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Busy Free Agency Day as Oilers add seven

by Marc Ciampa / Edmonton Oilers
EDMONTON - It was a busy day for Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish, inking six players and acquiring another via trade as he continued his retooling and reshaping of the NHL club.

The first news of the day came around 8:30 this morning when news broke that the Oilers had moved captain Shawn Horcoff to the Dallas Stars in exchange for defenceman Philip Larsen and a 2016 7th-round draft choice.

"It's a bittersweet day, really. It's one of those deals that was right for both sides. Horc had become a bit of a lightning rod around here through his tenure. I was the guy that gave him the captaincy. I saw him come in here as a young player and really develop into a guy that was a first-line centre on a team that was one game away from winning the Stanley Cup.

"I have a lot of respect for Horc. I wish him all the best. He and his family have been great Oilers. You really have to reflect back on the 13 years that he had here and show an appreciation for the effort that he showed us time in and time out."

A few hours later, the Oilers added defenceman Andrew Ference to their stable. Ference was a big part of the Boston Bruins run to the Stanley Cup Finals this past spring averaging 24:11 in ice time.

"Most of his attributes are fairly obvious. I can't tell you the amount of texts and phone calls that I've received about people that are heavily supportive of Andrew Ference. I've liked him for a long time. I've had my eye on him all year, thinking that he'd be a perfect fit for our group," MacTavish said. "He's a guy that's a warrior, he's got great experience, he's still playing at a very high level.

"I talked at the end of the year about the need for our group to better understand the commitment level necessary to have success. Andrew's a guy that not only can articulate that but he demonstrates it by the way he plays on the ice. We couldn't be happier for our organization to be able to attract a player like Andrew."

It's a homecoming for the 34 year old having grown up in Sherwood Park. After the signing was made official, Ference tweeted a photo of himself as a young child wearing an Oilers sweater.

"Growing up there and with family still there, I'm familiar with the area," Ference stated. "Knowing that my kids are going to have a great situation there as well, all those things combined in addition to the team itself and the excitement that I think will be created there with a little nudge over that hump it's hard not to get really excited about it right off the bat."

Other signings made today included goaltender Jason LaBarbera and centre Boyd Gordon -- both formerly of the Phoenix Coyotes -- plus, from the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, centre Will Acton and left winger Ryan Hamilton.

LaBarbera, a native of Calgary, was looking forward to joining the Oilers and riding shotgun with buddy Devan Dubnyk.

"I think it's a great opportunity for myself," said LaBarbera. "I always had Edmonton kind of on my mind. When they called, I was pretty excited that they felt that I could help their team. I'm real tight with Devan (Dubnyk) too, we've been training partners for the past six years. To get to play with Devan and be a part of a new phase with the Oilers is exciting and I'm really happy to be here."

Boyd Gordon brings a strong defensive element down the middle to the Oilers. At 57.1% he ranked among the league's top pivots in the face-off circle last season.

"Boyd Gordon was a real significant signing for us as well today. With Horc's departure, we needed to find a centreman who can go in there. He was a highly sought-after guy who's one of the best face-off men in the League. He's a highly-competitive guy at the age of 29 who has lots of good years ahead of him."

Gordon was looking forward to bringing his defensive game to the team.

"For me to leave Phoenix it was going to have to be a good fit for me," Gordon remarked. "(The Oilers) have a lot of speed up front and they're young. I'm reliable down the middle and hopefully I can bring a little bit of a different mix to the team."

Acton is another defensive centre who is very familiar to the Oilers coaching staff. Acton is the son of Oilers associate coach Keith Acton and also played the last two seasons for Edmonton bench boss Dallas Eakins while with the Toronto Marlies.

"Will is a guy I've seen play many times in Toronto," MacTavish remarked. "He's a big centreman with toughness who will help us add some depth."

With no NHL games on his resume, Acton felt that he will be able to get some games under his belt this upcoming year.

"The biggest thing for me was the opportunity that management presented to us and put on the table," he said. "I'm certainly very grateful for my opportunity with the Oilers here. I'm not going to get a better opportunity anywhere else. I'm excited to put in the work and hopefully make the most of it here in the fall."

- with files from Dan Tencer & Bob Stauffer, 630 CHED
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