The writing was on the wall for Andrew Ference even prior to his season ending prematurely with a hip injury that required labrum surgery.
Ference suited up for only six games this season for an Oilers team still woefully inadequate on the defensive side of the puck. He was a healthy scratch for both games against the Bruins, including way back in mid-December in his likely last game ever at TD Garden. So, it was no surprise to hear murmurs that the Edmonton Oilers may use their buyout option on Ference while still on the hook for $3.25 million next season and even less of a surprise that the cerebral defenseman would retire from the NHL if a June buyout does indeed happen.
Said a smiling Ference: “I’m going by the advice of my good friend Mark Recchi, who said, ‘You keep going until they kick you out.' ”
It hasn’t happened yet, of course, but it wouldn’t shock anybody to see Ference get that final push from Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli with a buyout of his contract next month. If that does go down, then the past couple of years spent preparing for his post-hockey career will have been time well invested during the prodigious amounts of down time for NHL players.
“It was like a transition year, and I’ve got a lot of things going on outside of hockey,” said Ference, when discussing his life after hockey when the Oilers came through Boston in December. “We have good compost technology where we’re turning compost into biodegradable plastic. It’s been a couple of years in the making. I started doing some stuff toward the end of my time in Boston, and continued it in Edmonton.
“There’s so much dead time between airplane travel, hotels and just waiting. So there’s been plenty of time to fit my stuff in. I don’t think I would have done it in the first couple of years in my career. At that point, you’re just keeping your head above water, but the way [the regular season] is structured it was great for me.”
Ference has always held plenty of interests outside of the NHL, and a genuine, admirable desire to make the world a better place. It’s why he’s still been taking classes at Harvard Extension School for corporate sustainability in his varied environmental interests, and been involved with venture capitalists in both Boston and Edmonton. It’s also why he laughed playfully at the idea of ever coaching – or being involved in anyway other than his environmental interests really – at the NHL level once his playing career is indeed finished.
Instead the 36-year-old espouses the level-headed, realistic view one would expect from a player that suited up for 1,027 NHL regular season and playoff games in a 16-year career and saw a little bit of everything in that time. He played in three different Stanley Cup Finals, including the one where he finally hoisted the Cup with Boston in 2011, was an emotional and seasoned part of the leadership group in his Bruins days and was honored with the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his work for inclusion and acceptance around Edmonton in 2013-14.
He also flipped off the Montreal fans in Boston’s playoff run to the 2011 Cup, fought Sidney Crosby and heard some criticism from around the league when he criticized his own Bruins teammate, Dan Paille, for throwing a head shot at a Dallas Stars player. Ference was always the first player to stick up for his teammates even if it meant taking on a bigger opponent, and he was the force behind things like the Bruins Starter jacket that became an iconic symbol for the 2011 team.
It was that combination of passionate fire, unflinching integrity and genuine enthusiasm that made Ference a special personality with the Bruins, and one that formed a strong, lasting bond with the city of Boston. It’s also the kind of vibe that’s been greatly missed in the Bruins dressing room since he exited three years ago.
Clearly, he experienced everything that he wanted to competitively while making enough money to support his family moving forward, so now Ference is looking to step forward personally while fully understanding the circle of life in the NHL.
After all it was a younger, cheaper player in D-man Torey Krug that made Ference expendable when he reached free agency in Boston after the 2013 Stanley Cup Final appearance, and that kind of opened his eyes to what was in store for him eventually at the end in Edmonton.
“Obviously things change. The coach changes and the GM changes…everything changed [in Edmonton]. So all you can do whether you’re young or old is to control all the things that you can control,” said Ference. “You work hard all summer, so it’s not one of those things where you can’t hold your head high. I set my all-time VO2 record, so I was in good shape.
“That’s just the way it is. It’s part of the evolution. I took somebody’s job when I was younger, and now somebody is taking mine. It’s part of the deal and I learned that a few years ago.”
One thing is for certain with Ference: there is plenty more to be heard from him both locally and globally even if his playing days are over. It’s exciting to think about where the former Penguins, Flames, Bruins and Oilers defenseman will throw his energy once he’s able to fully focus on those other very worthy pursuits.
* While there has been no official word on whether Bruins assistant coaches Joe Sacco and Doug Jarvis will be retained by Boston, it should be noted that Sacco was present at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center for the Providence Bruins playoff games last month. That bodes well for Sacco being retained on Claude Julien’s staff. There have been some early indications that P-Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy may be a favorite for one of the vacant spots on Julien’s staff. Stay tuned for updates on this one as the composition of Julien’s coaching staff will be an interesting look at the dynamic behind the bench for next season.
* With the San Jose Sharks now in the Western Conference Finals, that 2016 San Jose first-round pick is going to hold a lot less value than the Bruins anticipated when they shipped Martin Jones to the Sharks last summer. It’s still obviously better to have two picks than one in the first round, but Don Sweeney and Cam Neely will need to pony up other assets besides mid-to-late first round picks to get the game-changing defensemen that they’re looking for.
* The folks at TD Garden have relocated the flying Bobby Orr statue to Portal Park across the street from the Garden, with both the Bruins' home on Causeway Street and Zakim Bridge looming in the background. It’s a temporary move for the next three years while the ongoing construction work is finished in and around the Garden, but am I the only one that wouldn’t mind seeing the Orr statue stay in its new home?
* Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.