NHL Free Agency 2013: Edmonton Oilers Bet Big on Andrew Ference

Mark JonesSenior Analyst IJuly 5, 2013

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 19: Andrew Ference #21 of the Boston Bruins plays against the New York Rangers during the season opener game on January 19, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Edmonton Oilers took little time Friday to make a big upgrade to their defense, signing veteran Andrew Ference just minutes after the opening of the 2013 free-agent market.

Andrew Ference signs with Edmonton

— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) July 5, 2013

Ference reportedly to the Oilers for 4 yrs, $3.25 mil per.

— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) July 5, 2013

Ference, 34, registered 13 points and a plus-13 rating in 48 regular season games along with two points and a plus-two rating in 14 postseason games for the Boston Bruins in 2013.

The 5'11" defenseman brings an underrated balance of both offense and defense; he also ranked fourth on the team in both hits and blocked shots.

It's not surprising that Ference would want to return to his hometown just weeks after an emotional departure from Massachusetts. He was born March 17, 1979 in Edmonton.

Just minutes after the new contract was announced, he posted this nostalgic photo to his Twitter account:

pic.twitter.com/AVACwXWAai

— Andrew Ference (@Ferknuckle) July 5, 2013

For the Oilers, however, Friday's announcement was a bold investment.

A four-year deal is undeniably unusual for a player of Ference's age. A four-year deal from a team expecting immediate impact from day one on, though, is an absolutely tremendous leap of faith.

Suddenly, all the chips are on the table.

Ference is good in his own zone—but he's far from elite.

Ference is serviceable with the puck, too—but, again, he's far from elite.

Yet a four-year, $13 million contract indicates that the Oilers have wholly elite expectations.

Ference's annual cap hit of $3.25 million falls just a half-million short of Justin Schultz as the team's highest-paid blueliner.

Moreover, with Ladislav Smid ($3.5 million cap hit) the subject of ongoing trade speculation and Nick Schultz (also $3.5 million) entering the final season of a six-year contact, it wouldn't be surprising to see Ference land on Edmonton's top 'D' pairing pairing at some point before 2017.

That type of role would give Ference a colossal responsibility in Edmonton's increasingly desperate quest to lower the quantity of goals they allow. In 2013, their back end ranked 19th in the NHL in goals against and a dismal 29th in shots against. 

Is a player who averaged just 19:19 per game in 2013—the clear-cut No. 4 defenseman on the Eastern Conference champion Bruins—truly ready for that kind of workload increase 15 years into his NHL career?

Oilers GM Craig MacTavish clearly believes he is.

And he's willing to bet $13 million on it.