I’m not crazy about the length of the contract that’ll take Andrew Ference within a couple of years of having 40 candles on his birthday cake, but there’s not much doubt in my mind Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish has found himself a player who’ll fit into his dressing room seamlessly.
Ference, 34, a veteran of 760 NHL games who won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011, signed for $13 million over four years to play in his hometown with the Oilers on July 5.
While Ference definitely isn’t the big-bang addition the Oilers still need on their blue line, he’s the kind of honest, veteran second-pairing defenseman who’ll bring dimensions coach Dallas Eakins wants and needs. Hard-nosed. Nothing flashy – save for the, ahem, salute he offered fans of the Montreal Canadiens during the first round of the 2011 playoffs.
Just as important when it’s still a bit of a sales pitch to convince UFAs to come to Edmonton, Ference seems genuinely happy to be coming home. So far, Ference has said all the right things, his latest address to the media coming at Servus Place in St. Albert Tuesday.
WHAT HE SAID
Ference talked about what he learned during his time with the Bruins, a tenure that included the Cup win in 2011 and another trip to the finals this spring.
"Everybody talks now about Boston being so battle-tested and having all this playoff experience, but when I went there, there was a bunch of guys with no playoff experience, guys who hadn’t been in the playoffs for a number of years," said Ference, who joined Boston by way of trade in 2007.
"You wouldn’t even see Bruins hats around town, so I realize how easy it is to have the tide turn fairly quickly. "It’s really neat to be part of that, especially in a city like this that cares."
Ference, who has 120 playoff games on his resume, knows full well he be expected to provide leadership to the young core here. That’s something, if he picked up anything from playing with Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh and Jarome Iginla during his days with the Calgary Flames, he’s capable of.
"I’ve played with a lot of Hall of Fame guys," he said. "At the end of the day, the most impactful players are the guys who have those qualities but are themselves. They’re not trying too hard. It’s not forced. Nobody is coming in with a script. People operate best when they can be themselves and they can be in a positive atmosphere and contribute to a team. That’s probably biggest thing I’ve learned from all those guys.
"Of course, I come in feeling a huge responsibility, just like every guy on the team probably should. That’s the only way to take the next step forward."
It’s time to take that step. Ference will help.
WHILE I’M AT IT
With Ilya Kovalchuk walking away from $77 million and his contract with the New Jersey Devils for a boatload of cash back in the KHL, there’s been a fair amount of buzz about the possibility of other Russian players doing likewise – notably in these parts, Nail Yakupov.
Bob Stauffer of 630 CHED had connected correspondent Dmitry Chesnokov on his Oilers Now show his afternoon and he addressed the relationship, or lack of same, between Kovalchuk’s decision and other Russian players. It’s much the same take Jason Gregor offered earlier this week.
"He’s committed," Chesnokov said of Yakupov’s ties to Edmonton. "I understand the panic and the doubt that can set in. If you ask me, in my honest opinion, Kovalchuk is a one-off.
"It’s not the floodgates opening and all of a sudden and Yakupov is buying a ticket on the way to Siberia or something like that. No. He came to North America to play junior hockey, you know? To learn, to be preparing, to hit the ground running when he’s drafted.
"He played and felt what it’s like to be, you know, with the Oilers, this young organization, sort of on the cusp of being this very, very, very good team. He’s not going anywhere."
AND . . .
. . . I expect a bounce back year from Ryan Jones, who has fallen out of favor with some Oilers fans after a sub-par season in which he struggled to come back from a serious eye injury. Jones didn’t garner a lot of interest during his short time in the free agent market – the contract he got from the Oilers was better than anything else out there. He’s got something to prove.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.