Earlier this month Ottawa Senators’ prospect Chris Wideman won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s top defenseman. Yet, despite an incredibly successful season in Binghamton, Wideman is most likely leaving the Senators’ organization come July 1st. Why? Because he wants to play in the NHL and it’s clear that won’t happen if he stays in Ottawa so he is going to look for greener pastures elsewhere. However, rather than blaming the player for bolting from an organization that drafted and developed him, fans should place the blame at the feet of Ottawa’s management team.
Who is Chris Wideman?
First though, lets take a look at who Chris Wideman is so we can understand why his departure is a big deal.
Ottawa drafted Wideman out of the USHL in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL draft. He then spent the next four years playing for Miami University in Ohio, never putting up more than 0.6 points per game in his four seasons there. After completing college, he joined the Binghamton Senators for the start of the 2012-2013 season. However, it was during his second year in Bingo where he grew remarkably. Going from 18 points – and a stint in the ECHL – in his AHL rookie year, he jumped to 51 points and quarterbacked the BSens’ powerplay. In a similar role this year he put up even better numbers on a mediocre team, culminating with winning the award for top AHL defenseman, an award previously won by present NHL stalwarts Johnny Boychuck and Niklas Kronwall. All serving to increase his value in the eyes of 29 NHL GMs.
Even more fortuitous for Wideman is that he is a UFA this year and should be able to translate his success into a raise on his current salary. Despite his relatively small stature (5’10” and 170 lbs), Wideman skates very well and is an excellent puck mover. He also has a great shot from the point, making him a very useful addition to any team’s powerplay. Some scouts have expressed concern that he won’t be able to handle stronger forwards at the NHL level but if played in protected minutes and on the PP, he would make an excellent NHL level third-pairing defenseman. But it seems like that won’t happen in Ottawa.
Ottawa’s Clogged Blue-line
Ottawa has tried all sorts to get Wideman to stay. Even making the unlikely move of signing Wideman’s less talented brother to play in Binghamton next year.
Did the Senators sign Alex Wideman simply to lure Chris Wideman back as he is a UFA?
— Jack L (@jleipse) June 5, 2015
However, they can’t offer him what he really wants; a chance to play in the NHL. As previously discussed, Ottawa has seven defense-men on one-way deals and another (Cody Ceci) who is too good to send down to Binghamton. While the Senators’ top four, baring a trade or UFA signing, of Karlsson, Method, Weircioch and Ceci is set, the bottom pairing needs help. Wideman wouldn’t be a guaranteed upgrade over one of Jared Cowen, Mark Borowiecki, Erik Gryba or Chris Phillips, but he certainly wouldn’t be any worse and comes cheaper than any of them. Problem is that the contracts of all the bodies ahead of Wideman are (essentially) unmovable.
Due to a series of bizarre decisions, both Gryba and Borowiecki were signed to multi-year contract extensions paying each over $1 million. Gryba’s contract expires after this season but Borowiecki is under contract through 2017-18! Similarly, Cowen has two more years at $3.1 million per. Simply put, none of these players are going anywhere.Gryba and Borowiecki are not better than an AHL replacement on a league minimum contract so no other team is going to even bother picking them up off waivers, much less trading for them. Additionally, Cowen’s poor play and large contract has pretty much killed any chance of a trade, despite fervent hoping from Ottawa fans. Finally, being a budget team, Ottawa isn’t going to pay a player $1 million plus to play in the AHL. All totaled Wideman, if he resigned, would sit ninth on the team’s depth chart for at least the next season. So he is going to walk away, which makes perfect sense from his point of view. Hockey players want to play and he has earned a shot at the big leagues.
Ottawa Only Has Itself to Blame
What is frustrating about the Wideman situation is that Ottawa’s management team is completely to blame. After his strong performance in 2013-14, Bryan Murray and company should have known that Wideman would be challenging for an NHL job in the near future, but still chose to extend Borowiecki’s and Gryba’s contracts. Not only did they block Wideman’s path but also threw into question the future progression of Binghamton’s Fredrik Claesson. However, the pattern of giving bad contract extensions to gritty homegrown players is not limited to defense. On forward both Colin Greening and Zack Smith are grossly overpaid for what they bring to the team, and combined with Murray’s unwillingness to deal Chris Neil, could result in Ottawa losing at least one of Eric Condra, Mike Hoffman or J.G. Pageau this off-season.
Being a budget team in a league where the majority of clubs spend to the cap is hard. Crippling your ability to develop prospects and re-sign key young players only makes your job harder. Ottawa losing Wideman is a result of poor roster management, it is that simple.