Retaining Wideman is a defensible move
With speed, he carried the puck into the offensive zone. He stepped around a potential hit from Flyers defenseman Matt Carle and barreled into the right corner. With his right foot just inches from the endboards, he spotted Milan Lucic open at the far post and snapped a tape-to-tape pass that the left wing shoveled home.
And with that Game 7 play — one that no other defenseman on the team could have made — Dennis Wideman showed why the Bruins would be foolish to ditch him this offseason.
There is no doubt that after a career year in 2008-09 (many teammates fall into that category, too) when he had 13 goals and 37 assists in 79 games, Wideman had some of the worst stretches of his career in 2009-10. In 76 games, he collected 6 goals and 24 assists while posting a minus-14 rating. Wideman especially struggled at home, where he was regularly booed every time the puck was on his stick.
“Just lost confidence,’’ Wideman said. “Then got completely frustrated with everything that was going on. I had a problem rebounding.’’
The TD Garden boo-birds weren’t the only ones who let Wideman know what they thought of his game. On Jan. 20, thinking a public lashing would wake Wideman from his doldrums, Bruins coach Claude Julien ripped into the defenseman with some of the most withering remarks he’s ever made about one of his players.
“We’re almost 50 games in now,’’ Julien said. “It’s time to take charge of the situation and bring your intensity level up. If you want to play like a 5-6, maybe that’s what you’re going to get, ice time-wise.
“It’s pretty simple. We’ve got to do the right things for our hockey club. He needs to pick up his game. He knows it. He wants to. He’s got to understand that his intensity and compete level have to be better.’’
Julien never followed through on his threat to cut back Wideman’s playing time. Aside from a three-game stretch in March, Wideman received at least 20 minutes of ice time per outing the rest of the season.
By season’s end, however, Wideman had earned back the workloads he deserved — and the boos that rattled around the Garden earlier. On April 8, after Sabres center Derek Roy picked off his off-the-boards clearing pass and beat Tuukka Rask, Wideman heard the razzing again. Enough so that the next day, general manager Peter Chiarelli went public with his support of Wideman.
“I recognize and respect the fans’ ability to have their opinions,’’ Chiarelli said. “Their opinions have been strong. They’ve been strong against me and my moves, toward Claude and the players. But I don’t think it’s fair to single out a player like that, especially considering how he’s been playing.’’
Fortunately for the Bruins, Wideman brought his best stuff when it counted the most. In the 13 games against Philadelphia and Buffalo, Wideman tallied 1 goal and 11 assists to lead the Bruins in playoff scoring. He averaged 26:02 in ice time per game, third on the team behind Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk.
“Just had a couple good games and tried to forget about all the stuff that happened before,’’ Wideman said.
There is always a threat that Wideman’s mental game could go south again and affect his on-ice play. He is among the team’s most plodding skaters, and another year of mileage on his wheels isn’t going to make him any fleeter.
But considering the absence of puck-moving defensemen in the organization (a shortcoming partially addressed by the late-season acquisitions of Matt Bartkowski and Steve Kampfer), an on-top-of-his-game Wideman is a vital piece of the defensive six-pack.
Wideman can play big minutes. When necessary, he can be paired with Chara. He can man the point on the power play. When carrying the puck out of the corner, he can hit an in-stride center instead of going up the wall into the teeth of the forecheck.
Wideman has two years ($3.875 million annually) remaining on his contract. Considering his assets, it’s a good bet he’ll play out his deal in Boston.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be here, in more ways than one,’’ said Tallon, who was fired by the Blackhawks last July. “We’re committed to the blueprint we developed in Chicago. I’m especially proud of those kids. That’s the type of team we’re going to build in Florida.’’
The Panthers, who haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 1999-2000 (current Ottawa GM Bryan Murray was in charge at the time), have been the definition of mediocrity while Bill Torrey, Chuck Fletcher, Rick Dudley, Mike Keenan, Jacques Martin, and Randy Sexton were at the helm. With the aggressive Tallon on board, they at least have the potential to become an exciting team.
Like most GMs, Tallon said the heart of his approach will be building via the draft. In Chicago, Tallon oversaw the selections of Jonathan Toews (No. 3 in 2006) and Patrick Kane (first overall in 2007), two-thirds of Chicago’s No. 1 line.
While landing high-end picks, Tallon also overhauled the roster, shipping out Kyle Calder, Mark Bell, and Tyler Arnason, Chicago’s top three scorers in 2005-06. Arnason was traded to Ottawa for Brandon Bochenski and a 2006 second-round pick. In turn, Tallon flipped Bochenski to the Bruins for Kris Versteeg in a deal that still stands as Peter Chiarelli’s worst.
In Florida, one candidate to be moved could be Nathan Horton, who scored 20 goals in 65 games this season. Despite being the No. 3 overall pick in 2003, Horton is not known around the league for having a work ethic commensurate with his physical talents. “No heartbeat,’’ said a Bruin who has friends in the Florida room.
“We weeded out people who didn’t want to pay the price,’’ Tallon said. “If you don’t want to pay the price and you don’t want to be involved here, you’re not going to be here.
“We’re going to make that known right off the bat. No nonsense. This is going to be a professional approach. We want players that want to be here and are committed to win.’’
Some of Tallon’s most controversial decisions involved the UFA market. He signed Brian Campbell to an eight-year, $57.143 million contract in 2008. The following summer, Tallon locked up Marian Hossa to a 12-year, $63.3 million deal. Later that month, Tallon was let go, partly because of an error that resulted in six restricted free agents, including Versteeg, receiving late qualifying offers.
As the Panthers attempt to re-engage their fan base, Tallon might pursue similar free agent signings.
“Campbell was the No. 1-rated defenseman, and we made a commitment in Chicago,’’ Tallon said. “We were telling everyone we were going to be a first-class organization. We needed to make a splash to keep the fans from saying, ‘Same old Blackhawks.’
“He was available. We overpaid, as you always do on July 1. He fits into the style of play we wanted to incorporate — up-tempo puck possession. I like a team up the ice, playing in the other team’s zone.
“You overpay on July 1, then in August, you get better deals. The players have July as their day to get fat. In August, it’s our time to pluck the gems out and be successful in the free agent market.’’
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.