As the discussion still rages in the comments section of the last article, it’s time to take a closer look at the newest Calgary Flame.
Dennis Wideman is a 29-year old undrafted defender who has become a decent top-4 option from the back-end over the last few years. His coming out party was in 2007-08 with the Bruins when he scored 13 goals and 37 points. He followed that up with a 13-goal, 50-point career season. He regressed heavily as is most players custom after that and, after a brief stint in Florida, ended up in Washington as their 3rd/4th defender.
Wideman is better than average in terms of putting up points on the backend. He’s been good for around 40-points a season since establishing himself and has a hard, accurate shot from the point. The Flames certainly addressed a need when the acquired him given the big hole in their top four rotation and their lackluster PP.
On the other hand, he can be clumsily in his own end and prone to the odd give-away. He’s never really been in any team’s top-2 defense consistently as a result.
The Underlying Numbers
Wideman played the third toughest minutes for the Capitals last year, although the gulf between Karl Alzner and John Carlson and everyone else on the Caps blueline last season was huge. Wideman also started just under 50% of his shifts in the defensive zone, so he wasn’t feasting on buttery soft circumstances or anything. His 0.81 even strength points/60 minutes of ice was good for third amongst regular defenders.
Wideman’s possession stats were just okay in that role (-1.09 corsi/60, or +2.5 corsi/60 relative). Those were right in the middle of every other defender on the club.
Neil Greenberg counted scoring chances for Washington last year. Wideman’s scoring chance ratio was 49.6% over the course of the season, just a hair below a mediocre 50% rating. That suggests he would have been better served with at least slightly easier circumstances*.
the crowd at Japer’s Rink described Wideman more or less as a good offensive option who was questionable defensively. The collectively gave him an average grade of "5/10" for the season.
* It’s worth noting that in the playoffs, Hunter didn’t particularly trust Wideman. He played him the 5th most out of any WAS defender at even strength in the post-season and gave him the easiest zone start ratio (53.9%).
Wideman was one of the few decent top-4/offensive options in a fairly shallow UFA pool this year, so he was probably going to get paid by someone. That said, the Flames assume some real risk with this contract due to it’s size and length. Wideman has never been an anchor quality defenseman and has probably peaked as capable, but hardly dominating, top-4 defender (particularly behind his own blueline). He turns 30 next March, meaning the huge bulk of his dollars will be paid out during the downslope of his career.
If Wideman sustains his current form for a 3+ years, Flames probably have an at-value proposition here. If he takes a step backwards at any point – particularly sooner rather than later – and they have another contract they’ll be looking to dump down the road. There’s almost no chance they have him on a plus value deal though (meaning, he will probably never outperform his dollars to any great extent)
I don’t know if Feaster means to supplement the current Flames outfit with Wideman or use his addition to get rid of a ticket the club doesn’t want (Jay Bouwmeester). If the intention is to replace JayBo with Wideman, well…that’s a fairly poor bet. Wideman’s better offensively and better on the PP, but all indications are he would get killed playing the sort of minutes Bouwmeester has survived most of his career. Particularly if, like JayBo, his partner is Chris Butler.
Wideman is a better option than, say, Hannan, no doubt, but he’s also almost 5-times as much for 5-times as long (so he better be). He adds another weapon to the back-end on the PP and should help one of the more offensively punchless bluelines in the league put up a few more points next year.
He’s not a guy that is going to consistently or efficiently shut down the opposition’s big guns however. And the heft and length of his new deal means he has to more or less sustain his current form in order to avoid becoming a Sarich-like alabtross down the road.
NHL GM’s like to defer risk down the road by inking long-term deals to secure their targets. It’s a somewhat sensible strategy because "winning now" is how most managers and coaches are judged (outside of Edmonton at least). That said, if Wideman struggles to any degree and/or if the Flames run in place again, there will be frowns about this contract this time next summer.