The Dennis Wideman Conundrum

Glen Gulutzan has a handful of challenges ahead of him as the new Flames coach. 

Perhaps no single obstacle is as big as the bottom end of the Flames blueline rotation. Brad Treliving has so far been unable to clear out any of the clutter from positions 4-6 on the club’s back-end, leaving his new bench boss with an unsightly mix of aging players who all have the same problem: they can’t defend. 

To crystallize this problem further, we’ll concentrate on Dennis Wideman. At $5.25M, Wideman is expensive. He still has some offensive chops, but his defensive game is rapidly swirling around the bowl. In the proper circumstances, Wideman could probably be an asset for at least one more year, but beyond that, you need two very obvious things: shelter at even strength and a partner who can do the defensive heavy lifting. 

The first is possible. The second is the problem. 

So Many Shots Against…

Let’s first establish that Wideman does indeed struggle defensively. Last year, he and Kris Russell had the very worst total shots attempts against at 64.20/60 and 63.42/60, respectively. If we look at Wideman’s corsi against rate plotted in a standard distribution and radar visualization, it becomes clear just how much rubber he surrenders at even strength (via Corsica Hockey):

Wideman_reCF%

Keep in mind this is total shots against – meaning a high positive number is bad. 

Wideman_Radar

I added in Wideman’s assist and point rates from the last two seasons against his various relative possession and expected goals against stats for the sake of contrast. As you can see, Wideman is above average when it comes to scoring, but gets run over south of the redline. 

Tied to Anchors

Aside from his own deteriorating defensive abilities, Wideman’s other problem in Calgary is his frequent defensive partners also tend to have the same issues. 

In the last two seasons, Wideman has spent over 1,800 even strength minutes with three guys: Kris Russell, Deryk Engelland and Ladislav Smid. Here’s how he fared with each and cumulatively (via Puckalytics):

Player_Name TOI CF CA CF60 CA60 CF%
Together 1474:31:00 1260 1643 51.27 66.86 43.4
DENNIS WIDEMAN* 801:40:00 674 862 50.44 64.52 43.9
KRIS RUSSELL* 1166:51:00 980 1205 50.39 61.96 44.9
             
Together 237:39:00 157 257 39.64 64.89 37.9
DENNIS WIDEMAN* 547:36:00 503 557 55.11 61.03 47.5
DERYK ENGELLAND* 710:13:00 627 696 52.97 58.8 47.4
             
Together 153:30:00 128 173 50.03 67.62 42.5
DENNIS WIDEMAN* 2122:41:00 1806 2332 51.05 65.92 43.6
LADISLAV SMID* 475:29:00 381 492 48.08 62.08 43.6
             
Total 1865 1545 2073 49.71 66.69 42.70%

That is putrid. Each combo gets hilariously outshot, posting corsi against rates worse than the worst teams in the NHL. Altogether, Wideman + Smid or Russell or Engelland managed just a 42.7% corsi ratio, giving up 500+ more shots against than they generated.

However, here’s what happens when we stick Wideman with better players: 

Player_Name TOI CF CA CF60 CA60 CF%
Together 185:01:00 182 180 59.02 58.37 50.3
DENNIS WIDEMAN* 2091:10:00 1752 2325 50.27 66.71 43.0
MARK GIORDANO* 2408:17:00 2139 2206 53.29 54.96 49.2
             
Together 78:25:00 94 72 71.92 55.09 56.6
DENNIS WIDEMAN* 2197:46:00 1840 2433 50.23 66.42 43.1
DOUGIE HAMILTON* 2427:48:00 2378 2216 58.77 54.77 51.8
             
Together 72:15:00 48 89 39.86 73.91 35.0
DENNIS WIDEMAN* 2203:56:00 1886 2416 51.34 65.77 43.8
TJ BRODIE* 2835:42:00 2442 2688 51.67 56.87 47.6
Total 335 324 341 58.03 61.07 48.72%

We’re only talking about 335 minutes total here, so sample size alert. 

Nevertheless, you can see the drastic difference playing with good players has on Wideman’s results (with the very strange exception of TJ Brodie). Even with Brodie + Wideman struggling together, the overall effect is an improvement in shots for, a drop in shots against and vastly improved corsi ratio as a result. 

Options?

So there’s two options to manage Dennis Wideman: 

1.) Play in the top-4 with one of Brodie, Giordano or Hamilton

2.) Play in the bottom pairing with one of Engelland, Smid (if not injured) or a kid (Wotherspoon?)

In the first scenario, you either split up the Giordano/Brodie pairing or put Wideman with Hamilton, forcing one of them to play his off-wing since both at RH shots. Neither seems ideal. 

In the second scenario, Brodie and Giordano remain together, Jokkipaka skates with Hamilton in the top-4 and you give that collection of defenders the lion’s share of ice time all night. Wideman plays with Engelland (both right shots again, though he did play on his off-hand side a bit last season), Smid or a kid and you try to shelter them from any kind of quality competition. 

If you’re thinking “there’s no good answer” here, you’re right. 

Conclusion

Calgary’s blueline corps was one of the most top-heavy in the league last year and that’s not going to change any time soon. the new coaches have the option of trying to squeeze a bit more juice from the Wideman contract by playing with a good partner all year, but that risks undermining the top-4 rotation. 

On the other hand, Wideman has been crushed defensively when playing with many of the Flames third pairing options, so moving him down the rotation effectively means giving the top-3 guys 27 minutes a night and praying. 

Whatever happens, it will be relief when all this bad money comes off the books next summer.

  • FireScorpion

    Smid better not be poking around the lineup for the season opener saying he’s fit. This is the biggest disappointment on the team. The fact kids that deserve a shot aren’t getting it because of the plugs we have clogging up the D.
    We were all hoping Brad could clear some of this out..Hope he still can otherwise it’s very sad to think of another year of what could be an incredible D corps being submarined by the likes of Wideman and Smid and Engelland
    To say nothing of the fact that Nakladal should be on the roster and at the moment it’s looking like this situation will prevent that as well.
    A real shame all around.

  • redhot1

    Treliving did a bad job with this area of the team. If we lose Wotherspoon over this, I’ll be decently mad.

    The same thing happened with the goalies last season. A failure to sort out the personnel created a mess, and I’m worried the same thing is happening.

    BT has done a lot of good things, but not getting rid of Engelland or Wideman is not good. I’m no GM, but bite the bullet and package them with a pick, just get something done, clear out the space.

    • Brent G.

      It’s really easy to criticize the man for not moving this dead weight but why are we assuming anyone wanted to take this on? The only team that seems to be willing to take these contracts on is Arizona.

      We should all accept Wideman is part of this team and hopefully he garners a 2nd or 3rd round draft pick at the deadline. Engelland as well…

      • piscera.infada

        Totally. It sounds like they’ve been trying to move Wideman going on two offseasons now.

        You can blame Treliving for the Engelland contract, but both Wideman and Smid were on Feaster.

      • Greatsave

        Speaking of Arizona taking on bad contracts, boy have they collected some good prospects while doing so.

        From Domi, Duclair, Dauphin, and Dylan (Strome) down to Chychrun, Merkley, Crouse, and Deangelo, boy if half of them hit their ceilings, that’s going to be a scary team.

          • Greatsave

            Arizona’s up to $70m in cap hit this season, I’m not sure they can take on more in the shape of Wideman or even Smid unless they perform some roster sorcery.

            It *is* possible that Bolland is slated for LTIR himself, but then I’m curious as to why Florida didn’t just shelf him themselves. I suspect it has to do with the remaining THREE seasons on his contract?

    • Baalzamon

      I’m almost glad Treliving hasn’t moved either of them, though. There are times where I think those contracts are the only reason they haven’t brought Kris Russell back.

  • PrairieStew

    If we can’t give him away at half price, then the best solution seems to me to play him with Gio on the second pair. Brodie and Hamilton would therefore become the first pair, ( and let’s be realistic – they have to be for the team to contend both now and certainly beyond this year) and you would never put Gio/Wideman out against other team’s top lines. This is assuming that moving left shooting Brodie to the left side from his usual right side doesn’t hurt him. Right side defenders would get the following ice time Hamilton 26 minutes, Wideman 19, Engelland 15. You might reduce the bottom 2 guys even more if you have Brodie take the occasional right side shift as well (PK?)

  • freethe flames

    There is another option only play one of Wides or Eng on most nights and that depends on whom you are playing against. Keep Gio/Brodie together play Hamilton with Spoon and one of Engs/Wides with JJ. Of course the better option is to somehow trade them both and that is unlikley to happen. Like others I would rather see Nakdaddy signed and play ahead of either them.

  • The Fall

    Play him with Hamilton. Use Kevin and a Wotherspoon/Kulak as the third pair. Engelland is a safe bet as a 7th.

    Give Wideman a chance to put up points on the powerplay with Johnny: try and sell high at the deadline.

    • PrairieStew

      In that scenario you have 2 right handed guys playing together. I don’t want immobile Wideman playing the left side, nor do I want to make Hamilton ( our best RHD) do it, especially not as the #2 pair. Bouwmeester as a left shot played most of his time here on the right side and it hurt him ( playing with AHL skill Butler didn’t help), and it ended up being a waste of his skill IMO.

      Same with the third pair Jokipakka, Wotherspoon and Kulak are all left shooters, which one of those guys do you trust to be mobile enough, and quick enough with the puck (as Brodie is) to play his weak side ?

      • The Fall

        Dougie, Dennis, TJ and Gio can combine for close to 200 points next season…

        Worrying about Left/Right balance is like getting a free trip to Hawaii and worrying what room number you’ll get. I think they can manage for one season until he’s off the books.

          • The Fall

            It’s the top end, sure, but: The top three are projected at 46-51 each (as per a recent FN post). Wideman is still only one season removed from 56 points.

          • The Fall

            He’s a 0.54 PPG player since the lockout – That includes last year. He’s still only 33yo.

            Play to his strengths: give him a decent partner (not Russell), give him >50% O-Zone starts, and give him 1PP minutes.

            Then move him at the deadline for picks.

          • Stan

            Kinda funny that your incapable of doing some simple fact checking before spouting off.

            2008-2009: 50 points
            2011-2012: 46 points
            2014-2015: 56 points

            So in reality, Wideman has been in the league for 11 seasons, and has flirted with 50 points in three of those seasons – over a quarter of his career.

          • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

            You guys really think there is enough ice time for 4 guys to get 50 points. Wideman is done in Calgary as far as ice time. No way he gets close to 50 points.

            You think he is gonna get 59 points ? Why do you want him gone so bad?

          • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

            Check your own damn facts before you start flapping your lips . 13 seasons total not 11 and he got 50 points twice. He may never see 30 points again . He might but not in Calgary.
            Hockey players start doing well when they get run out of town. Hull, Camalleri,jaybo to name a few.

          • Greatsave

            Man I so wanted to be on your side, and then you go and make an ass of yourself with this 13 seasons thing.

            And Stan, I usually enjoy your takes, but you’re just picking on a guy for being an Oilers fan here, aren’t ya? Wideman had 56 pts a year ago and it *was* his only 56-pts season, wasn’t it?

          • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

            Someone says I can’t look up stats ? Yet he couldn’t see that Wideman played 13 seasons not 11? So don’t know what you are really talking about.

          • piscera.infada

            Yet he couldn’t see that Wideman played 13 seasons not 11?

            This is when we all realise that aside from being unable to read, write, and comprehend, you also can’t count…

          • freethe flames

            And you were likely in a rush to get your point across. Your point is that it is unlikely for Wideman to have another 50 plus point season with the Flames this season and that is a valid conclusion.

          • Tomas Oppolzer

            Not really tbh. If reasonable to expect Dougie to up his production from last year (probably around 55 points) and Brodie might up his to around 50. Had another ~55 from Gio and a 40 point season from Wideman (not TOO crazy if he plays with one of those 3) would put them there.

        • PrairieStew

          I think L/R is extremely important on a number of plays that defensemen regularly make :

          1. Keeping the puck in at the point as it comes around the boards, and getting the quick shot away.

          2. Picking up a puck in your defensive corner (facing end boards) while being forechecked. – Forehand is the short way out if you are a RH shooter playing right side, if opposite then your forehand is the long clear behind the net and all the way around.

          3. Glass and out when facing up ice is a flatter angle , less likely to be picked off or bounce back to the middle.

          4. Active stick to the outside while defending 1 on 1 or 2 on 2- easier to force driving winger outside and force him to protect puck. Any deke to the inside has to beat your stick and your body. A defenseman with his stick to the inside has to pivot sooner on driving winger.

          5. And probably most importantly, every time a d man is carrying, passing or approaching the puck (or puck carrier) in his defensive zone on his side of the ice, a guy playing his strong side has the puck to the outside – meaning his body is still between the puck (or man with it) and the goal. So when his pass hits something or he loses the puck battle momentarily, he is in far better defensive position than a guy playing the off-side. In Basketball you are taught to keep yourself between the ball and the basket. This is the same principle, playing your offside is much riskier, if the puck bounces over your stick you are instantly out of position as left hander on the right side of the defensive ice.

          So if you want to see Wideman really struggle, ask him to play the left side. Only really elite guys can do it – like Brodie. I wouldn’t ask Gio or Hamilton to do it either.

    • al rain

      This.

      It all looks pretty orderly, if not picture perfect:

      We play Brodie w Hamilton, Gio w Wideman, Nakladal w Jokkipaka and Engelland is 7th (Smid LTIR).

      With any luck, by the TDL Gio has bumped Wideman’s numbers and all the ref-smacking fallout has played out. Kylington/Kulak/Wotherspoon can step in to finish the season.

      This year is not our Cup push. And we might even get an asset for Wideman.

  • Baalzamon

    Personally, my preference is for Brodie and Hamilton to start together, and have Wideman with Giordano. Brodie and Hamilton performed well together last season, and Giordano and Wideman were amazingly effective when paired together (especially early in the season).

    Then again, Giordano could make a grapefruit look like a competent defenseman these days.

  • T&A4Flames

    The only concern for me is the Smid situation. If he is sitting out for the season and then retire, great. If he or the team have thoughts of returning, that causes huge problems. Although I’m sure he’d sit out most games anyway.

    I’d really like them to give a 2 year contract to Nakladal and if need be, run with 8 D until at least 1 of the pending UFA’s can be moved. The inevitable will happen with teams losing D men to injury. I’m sure we would be able to move 1. But if Smid returns, that would give us 9 NHL D; far too may to carry in my opinion, even if it’s only temporary. I guess we could waive Smid and dump him in the AHL if need be.

  • beloch

    The most important thing for Treliving to realize is that, just because you’re stuck with a player doesn’t mean you have to play him. Nor does it mean you have to put yourself in a situation where you’re forced to play him.

    Sign Nakladal. Give the farm kids a good long look during training camp. If Wideman isn’t clearly better than some of these guys for bottom pairing duty, then don’t play him.

    I know it’s tempting to turn Wideman into a PP specialist. Try to pump up his numbers so you can dump him. However, PP specialist defenders aren’t generally worth that much. Is a late round pick worth gimping your defense for most of the season?

    Bottom line, give new guys the chance to displace Wideman.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      I am also tired of hearing how we feed him top 4 minutes to help him resurrect his career numbers in hope of getting a decent return at the Trade Deadline. Sure, let’s put the needs of getting a better return in trade over winning.

      Regardless of where he plays in the lineup, we aren’t getting a solid return for him at TDL. He would be depth for most playoff teams. If we are a playoff team, why trade him. He’s a depth player.

      I think we would be better off trading Engelland now with some salary retained, sign Nak, and use Wideman as a 6/7 D.

      • Joe Flames

        I would worry less about playing him a lot to get something good for him in a trade and more about trying to get anything for him in a trade. moving a bad contract is worth doing regardless of what you get back. ditching the contract is the main return

        Right now we would be glad just to have the cap space; anything you get in return is gravy.

        • Macindoc

          Probably not getting anything for him before the TDL. Right now, you would have to give up a 2nd rounder and retain some salary to dump him. Could be a good depth D/PP specialist for a team contending for the Cup, and minimal cap hit at that time means we might even get a 3rd or conditional 2nd back, especially if he has a productive year.

  • Toofun

    OK, I’ll admit it. I’m kind of hoping that Wideman has been super motivated this off-season, comes back in the best shape of his life, has an amazing year and signs a big contract with anybody other than Calgary next year (preference being Edmonton or Vancouver).

    • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

      Do you honestly believe that Oilers or Canucks would want Calgary garbage. Not stupid people in Vancouver. Edmonton not so sure. Canucks going younger. Why not suggest retaining portion of DW contract and move him that way.

  • Greatsave

    The fact that Keith Tkachuk only played his last NHL game 6 years ago means that there are still a number of active players around the league who had played on the same team as him at some point.

    Incidentally, the only current Flame with a clear chance at the moment to be able to say to Matthew, “I played alongside your old man once,”–near as I can tell–is one Dennis Wideman (St. Louis Blues, 2005-07). Meaning that, barring any future moves, he could become the only player to have played alongside both Tkachuk Sr. and Tkachuk Jr. in an NHL game.

    Even Craig Conroy didn’t get to play alongside Keith as he was traded to Calgary the same day that St. Louis acquired Tkachuk, back in 2001.

    Another interesting connection: Tkachuk was traded to Atlanta in 2007 for, among other things, a first-round pick that was flipped to the Flames on draft day, which turned into Mikael Backlund.

  • Hockeyfan

    if a trade is not possible, he will be a penalty magnet, guaranteed. Play him bottom 2 and 2nd pp unit for tops 15 minutes a game with a few press box games. Someone will take him after Jan.

  • Primo

    Like many of us I am hearing the Flames have a deal in place with Russell. They are going to move Wideman and do something with Smid. If Smid passes his physical I’m afraid they are stuck with him and perhaps Wideman for another year…..that’s part of the business. Cleaning up Feaster’s mess is still part of the process and we need to be patient for another year! We are in good hands with BT and he will figure it out…as we know he is a patient man!

    • Stan

      Lmao i always find it so funny when people say stuff like this. Where the hell have you heard that the Flames have a deal in place with Russell?

      Literally nobody has reported this… except for you I guess.

      • Primo

        Stanley…any discussion on this topic outside of BT/BB offices is pure rumour/speculation. Without that this very website would not exist. If you have internet you will see that numerous sports sites are now “speculating” that Russell will be a Flame soon as the Flames move a couple of contracts….welcome to Flamesnation…enjoy! Your rumours-speculation-guesses are welcome….

  • Macindoc

    Best to start pairing Brodie with Hamilton now (future top 2; natural L-R pairing, unlike Brodano) and pair Gio with Wideman. Gio can cover up for a wealth of Wideman’s defensive deficiencies, and the pair should have a decent offensive upside as well. This would also allow the club to keep the same D pairings on the PP, and there would be a L and R shooting D on each PP unit, opening up way more lanes and vastly improving the PP results. The best part of these pairings? With a better partner, Wideman’s stats should be much better going into the trade deadline, and we can actually get something in return for him at that time.