with your wife. You’re going to talk about these things rather than block it out.

“But on the ice whether it’s contract, something at home or any other distraction, it’s our job to flush everything out of our head and concentrate on what’s happening out on the ice. That’s what good teams do. When you talk about playoff experience that’s exactly what it is. There are so many distractions going on there. The more experience you have in the playoffs the better you get at just hammering things out. I think I described it during the last Cup run as you almost become a sociopath. It’s a harsh term, but the only thing on your mind is hockey and what’s happening on the ice.”

As far on the ice, Ference has paired with Adam McQuaid pretty much all season as Boston’s third set of defensemen. He’s got three assists and an even plus/minus rating through the team’s first 15 games while averaging just north of 18 minutes per game, and still has the leadership, experience and toughness needed to be a productive member of a championship-caliber team’s defensemen corps.

The Bruins also have some young defensemen at the AHL level like Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug and David Warsofsky, and both Krug and Warsofsky in particular are younger, more affordable players with similar games to Ference. Some of the choices may come down to budget, but it also always comes down to performance on the ice.  

Not surprisingly Ference prefers to speak in team terms, and has always blended in well with Boston’s way of doing things on the ice. It’s not always pretty or aesthetically pleasing, but it usually results in wins rather than losses on the Black and Gold ledger.

“There are always mistakes and adjustments individually and as a team, but when you look at our entire game [going to Europe] really helped a lot of us,” Ference said. “The other parts of our game have been solid and that’s why we’re getting our wins. It’s not anything fancy or flashy, but we never really have been. We just play that good, consistent hockey.”

Ference has been a significant factor in the transformation of the Bruins over the course of his seven years in Boston. He arrived via a trade with the Calgary Flames when things were at their absolute nadir with the Bruins during the Dave Lewis Era, and he’s been a spiritual leader and consistent performer as the franchise has ascended to one of the NHL’s best in the last five years.

Now the thoughtful defenseman is hoping that he’ll see things through for at least a few more seasons in Boston once the ice chips settle on the 2013 campaign, and the ball is in the court of Bruins management.