When Dennis Wideman crosschecked linesman Don Henderson in the Flames’ final game before the All-Star break, it almost seemed like an afterthought that it had even happened. There was no immediate reaction to it at all. Wideman wasn’t penalized, and he wasn’t removed from the game, whether by means of game misconduct or a simple check to make sure that everything was okay upstairs.
Because players never check linesmen. Not the way Wideman did. An accidental collision is one thing; raising your stick to nail an official in the back and send him to the ice for whatever reason – if there even was one – is something else entirely, and something you aren’t going to escape punishment on.
Here’s the thing, though: we still have no idea just how long Wideman will be suspended for. His disciplinary hearing – which lasted nearly two hours – is over, but we still don’t have a concrete number of games for which he’ll be suspended.
Wideman is suspended indefinitely, so even if we don’t have a number tonight – and Chris Johnston suspects we won’t – he still won’t be in the lineup for the Flames’ return to action tomorrow night against the Carolina Hurricanes.
It’s probably a good bet Wideman will get at least one game (probably more, really), so the timing of the matter doesn’t really affect the Flames – except it does, when determining how they want to handle this. Wideman will counts as a roster player during his suspension, which would leave the Flames with just six available defencemen, and possibly some complications with that.
Here’s what they can do.
The Flames roll with a defence group of T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, Kris Russell, Deryk Engelland, and Ladislav Smid (barring injury or trade) until Wideman is eligible to return.
This is hardly an ideal scenario, but consider: it’s all but said and done that the Flames are out of the playoff race. Having Wideman absent and Engelland and Smid playing together on the bottom pairing doesn’t exactly boast the makings of a great defence, but it’s irrelevant at this point. The Flames aren’t going anywhere this season; what does it matter if their bottom defence pairing is bad? If anything, at least this means more ice time for Hamilton.
True, the Flames aren’t able to use this as an opportunity to get another player who may have a greater future with the team – whether it’s an older guy like Jakub Nakladal, or a prospect like Brett Kulak – but that’s their own fault for signing or trading for so many ill-advised contracts to begin with, and they have to make due with the grave they’ve already dug.
The Flames demote somebody and call up a defenceman from the Stockton Heat in order to give him that chance during Wideman’s suspension.
They could waive Engelland or Smid (likely the latter, considering he’s most likely to be a healthy scratch) in hopes somebody claims them, which would solve a lot of problems outright. Considering both players’ cap hits, though, it’s highly unlikely anybody takes a flyer on either player, and so, they’d probably end up in Stockton – perhaps permanently, depending on the performance of their replacement. That would still leave the Flames with just six eligible defencemen, but it could give the team a bottom pairing option they’d be more comfortable with than if they were to run Smid – Engelland for an extended period of time.
Or, they could demote a forward. Mason Raymond is already likely on his way down to make room for Micheal Ferland. Markus Granlund – who is waiver-exempt – could be next, which would leave the Flames with 13 forwards (one healthy scratch), and allow them to carry an extra, seventh defenceman.
The Flames trade Wideman.
This is the mythical, fairytale option, because it’s not happening. Wideman’s contract is virtually untradable. He’s a declining offensive defenceman of questionable defensive abilities who will soon be 33 years old. He still has a full season left on his deal after this one that carries a cap hit of $5.25 million.
It’s possible to trade a suspended player – remember that bizarre mid-game trade Mike Cammalleri was involved in? That was to wait for the puck to drop in Calgary, to count towards Rene Bourque’s suspension, before he was moved to Montreal – but just who wants Wideman? He couldn’t be moved even after a career season of 56 points, and it’s unlikely he ever reaches such highs ever again.
With 50% salary retained, Wideman would carry a cap hit of $2.625 million, which is easier to stomach for any team – but that assumes Wideman is a wanted commodity to begin with, as well as assuming the Flames would be comfortable paying a player to not play on their team.
In short: this suspension really isn’t ideal, but it’s something Wideman and the Flames are going to have to live with for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, this is still a team that should be looking to sell off multiple assets regardless, and if it isn’t possible for a more deserving, unheralded player to get a chance on an NHL defence, then it really doesn’t matter who’s back there the rest of this season at all.