Yesterday in a semi-surprising move (but one that makes sense), the Senators re-signed rookie defenseman Chris Wideman to a 2-year contract with a cap hit of just $800,000. With Wideman being a UFA this summer, there was at least some questions about whether or not Bryan Murray would want to keep him on board.
But they clearly have liked what they have seen from Wideman, and he can slot in as one of their third pairing defenseman for the next two seasons at least. This deal has a clear domino effect, and its main casualty is Patrick Wiercioch.
Wiercioch's name has been on the rumour mill for years now, and it looks like he may finally be traded. Last year during the Senators playoff run when he was playing amazing, it looked like he had finally proven to the team that he was worth playing on the second pairing. But after having a sub-par year, the team has certainly soured on him.
Bruce Garrioch has been mentioning his name in the rumour-mill in the past little while, and after the Wideman extension, he confirmed that they are still looking to move him:
The #Sens have shopped Patrick Wiercioch and there is interest. Extension with Chris Wideman ensures depth. #TradeCentre #ottsports— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) February 24, 2016
However, while Garrioch has his good sources, Bryan Murray is playing things close to his chest, saying that he isn't necassrily going to move him:
Says Wideman extension doesn't necessarily affect Wiercioch. They need 7 D.— Dean Brown (@PxPOttawa) February 24, 2016
So it's interesting to see that Murray said that, because that means one of two scenarios will happen: either he really does want to trade him and he doesn't want to paint himself into a corner, or he is considering keeping him just in case Ottawa needs him for an attempt to make the playoffs. I think he intends to do the former, as the organization has always had a strange relationship with Wiercioch.
They definitely aren't an analytically-inclined organization, and if you are solely relying on your eyes to see what kind of impact Wiercioch has, I can see why you'd think he's replaceable. If the Senators do go on another magical run towards the playoffs, I don't see why Fredrik Claesson can't step in as a 7th defenseman, as he proved to be capable of playing on the third pairing during his brief time with the team. So saying that they need him just in case is just a cover up so it doesn't seem so obvious that they badly want Wiercioch gone.
I've always been a fan of Wiercioch because he's been valued by intelligent people who see value in a strong puck mover who consistently wins the possession battle. Whether I (and many fans) like it or not though, I can't see him playing beyond this season, and he will most likely be on a different team next week.
Right now, Ottawa has a pretty clear top-4 on defense: Marc Methot, Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf, and Cody Ceci. Whether Ceci deserves the spot or not, he's entrenched there right now. Then on the bottom pairing Mark Borowiecki isn't going anywhere, no matter how much we complain on Twitter. That leaves on spot open on the third pairing, which was always going to be a battle between Wideman and Wiercioch. With the signing yesterday, it looks like Wideman won.
Sure, Wiercioch could be extended in the summer for another year or two, but are they really going to pay him upwards of $2.7 million to be a 6th/7th defenseman? Ottawa is cash-strapped enough as it is, and they will take every opportunity to save a few bucks. Ottawa sees Wiercioch as an expensive third-pairing defenseman, and now they have much cheaper options instead of him.
I will acknowledge that they will be making a poor decision to keep a guy like Borowiecki instead of Wiercioch, but in Ottawa's eyes I can see why it makes sense, since they don't value him very much. That doesn't mean they're making the right decision at all, but I am trying to see it from their perspective.
Once he began to play poorly earlier in the year, I began to get the sense that perhaps the Senators were going to trade him at some point, and the fact that someone as connected as Garrioch has reported that multiple times makes me strongly believe that he's played his last game as a Senator (unless he gets in the lineup in the next two games).
The only scenario I can envision in which Wiercioch stays with Ottawa is if the team thinks it has a shot at making the playoffs, and they need him just in case. But even in that scenario, in the summer he either won't be tendered a qualifying offer, or his rights will be traded.
While Murray may be telling the truth about needing seven defensemen, I'd expect Wiercioch to be traded before the Monday trade deadline. The hot stove has become mildly warm.