On June 27, 2012 – four days after the 2012 NHL Draft – Calgary Flames General Manager Jay Feaster took a big, big swing. After two seasons just a smidge outside of the playoffs, Feaster attempted to upgrade the club’s power-play by acquiring pending unrestricted free agent Dennis Wideman and signing him to a five-year, $26.25 million contract.
Four seasons into the deal, the contract doesn’t seem like a particularly great move in retrospect. Aside from a 2014-15 season that saw everything go right for him, Wideman has been a sheltered offensive defenseman who hasn’t quite produced to the degree that was hoped.
The 2015-16 season wasn’t everything going wrong for Wideman – the Don Henderson incident aside – it was simply a return to form, and a return to average puck luck.
The thing the majority of folks will remember about this season, in terms of Wideman, is that he missed 31 games due to a combination of poor judgment and poor luck.
But here’s the key takeaway from Wideman’s 2015-16 campaign: he wasn’t all that great, and it wasn’t an unrepresentative sample. After a career-best season in 2014-15 with 15 goals and 56 points (and a PDO close to 103), the bounces evened out a bit – even with his defensive play improving a little bit in terms of Corsi events against – and Wideman had a sparse year offensively.
And possession-wise? It wasn’t pretty to begin with, and it got worse from there.
He played primarily with Kris Russell and Deryk Engelland. Russell and Wideman were a decent stopgap last season when Mark Giordano went down, but they really struggled this season. And the Engelland pairing was effectively Bob Hartley trying to settle things down for Wideman by sticking him with Engelland, the club’s security blanket of a third-pairing blueliner.
Wideman was a fixture on the power-play for most of the season, offering a right shot from the point. He had 21 power-play points last season, a reflection of how dangerous he was when he was given time and space. Just as he cooled down at even strength, he did on the power-play, and he had just eight points this season with the man advantage. He could be relied upon to score the proverbial big “next goal” last season, but like so many others this past season, he just couldn’t bury the puck when he was given the chances.
IMPACT ON TEAM
Wideman was basically a third-pairing defender this season, though occasionally he crept up to the second pairing depending on match-ups, partnerships and injuries. He played primarily with Russell and Engelland. In terms of deployments, he faced a mixture of weaker competition – far weaker than Giordano and Brodie did – and got a lot of offensive zone starts relative to the other defenders.
And despite this, as we noted before, his possession numbers weren’t that good. Here’s his usage relative to the rest of the team; he’s there in the middle, right beside Russell.
Wideman also tended to have a general downward effect on the underlying numbers of the players he spent time with. Here’s a look at his most common linemates:
Nope, it’s not good. Notice how the blue dot is always below or at the same spot as the red one? That means that basically every teammate that played with Wideman either saw their numbers crater as a result of playing together or basically had to hike up their socks and drag Wideman kicking and screaming to their level.
So essentially, Wideman is a $5.25 million third pairing defenseman that was sheltered in terms of zone starts and opposition, was given a ton of power-play time and relied upon to score goals. He wasn’t able to, and he’s been used similarly for three or four seasons while in Calgary and only really produced last season, when everything was going in all the time for everybody (especially at key times).
WHAT COMES NEXT?
Did I mention that he still has another season remaining? And a no-move clause in his contract? And that the salary cap is going up only slightly, so it’ll be tough for the Flames to unload him. And if he’s on the team, he’s expensive and his underlying numbers have been quietly deteriorating for a few seasons.
Dennis Wideman: free to a good home.