On Wednesday morning at TD Garden, Patrice Bergeron was excused from his exit interview with management. Bergeron was still at a local hospital, where he was admitted following Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final because of a punctured lung.
Bergeron’s teammates had no such excuse. At TD Garden, Peter Chiarelli conducted his final exit interview with defenseman Andrew Ference. The general manager told Ference the news the alternate captain had been expecting: The Bruins will not bring him back.
The news was anticipated. It was still not welcome.
“Throughout the year, you prepare yourself for not being here,” Ference said. “You hope that things can work out. But I think myself and my family were quite prepared before. It doesn’t make it any easier.
“With the team we’ve had the last few years, I’ve been around the sport long enough that six straight years of playoffs, and to do it with a bunch of guys that really get along with a coach you’re able to work with for as long as we have, it’s been an absolute blessing.
“The hockey side of it, it’s been about as good as you can get anywhere in the entire league the last few years.”
Ference was one of Chiarelli’s first acquisitions. On Feb. 10, 2007, the Bruins brought in Ference and Chuck Kobasew from Calgary for Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau.
Ference’s charge was to bring the competitiveness and professionalism from Calgary — the Flames lost to Tampa Bay in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final — and transfer it to the Boston dressing room.
Ference succeeded. The Bruins qualified for the playoffs in each of Ference’s six full seasons, and he was a valuable second- and third-pairing defenseman. In 2011, Ference bought the retro Bruins jacket that became the team’s emblem. This year, Ference contributed the Army Rangers jacket.
But Ference was among the first to feel Chiarelli’s cleaver.
Chiarelli’s task is to reinforce the roster against a salary cap that will decrease to $64.3 million per team in 2013-14. Chiarelli’s top priorities are to re-sign goalie Tuukka Rask (restricted free agent as of July 5) and right wing Nathan Horton (unrestricted). Signing them means Ference’s return will not be possible.
Ference was not alone in receiving such news. Jaromir Jagr is also out. The 41-year-old winger, who suffered back and hip injuries in Game 6 of the Final, will not return. The Bruins traded Lane MacDermid, their 2013 first-round pick, and prospect Cody Payne to Dallas for Jagr.
The future Hall of Famer recorded zero goals and 10 assists in the playoffs, playing mostly on the No. 2 line with Bergeron and Brad Marchand. He also manned the right-side half-boards on the first power-play unit.
Chiarelli was pleased with Jagr’s contributions, noting that his strength on the puck wore down opposing defensemen. Jagr also helped spread out the power play.
But the pace of Jagr’s game, his likely contract request, and the decreasing cap will leave the right wing seeking his fourth NHL employer in the last two years. Jagr does not want to return to Czech Republic yet.
“Maybe if I scored 20 goals in the playoffs,” Jagr cracked about the Bruins bringing him back. “I was 20 short.”
On the blue line, Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug are mobile, left-side defensemen who can replace Ference. The Bruins have no such reinforcements ready at right wing.
Jagr’s departure, Tyler Seguin’s inconsistency, and Rich Peverley’s down year underscore the urgency of re-signing Horton. It may take moving Peverley and his $3.25 million annual cap hit to accommodate Horton’s extension. The Bruins might also have to place Marc Savard on long-term injured reserve to exceed the cap by his average annual value.
Horton will require surgery to fix his dislocated left shoulder. He also has a history of concussions, which ended his two previous seasons.
But Horton has delivered in the playoffs. Also, he completes the first line alongside Milan Lucic and David Krejci. When rolling, the sum-is-greater-than-its-parts threesome is the league’s best line, according to Chiarelli.
“I’ve told [Horton] that I’d like him to come back,” Chiarelli said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Re-signing Horton is not a given. But re-upping Rask is a guarantee.
Rask went 19-10-5 with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage during the regular season. In the playoffs, he was 14-8 with a 1.88 GAA and a .940 save percentage. Rask could double his expiring $3.5 million salary.
“I played good,” Rask said. “I proved to everyone again that I was capable of doing it. Look at the numbers. They were good. If I just analyze my game by how I felt throughout the year, I thought it was a great year.”
While Horton could walk on July 5, there is no such risk with Rask. However, Chiarelli indicated that a pre-July 5 extension for Rask could happen.
Chiarelli told backup goalie Anton Khudobin, who will be unrestricted on July 5, that he would address his contract after settling Rask’s business. Khudobin might not wait for the Bruins to extend an offer once free agency opens. He would draw interest on the open market, and he also could play in the KHL overseas.
The fourth-seeded Bruins didn’t drop Chiarelli’s jaw in the regular season. But the postseason was a different story. So he has no intentions of major movement.
“I was amazed, actually,” said Chiarelli. “Not surprised, but amazed at our push in the playoffs. It was such a strong push.
“There were some peaks and valleys. But when we were rolling, it was impressive to watch. It really affirmed a lot of what we, as a group, believed in with this team, like the core — what it’s capable of doing and what it did.
“The ending wasn’t fun. I still don’t feel good about it. Yesterday, I didn’t feel good about it. None of us feel good about it.
“But my job as a manager is to look at this season and at this group from 30,000 feet, to evaluate, and to make decisions going forward. At the end of the day, I can tell you that I really liked what I saw.”