When Peter Chiarelli acquired Andrew Ference from Calgary in 2007, the general manager issued a challenge to his new defenseman.
Chiarelli always had admired Ference’s 2003-04 Calgary club. The gritty Flames lost to Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup Final. Seven players off that roster have shuttled through Boston: Ference, Chuck Kobasew, Shean Donovan, Stephane Yelle, Chris Clark, Steve Montador, and Dany Sabourin.
The Bruins’ dressing room was a mess. They had finished 13th in the conference in 2006-07. Coach Dave Lewis, one season into his four-year deal, was fired.
Chiarelli, then a first-year GM, wanted to build a Calgary-like culture in Boston. Ference would be one of those charged with that task.
“When I first came here, one of the things on my shoulder from Peter was to create that kind of atmosphere we had in Calgary, where it was a brotherhood, where it was that kind of attitude,’’ Ference said. “There’s a group of us here that are really, really proud of that — that we’ve kind of done it together.’’
Ference has been part of a leadership group that has won the Stanley Cup. The Bruins have made the playoffs five straight seasons. They have sprinted to an 8-1-1 start this season. TD Garden sells out every game. Only Dougie Hamilton, Chris Bourque, and Aaron Johnson weren’t on the Rogers Arena ice on June 15, 2011, when the Bruins claimed the Cup.
Ference has fulfilled his GM’s request.
“I’ve put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into this team,’’ Ference said. “The makeup and the fabric of this room – the environment.’’
Ference’s time in Boston, however, may be ending. He is in the final season of a three-year, $6.75 million contract. Ference, Nathan Horton, and Anton Khudobin are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after this season.
Ference will be 34 March 17. His next deal might be his last crack at a multi-year contract. So it is quite expected that Ference’s next contract is very much on his mind.
“My radar? Yeah. Of course. This is my career,’’ Ference said when asked if he’s been thinking about a deal. “It has been going all the way back to the moment that we had the ability to extend. As a player, you want to have some grasp of your future.’’
Ference acknowledged his contract was the impetus behind his decision to play for HC Ceske Budejovice in Czech Republic during the lockout. Ference knew that if he didn’t play, he wouldn’t be ready for NHL play once the lockout was over.
GMs, his own included, would be watching — and fretting — if Ference’s game wasn’t crisp right away.
“Even when I got to Europe, for the first couple weeks, you’re trying to find your balance and your timing,’’ Ference said. “The ability to just have that consistency right off the bat, I think you see it throughout the whole lineup. We had a lot of guys over there. It might not be that visible to the naked eye. But the consistency is there with a lot of our guys more than other teams.’’
Ference has been with the organization longer than all but five Bruins: Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and Zdeno Chara. He is an alternate captain. Of Ference’s 722 career NHL games, 335 have been in Black and Gold.
Ference’s signature moment as a Bruin came in Game 4 of the first round against Montreal in 2010-11. He scored in the second period to cut Montreal’s lead to 3-2. After the goal, Ference saluted the Bell Centre crowd with his middle finger. After the game, Ference said his glove had gotten stuck.
Ference has been mostly a third-pairing defenseman for coach Claude Julien. This season, he has two assists while averaging 17:55 of ice time per game. Most recently, Ference has skated with Adam McQuaid on the No. 3 duo.
When injuries have occurred, Julien has given Ference more responsibilities. The coach cites Ference’s mobility, hockey sense, and toughness among the assets that allow him to move up in the lineup. At times, Ference has seen power-play action because he can skate and move the puck.
Off the ice, Ference, wife Krista, and daughters Ava and Stella have planted strong roots in Boston. They live in the North End. Ference has been active in charity and environmental causes.
Ference would like to stay. The Bruins feel the same way. But there could be a financial disagreement when talks begin. Negotiations have yet to start.
“There’s a lot invested emotionally into this team,’’ Ference said. “We’ve accomplished a lot. Beyond that, the city is obviously home for us and our family. So it weighs heavily to know where things are at. The team has their numbers with what their budget is. They probably have a good idea of where I’m at. It’s a matter of me waiting patiently, I guess.’’
The 2013-14 cap will be $64.3 million. The Bruins have about $58 million committed to next season, including Marc Savard’s $4,007,143 hit. They could exceed the cap by Savard’s number by placing him on long-term injured reserve. After extending Tuukka Rask, there will not be much remaining to re-sign Ference, Horton, or Khudobin.
Ference will have to accept a smaller payday to remain in Boston. If he elects to hit the market, his chances for a richer score are greater.
“No matter what the sport, if you don’t wait to get to free agency, you’re almost always taking less. That’s 29 less teams bidding,’’ Ference said. “But I’ve also played 13 years in this league. At least I’m at a point where there’s more important things in life than a couple extra bucks here or there. If you can have a good family life and live in a good city, it’s pretty tough to put a price on that.’’
Ppd. game to be April 25
The Bruins-Lightning game, postponed last Saturday because of the storm, has been rescheduled for April 25. The game will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Garden. It will be the team’s second-to-last game of the regular season. The Bruins conclude the regular season April 27 in Washington . . . The Bruins assigned Jamie Tardif to Providence Monday. Tardif had appeared in two games for the Bruins, averaging 4:55 of ice time. The Bruins had recalled Tardif on an emergency basis Feb. 1 because of injuries to Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille . . . The Bruins sent Lane MacDermid to Providence on a conditioning loan. MacDermid was a healthy scratch in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Buffalo. Providence played Manchester Monday . . . Tyler Seguin was given a maintenance day. Horton skated in Seguin’s spot on the No. 1 line alongside Lucic and Krejci. Rich Peverley practiced with Marchand and Bergeron . . . Johnson didn’t practice. He had reported to Providence to play Monday but wasn’t needed. Johnson is expected to participate in Tuesday’s morning skate at the Garden.