I don't think that my fascination with Andrew Ference is any sort of secret. There's a lot to like about the guy. He plays responsible defense; he's not afraid to stand up for his teammates; he can pass and score timely goals and he's good in the locker room.
Here's the problem with that, when it comes to assigning a grade to a player's entire season: you expect all of that from the guy who wears the A.
With all that removed, there's nothing remarkable about Ference's 2011-12 season; he had just his third career game-winning goal (his first since 2001) and his second-highest plus-minus (+9), second only to his plus-22 in 2010-11.
A lot of that owes to consistency. Ference played in 72 games during this year's campaign, only the third time in a 12-year career that he's done so. The lower-body injuries that have plagued him over the last half-decade didn't disappear, but they were certainly less persistent than they've been in the past. His six goals were a career high, and his 18 points were the second-most in his career (2005-06 in Calgary).
In fact, the only number that really went down was his penalty minutes, down from 60 in 2010-11 to 46, while his ice time went up from 17:59 to 18:53, which speaks to Ference's development - a strange term to use when describing a 33-year old defenseman. But Ference, who didn't play 70 games as a Bruin until last season, has had trouble developing a real identity for himself on a team full of personalities as he alternated between the locker room and the trainer's room.
A case for in-season consistency could be made on Ference's behalf because his regular playing partner Adam McQuaid was hamstrung by various injuries throughout the year and so Ference had to rotate between playing with Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg and even Zdeno Chara on occasion. But anyone wearing the A doesn't get the benefit of pointing their fingers at anyone else when it comes to analysis.
The facts with Ference make the case for themselves: he did exactly what was expected of him in 2011-12. But because the expectations were pretty high to begin with, that's nothing to scoff at.