September 11 2012 09:40AM
Outside of bringing in Jiri Hudler and Roman Cervenka to the organization, arguably the most important addition to the Calgary Flames this summer was Dennis Wideman. In fact, he may be more crucial to the success of the club than any of the new forwards.
To be blunt, the Flames got very little offense from their blueline last season. Consequently, their power-play also got very few goals from their back end. Enter Wideman, who was tenth in points among NHL blueliners and, had he been on the Flames, he would've had more points than anyone not named Iginla, Jokinen, Tanguay or Glencross.
But how will Wideman fare on the Flames?
EXPECTATIONS AND COMPARABLES
The Flames have basically the same defensive crew that they had last season, save for Wideman stepping in for Scott Hannan. I think it's safe to say he's an upgrade.
Internally, the Flames probably expect Wideman, based on his age and previous production, to be the team's leading defensive scorer. Stop me if you've heard this song before with Jay Bouwmeester. That said, Wideman has a much stronger offensive pedigree and will be relied upon to do different things. In the past five seasons, Wideman's points-per-game rate has been between 0.39 and 0.63, meaning that barring a massive collapse in production, he'd be expected to produce between 32 and 52 points in a full season.
In contrast, last year's highest scoring Flames blueliner (Jay Bouwmeester) had 29 points.
The difference between his low and high-water estimates probably falls to his special teams capabilities. Last season, the Flames got really lacklustre production out of their defenders on the power-play. Bouwmeester and Giordano each had 10 power-play points. (They were sixth and seventh on the club.) Wideman had 20 points with the extra man in Washington, although granted he was playing with Alex Ovechkin, Nik Backstrom, Alex Semin, etc.
The big question marks for where Wideman's production will fall are as follows:
How much will bringing in Bob Hartley change the Flames power-play?
How much of the power-play disfunction was related to personnel?
As covered elsewhere, the Flames were truly awful at face-offs with the man advantage. Jay Bouwmeester at times looked like he couldn't hit water if he fell from a boat, let along hit a net from the point. The power-play “plan” seemed like it relied entirely upon making a dozen passes that ended with a Jarome Iginla one-timer. You can see the results of this strategy in the stats: the Flames averaged a medicore 48.6 shots/60 minutes of PP time last season. However, the regulars on the first unit actually averaged significantly less, including Iginla (42.6), Jokinen (43.9) and Tanguay (44.6). To put those numbers in perspective, the 6th worst rate by a team last season was 45.1/60.
So Unless Hartley and the new coaching staff overhaul the philosophy, adding Wideman to the unit probably won't change much.
Presuming they change some things, let's ball-park Wideman's full-season production at around 42 points. That'd put him in the top 20 of the NHL most seasons, which is both probably where the Flames hope he will be and where he should be based on his pay-grade. On the other hand, another mediocre season with the man advantage by the club could sink him to the 30-35 point range.
The only other risk faced by the club with Wideman is the length of his contract along with the added NMC - if the 29 year old begins to falter in the later years, it will be a highly difficult contract to swallow.
The Flames desperately needed to get a bit more juice out of their special teams, a fact that was mentioned by both general manager Jay Feaster and the new coaches during the off-season. Wideman's excellence with the extra man means he'll get many, many chances to help the power-play.
Even strength, it depends on who he plays with. The Flames top four seems to be some combination of Wideman, Bouwmeester, Giordano and Chris Butler, and it's unclear which partner Wideman will end up with. My guess is either Giordano or Butler, but it could vary. A more defensively-oriented partner would allow Wideman to jump into the rush a bit more. Things could get a bit ugly for him if he land with Jay Boumweester and the pairing see similar minutes to the Butler/Bouwmeester duo last year.
Either way, the Flames expect him to be an upgrade over Scott Hannan. If he plays a similar role at ES to Hannan, he probably won't disappoint.
Dennis Wideman came to the Flames in the most high-profile move of the summer. He's got a big contract and fairly big expectations on his shoulders. The upside is that, unlike the Bouwmeester signing of yesteryear, the Flames seem to have a ready-made complementary spot for Wideman to fit into and he'll slot into the top four rather nicely.
That means expectations won't be muted for Wideman, and he'll be counted upon to produce points on a regular basis. Should he not, he could go down as a very bold, and very expensive, mistake for Jay Feaster. But if he does produce, he'll improve the Flames power-play while potentially firming up the second pairing at 5on5.As a result, he could be worth a couple of wins to the Flames if everything breaks right.
And if the Western Conference is as tightly contested as it has been in recent years, a handful of games could make all the difference.