Edmonton - September 11, 2014 - By the time the dust had settled on what was a rather underwhelming 2013-14 campaign for the Edmonton Oilers, Andrew Ference had taken more than a few shots for his level of play during his debut season in Orange and Blue. From the moment general manager Craig MacTavish signed him to a four year $13 million unrestricted free agency deal, expectation for the veteran rearguard appeared to be rather unrealistic.
While the idea may have been for him to slide into a top pairing role on a team that arguably had the worst blueline depth in all of hockey, it was plan that was doomed from the outset. Over his final two seasons with the Boston Bruins, the now thirty-five year old defenceman saw top four minutes in both overall and even strength ice-time.
In the right situation Ference can still be a very useful piece but Edmonton did not have a Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk slotted in front of him in the picking order. Not surprisingly, last year was a struggle and while MacT and company did improve their backend this summer with the additions of Mark Fayne and Nikita Nikitin, they still have nothing resembling a legitimate top pairing.
During those final two seasons in Boston, Ference averaged roughly nineteen minutes a night and saw that number swell to twenty-one with the Oilers. While no one should have been surprised to see the increase in his workload, no one should have been surprised to see him look nothing like the guy we saw Beantown. This is a roster that was and still is, at least for the moment, littered with middling NHL talent along its blueline.
In all honesty, if we go back and look at what the fourteenth captain in Edmonton Oilers franchise history delivered in the situations he was forced into playing during 2013-14, was he really that poor? His performance was not worthy of seeing top four minutes on a nightly basis but playing a bunch of kids and/or AHL quality defencemen in front of him wasn’t really an option.
In perfect world, Dallas Eakins will use Ference in a No. 5 role in 2014-15 and the likes of Fayne, Nikitin, Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz and one of Martin Marincin or Oscar Klefbom start gelling into a cohesive National Hockey League blueline. If that happens, the former eighth round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins will probably put together a solid campaign.
Problem being, the chances of the former occurring are slim at best and because of that, we really have no idea what the immediate future may hold for the fourteen year vet. Unfortunately for him, having the “C” on his shoulder puts a massive bulls-eye on his back and there is no doubt he will be high on the list of Oilers Fans favourite whipping boys for the coming season but let’s be realistic here. If used correctly, Andrew Ference can still help an NHL team but how he is ultimately deployed is truly out of his control.