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The Boston Bruins, coming off of their sound 4-0 beating of the Atlanta Thrashers, announced on Wednesday that they signed defenseman Andrew Ference to a three-year contract extension worth $6.75 million.
The 31-year-old, who arrived in Boston in February of 2007 with Chuck Kobasew via a trade with the Calgary Flames, has notched 24 goals and 117 assists in 569 games during his ten years in the NHL, having also played for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In 182 games wearing Black & Gold, Ference, who would have been an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, has scored three goals and tallied 29 assists, including eight this season. Unfortunately for the Edmonton, Alberta-native, the last two seasons have seen him miss significant playing team because of a recurring groin injury; this year’s injury has limited him to 50 games out of a possible 72 and he will require off-season surgery.
Ference’s annual salary cap hit will rise from $1.625 million to $2.25 million through the 2013-2014 season, at which point he will become an unrestricted free agent again.
Certain benefits accompany this signing, but a strong number of concerns do, too. The Bruins have the fourth best goals against in the entire league (181 goals allowed, compared to the Buffalo Sabres’ 180, the Chicago Blackhawk’s 179, and the New Jersey Devils’ 172), which is the only reason Boston is in the playoff race, and Ference has played a major role in keeping pucks out of the net. Additionally, he is often paired with the more offensive-minded Matt Hunwick and more mistake-prone Dennis Wideman, allowing both to excel (unfortunately in Wideman’s case) at what they do best.
However, these pairings mean that Ference has spent most of this season on the third defensive pairing. His lack of offense was never going to make him a hot free agent commodity on the open market, which leads to questions about the $625,000 raise he’ll receive, especially in light of the Bruins’ anemic offense (which is still in last place in the league). This raise becomes even more problematic when one considers the Bruins’ numbers for next year. The organization already has $46.14 million on the books, with a plethora of free agents, notably Blake Wheeler, Daniel Paille, Mark Stuart, Johnny Boychuk, and Dennis Seidenburg, left to sign. While the Bruins could arguably resign each of these on the current $56.8 million salary cap, the limit is expected to drop significantly, which will make it quite difficult to prevent each free agent from departing the Hub. Signing Ference might have been a good choice, but re-upping with Stuart and/or Seidenburg first would have been a much better approach because it might cost the Bruins more than $625,000.