The Bruins extended defenseman Andrew Ference’s contract for three years on Wednesday. Multiple media outlets have reported that the deal to be worth $6.75 million for a $2.25 million average.
Questions abound. The first one: Why now? With 11 games to 10 games to play in the regular season and a couple of months before the start of free agency after, the Bruins had ample time to negotiate with Ference (who would have been an unrestricted free agent) or get a feel for what other options might be available.
“There was no reason behind [the timing],” Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said during a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “I guess we just tried to get ahead of it with some of these players. When we came to an agreement is why it is done now … We just try to be proactive on certain fronts and this falls into that category.”
There are some things to like about the 10-year veteran defenseman. He is a good puck mover and tends to play hard when he can stay on the ice. He slots between a third to fifth defenseman and has versatility to provide depth to a group of blue liners. Chiarelli acknowledged Ference’s abilities.
“He is experienced and that experience brings an element of stability on defense especially when you have some younger players. He competes. I remember him playing for Calgary in the Stanley Cup  playoffs the year they went to the finals,” Chiarelli said. “He is efficient enough on the ice where he can play in the top four, compliment the top four and still have that compete level that he has … He has got a lot of ingredients we look for in a player and we are glad to have him in the mix.”
At the same time, Ference has not exactly been the model of a healthy citizen the last couple of years. Groin injuries have limited him to 50 games this year (with eight assists and a plus/minus of -7) and 47 games last year. Chiarelli said that Ference’s injuries were just “part of the package.”
“He is a player who can give you 20-plus minutes a night,” Chiarelli said. “With [Ference] there is an element of leadership, he has the skating ability to retrieve pucks, probably his biggest strength is that first pass out of our zone. He really contributes to the flow of our defense. A lot of understated attributes to his game and I think you have seen him back in the last couple of games. He plays a hard game and does have injuries as a result. That is part of the package. He takes very good care of his body.”
Ference feels that he can be healthy moving forward.
“Not bad,” Ference said of his current state of health. “I have been battling injuries the last couple of years. It has been frustrating as far as some of them go but it is part of the game and I feel fortunate enough that injuries that I have had are completely reparable and that I can come back and feel 100-percent from. Obviously that goes into the decision making in keeping me around and obviously the doctors are confident enough to tell the team that I will be able to come back from and be 100-percent.”
Chiarelli said that he was given assurances that Ference will be healthy once he gets over his current round of ailments.
“I think with a player of his size there will be injuries, knock on wood,” Chiarelli said. “I was given an assurance with regard to his groin and core area that everything is reparable and everything will be fine. We are prepared to take the injuries with the way that he plays.”
Chiarelli said that the beauty of locking up Ference is that he has utility within the defensive core. He can be a top four puck mover or can slide back to the bottom pair to compliment what the other guys are doing.
“He can play at a multitude of different spots, which is why he is attractive,” Chiarelli said. “He can play in the top four, he can play in the bottom pair. His game lends itself to different roles and he is versatile and that is why he is attractive also.”
Where does Ference signing leave the rest of the Bruins defensemen? Johnny Boychuk  and Mark Stuart  are both restricted free agents after the year and Dennis Seidenberg  is an unrestricted free agent. That leaves Ference, Zdeno Chara , Dennis Wideman  and Matt Hunwick under contract heading into 2010-11. Chiarelli said that front office continues to evaluate.
“We are always evaluating,” Chiarelli said. “The last two games we have played well defensively. Well, the whole year we have played well defensively, relatively speaking. I know the rest of our play has not been up to far according to pundits, myself included. So, we are always evaluating and we have brought a new member in the mix in [Seidenberg]. I am not going to comment on what your specific plans are but there seems to be a good mix there right now and we will see how it plays out the rest of the year.”
Ference said that he asked for a no-trade clause in his contract because he would like to stay in the Boston area where his girls have started school but that he did not receive one.