If you spend any time at all with a fan of the Calgary Flames during one of their games, two things will inevitably happen. First, that person will at some point loudly complain about Dennis Wideman. Second, that person will openly ponder why the Flames haven’t traded Wideman yet.
Wideman Has a Controversial Past
Most discussions of Wideman have centered upon the January 2016 collision he had with linesman Don Henderson that left the official unable to perform his duties for the remainder of the season. The incident resulted in a protracted (and still ongoing) administrative and legal battle between the National Hockey League and its players’ association.
General managers and hockey operations departments tend to operate with a cold rationality when evaluating players and making trades. Rather than get mired down in the conspiracy theories and reputational politics that have surrounded Wideman since that incident, let’s instead look at his performances, tendencies and attributes as a player.
A Brief History
The 33-year-old Wideman was originally acquired in the summer of 2012 by then-general manager Jay Feaster. Hoping to bolster his team’s power play in an effort to return them to the playoffs, Feaster traded with Washington for Wideman’s rights and immediately signed him to a hefty five-year contract worth $5.25 million annually. Almost immediately, the contract became a sign to the Flames’ fanbase that they weren’t going to attempt a rebuild and triggered some anxiety about the club’s direction under Feaster. Four seasons later, Feaster is gone and the Flames are on the upswing following a brief rebuild. Wideman is one of the few players remaining from the old regime.
When Wideman arrived, the hope was that he would be able to anchor Calgary’s power play. A right-handed shooter with a really powerful, accurate slap shot, he had been very useful in his previous NHL stops for his offensive ability. His defensive play wasn’t anything to write home about, but it also wasn’t a huge concern if he was placed with a strong-skating partner who could cover for him when he jumped into the play. Aside from a 56-point performance in 2014-15, Wideman hasn’t really generated the offense to justify his large cap hit. His defensive play has also been worse than previously advertised, earning him comparisons to the similarly one-dimensional former Flames blueliner Anton Babchuk. For what it’s worth, Babchuk was significantly less expensive.
With the time dwindling down on Wideman’s contract, two questions emerge: if Wideman’s tenure has been so disappointing in Calgary, why is he still with the team? And with his cap hit shrinking as the trade deadline approaches, is there any chance the Flames can move him?
The Good and the Bad
Wideman is still a Flame because they haven’t been able to find a suitable trade match – even during the 2014-15 season when Wideman was putting up points. The reasoning behind that is pretty simple: he’s expensive, he doesn’t score a ton compared to defenders with similar ice-time, and his defensive play has worsened due to his diminishing foot-speed. He plays on Calgary’s second pairing with T.J. Brodie, but the pairing only really works because Brodie is mobile enough to back up Wideman defensively. Otherwise, Wideman has been stuck on the third pairing for much of the last few seasons. Add in the length of Wideman’s contract and his cap hit– his deal is finally expiring following this season – and it’s no small wonder the Flames haven’t been able to move him.
That said, Wideman does bring a few useful attributes to the table. He’s a wily veteran who’s played deep in the postseason in the past, and he was effective for Calgary during their 2015 playoff run. He’s also still got a really good shot when he’s able to get it off, so he could be a useful weapon for a team needing a bit more oomph to their power play. He also still has strong vision in terms of being able to make passes and set up his teammates for offensive chances.
Some Lingering Value
Wideman isn’t a perfect hockey player. He’s not as mobile as he once was and he’s more expensive than is ideal for a depth defender. But if the Flames are willing to retain some of his remaining salary, they could probably move him at the trade deadline to a team needing power-play help and get a mid-round draft selection back rather than losing him for nothing on July 1. The unanswered question is how much salary the Flames are willing to retain, as such a move would restrict their own ability to add at the deadline.