The year of the injury in Edmonton continued on Thursday, when the team announced that former captain Andrew Ference will have hip surgery that will prevent him from playing again this season.
Prior to this announcement, it had already been a tough year for Ference.
He started the season with the potential to be a healthy scratch on what is not the strongest blue line in the NHL. Ference had become a cusp player. As a part of that — and other factors — Ference was no longer given the honor of being the team’s captain. Incoming general manager Peter Chiarelli instead went without a captain, giving multiple young players the chance to be an alternate captain.
Just past the season’s midpoint, Ference has played just six games between a bevy of injuries and healthy scratches. He’s suited up just once since October 31 and played only 4:24.
Ference will by 37 at the start of next season, coming off a year where his relevance on the ice was diminished. Yet he has one more year at a cap hit of $3.25 million remaining.
This injury is more significant than it seems at first. If Ference’s injury lasts the summer, the team will be prevented from buying him out. You cannot buy out an injured player. If the injury becomes career-ending, rather than season-ending, they should be able to bury him on LTIR. But if he’s ready to go, the Oilers will have a similar situation next year to this year for their former captain. It’s a situation that could limit their abilities in free agency when they desperately need a fix on defense.
Having the option of playing Ference aged another yea won’t be that fix. His CF%Rel this season has been a -5.1% and was a -3.9% last season (meaning the team’s shot attempt differential was worse when he was on the ice versus when he was off the ice). His Relative Goals For Percentage is -25% this year and was just 0.3% last year. Though last year’s figure masks that a 39.6% Goals For Percentage was a positive relative mark last season.
For now, it’s another string of games lost to injury for the team that leads the NHL in man games lost.