Free agent Ference won't be back with the Bruins

Free agent Ference won't be back with the Bruins
June 26, 2013, 10:00 am

BOSTON -- With their run to the Stanley Cup Final now in the hockey history books, the Bruins are making over their roster to deal with the NHL's decreased salary cap for the 2013-14 season.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien will be conducting exit interviews with all of the players at TD Garden on Wednesday morning as they pack up their bags for the last time before a two-month summer break.

Some players will be getting plaudits for the honorable way they acquitted themselves in a highly successful season that came up just short of the pinnacle. Some will be handed an improvement plan for the offseason. Some will be thanked for their outstanding service and told that their days with the Bruins have come to an end.

Through no fault of his own, other than being a higher-priced veteran when the Bruins are flush with young defensemen, the Bruins will be parting ways with alternate captain Andrew Ference.

The 34-year-old defenseman has been with the Bruins for the last seven seasons, and was one of the key veteran leaders that helped build the championship-level team currently residing in Boston.

He finished with four goals and 13 points along with a plus-9 while averaging 19:29 of ice time in 48 games with the Bruins this season, but he suffered through bouts of inconsistency after returning from a lockout stint in the Czech Republic. Part of Ference’s inconsistency was undoubtedly hinged to the lockout, but it also might have been about his uncertain contract status approaching unrestricted free agency this summer.

Ference badly wanted to remain in Boston with the Bruins after building strong roots with the city and the community, but contract talks never really progressed.  

Despite all of this, Ference continued to be a key figure in a leadership role with the Bruins.

He was the player that introduced the Army Ranger jacket that an honored B’s skater would don after playoff wins this spring, and his leadership traits were far-reaching. He treated all his teammates equally in the dressing room, looked after younger players, and connected with players of all different backgrounds, making him an integral part of the B’s leadership group.

He’ll be missed greatly in that regard, but also as a defiant competitor who flipped an “unintentional bird” at Habs fans during their playoff series against the Canadiens in the 2011 Cup playoffs. Many teammates, Milan Lucic included, pointed to that moment as the turning point for Boston going on to beat the Habs in seven games and capture the Cup.  

Before Game 6 against the Blackhawks, Julien was asked what Ference brings to the table for the Bruins.

“I think a lot of things," Julien said. "His heart and desire. On and off the ice he comes to play every game, whether he has a better game one night than another. He's always coming to play, and you know he's going to give you everything he's got. [It’s the] same thing in the dressing room, he cares about his teammates and does all the little things every year.

“Those jackets and stuff like that, come from him. The guys have learned to rely on him because he enjoys it. When you see the other things he's done outside with the community, good person, good teammate, and like I said, very reliable player every time he steps on the ice.”

But it’s also a salary cap world, and the cap ceiling is dropping down to $64.3 million next year. That means younger, cheaper alternatives will be utilized to keep under the cap number. Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski all proved this spring that they’re ready for regular NHL duty, and Krug brings many of the same strengths to the table that Ference has brought.

A surplus of young defensemen ready for the NHL means the Bruins have to make some tough roster decisions in order to make room for the next generation. Johnny Boychuk might have also been in danger of being traded this summer for the exact same reason, but his dominant playoff performance scoring goals and blocking shots might have been enough to keep him off the trade block.  

Krug and Ference are similar in size, skating speed and feistiness in the defensive zone, and it would appear Krug might be something of an upgrade as a point player on the power play. As soon as the younger Krug stepped in and scored four goals in five games for an injured Ference during the second round against the New York Rangers, the writing was on the wall about which direction Boston would move in the offseason.

It will be some time before the 22-year-old Krug possesses the kind of veteran leadership voice in the dressing room that Ference has had over the last seven seasons in Boston. But Krug will come in under the $2 to $3 million cap hit that Ference will command as a 34-year-old unrestricted free agent, and that’s the bottom-line salary-cap story.

Krug has been a natural leader at every spot along the way in his hockey career as well, and might someday step up in that regard with the Bruins. That’s assuming he’s lucky enough to enjoy the same kind of long-term success that Ference enjoyed in Boston after getting traded from Calgary in the 2006-07 season.

There are clearly some intangible things with Ference that the Bruins can’t replace, but that’s the harsh truth every NHL team will have to face in an offseason that will be loaded with tough roster decisions at every corner.