- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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Ference, 31, would have been an unrestricted free agent after the 2009-2010 season. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli called Ference a "real character player" who has been a "stabilizing factor" on the team's defensive unit. He's played a total of 50 games this season, missing 22 due to a groin injury.
"He competes night in and night out, and we really felt it was important to get him in the mix for the next three years," said Chiarelli. "He's a real cog in our defensive unit and he complements everyone well. We're happy to have him signed for the next three years."
Ference has been plagued by injuries during his career, which makes this extension an interesting one for the Bruins. When he is healthy and on the ice, he can average 20 minutes a game and plays very physical. The groin injury that has kept him sidelined this season is likely to require surgery during the offseason.
When the Bruins' defensive unit was hit with the flu bug last week, Ference was forced to return to the lineup after missing eight straight games with the injury.
With 10 games remaining in the regular season, he said he's feeling better.
"Not bad," he said. "Obviously I've been battling injuries for the last couple of years. At one point it's been frustrating as far as some of them go, but on the other token, it is part of the game. I feel at least fortunate enough that I've had injuries that are completely repairable and things you can come back and feel 100 percent from. Obviously that goes into the decision-making whether or not to keep me around. I'm fortunate enough that the doctors are confident to tell the team these are all injuries I can come back from and be 100 percent afterward."
The Bruins were the top team in the Eastern Conference last season when Ference missed a total of 35 regular-season games with a groin injury and fractured leg. He returned for the postseason, but played in only three games before missing the rest of the playoffs with the recurring groin injury.
"A player of his size and the way he plays, there will be injuries," admitted Chiarelli. "I was given an assurance with respect to his groin and core area that everything is repairable and everything will be fine. We're prepared to take the injuries based on the way he plays. He plays hard and that's what happens when you play hard. Obviously we looked at that and factored that into the equation, but we felt there are a lot of positives and that's why we decided to extend him."
Ference believes there is a way to avoid injuries, but he's not about to go that route.
"You can avoid them if you stay out of the corner and play a pretty weak game, but I choose not to do that," he said. "You take them, you deal with them and you make the most of it."
Ference's deal puts the Bruins in an interesting spot for next season. When asked where this extension leaves the Bruins as far as cap room, Chiarelli didn't have the exact numbers available.
"We're still under the cap and we have room to sign all of our players, and that's about as much as I can tell you right now," he said.
With Ference's extension, the Bruins are sitting at a team-total of $46 million for the 2010-2011 season with a little over $10 million to spend under the cap.
It's unusual for Chiarelli and the Bruins to sign a restricted free agent during the season, but the GM said he wanted to be proactive in his approach with Ference.
Ference was given a similar three-year extension during 2006-2007 when he was still with the Calgary Flames, but on Feb. 10 of that season he was traded to Boston, along with Chuck Kobasew, in exchange for Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau. Ference said that at the time he was disappointed with the deal.
During talks for his extension with the Bruins, Ference did ask for a no-trade clause to be written into the agreement, but his request was not granted.
"Of course I asked," he said with a laugh. "I completely understand. If I'm a GM, I'm not handing them out pretty easily as well. I just have a normal contract and I can be dealt any time, but obviously as a player I want to ask [for a no-trade clause]. Like I said, my family and I absolutely love Boston and the girls are starting school and we have a great life here."
This is Ference's 10th season in the NHL after he was originally selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the eighth round (208th overall) in the 1997 draft. He played four-plus seasons in the Penguins organization at both the NHL and AHL levels before he was traded to Calgary in 2003 in exchange for a third-round draft pick.
The native of Edmonton, Alberta, played three-plus years for the Flames before being traded to Boston in February of 2007. During his time with the Bruins, Ference has recorded 3 goals and 29 assists for 32 points in 182 games.
Chiarelli said he believes Ference can play different roles for the Bruins and can be a top-four defenseman when healthy.
"I liked him with Pittsburgh, but I liked him better with Calgary and he's been getting better," said Chiarelli. "He's got a lot of ingredients we look for in a player. We're happy to have him in the mix."
Information from ESPNBoston.com's Matt Kalman was used in this report.
11dScott Burnside and Craig Custance