At the age of 25, Chris Wideman was still playing for the Binghamton Senators without ever getting called up to the NHL. From the outside looking in, he didn’t seem like much of a prospect.
Because he played three seasons of college hockey and three seasons in the AHL after being drafted as a 19-year old in 2009, Wideman was already a UFA in 2015 despite no NHL experience. Bryan Murray signed him to a one-year two-way deal that gave him a $400k salary in the minors, meaning that they wanted to keep him in Ottawa, but if he had to get sent down he would at least be making decent money.
The Senators never seemed intent on getting rid of Wideman in 2015-16 though, as he played in 64 games without ever getting sent back down. That decision to see what he can do has paid off, as Wideman has quietly become a very reliable third pairing defenseman, especially over the past 13 months.
However, it looks like he may not be a Senator for much longer.
I’ve grown to love what he brings to the table considering how short of a leash he has, and I really wish I didn’t have to write about this. I feel like Ottawa doesn’t exactly feel the same way though, and even if they do like him, they may feel obligated to move on anyway.
His most recent injury is a huge blow to the team, himself, and the front office if they were banking on trading him before the trade deadline. Now the entire situation with him and the team is messy, and I feel like it will end up with a quality defenseman that they actually drafted and developed moving to another organization.
Let’s examine all the factors in play and see why things are lining up for him to not be a Senator next season.
Before looking at the context surrounding this situation, I think it’s important to briefly analyze his results. While I think Wideman could be perfectly passable on the second pairing, I’m also willing to accept the premise that perhaps it would be too big of a role for him. Having said that, considering how many awful defensemen there are in the league and how low the bar is for third pairing players, Wideman should be considered a luxury.
His rookie season wasn’t anything spectacular, but last year he flourished.
Since the beginning of 2016-17, Wideman ranks 7th amongst 161 defensemen (minimum 1000 minutes played) in relative corsi at +5.57%, and is first amongst Senators defensemen in things like corsi, relative corsi, goals for %, and fenwick. It’s not like he hasn’t been getting actual results either, as he’s been on for 40 goals for and just 27 against, so you can’t even suggest that his possession numbers mean nothing.
His heat map from this season is understandably not a huge sample, but it is clear that he has had an offensive impact:
Even if you think Wideman isn’t fit for a top-four role, it’s hard to argue against his results on the third pairing.
Wideman is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, meaning if Ottawa doesn’t want to retain him, they can simply let him walk for nothing in the off-season.
While I would hate to see that happen, it’s certainly a possibility. On his current two-year deal, he’s making a measly $800k, which is an absolute steal for any NHL player who can have a remotely positive impact. However, he’s due for a raise, and I can see him asking for something around $2M.
That number is important for the next point...
Everybody knows that Mark Stone and Cody Ceci are RFA’s this summer and that Erik Karlsson, Derick Brassard and Matt Duchene are UFA’s in 2019. It will be no easy task for Pierre Dorion to keep this core intact, and he’ll have to be very careful about every extra dollar that comes in.
I do worry about what Ceci will ask for, especially because I think Ottawa wants to keep him here for a long long time. However, if Dorion is smart, he should probably move Ceci to save some money and save himself from a bad contract:
A little 2018/19 math:— Tyler Ray (@DefenseMinister) November 13, 2017
Estimated Sens payroll of ~$70M (about what it is this season)
10 F/3 D/2 G under contract for ~$60M
Assume 1 F and 3 D slots filled by ELC/cheap: ~$4M
Assume Stone gets ~$6M/per on longterm deal
Dollars left to re-sign Ceci = 0.
What does this have to do with Wideman then? Well, if he is asking for somewhere around $2M, that might be just a bit more than they can afford. And if they aren’t absolutely in love with him already, they aren’t going to bend over backwards to keep him in the fold.
Keep in mind that Mark Borowiecki already got an extension before the season began. That just shows you who they see as a more valuable team asset moving forward.
For the first time in a long time, Ottawa has a plethora of defensive options moving forward. They may not all be great per se, but a lot of them should at least be capable of being third pairing players. And if my previous point about the budget holds true, Ottawa might be willing to trust one of their younger players to take that role while they are still cheap.
Besides the NHL roster, the Senators have Thomas Chabot, Ben Harpur, Christian Jaros, Andreas Englund, Max Lajoie, and Christian Wolanin who will all be pushing for spots in the next year or two. Lajoie, Wolanin, and Englund won’t be stepping in right away next season, but the first three may get a shot.
Jaros is the only right-handed shot amongst the him, Chabot, and Harpur, but Ottawa hasn’t been afraid to put Chabot on his opposite side. Perhaps they realize that he could very well be taking over Wideman’s spot sooner rather than later. No matter what, Ottawa has some young defensemen available and they will probably utilize them.
It’s hard to ignore how Guy Boucher has played Wideman this season. In 16 games, he’s averaging just 11:33 of ice time per game, which is 2:25 less than last year. Furthermore, despite his obvious offensive abilities, he’s just 13th in percentage of power play time he gets. Once again, that number is lower than last year when he was 8th in ice time percentage.
Plus how can we forget the fact that Wideman played as a fourth line right winger a la Mark Borowiecki right before he got injured. If they truly valued him, they wouldn’t put him on as a forward. I get that he has some offensive instincts, but you don’t see them putting Karlsson up front every so often.
Taking a look at the ice time that’s given to him, it’s pretty clear to me that Boucher does not trust him very much. We saw that in the playoffs too, as he ended up getting scratched for four games.
Before the season, I had predicted that Wideman was going to be the first one traded because of his free agent status. When healthy, I think Ottawa can get a 2nd round pick for him, but after this injury, that may not be happening:
Evgeni Malkin falls on Chris Wideman and causes him to do the splits. Just brutal, hopefully he’s ok. pic.twitter.com/9gZzsuGIdP— Cole Padawer (@HKY_Tweets) November 17, 2017
If he’s going to miss time past the trade deadline, team’s won’t want an injured player. That has to sting for Pierre Dorion if he was planning on moving Wideman at some point, unless he can come back healthy before the end of February and prove that he’s good enough to play.
The fact that he’s injured makes it less likely that he’ll be traded (which seems good on the surface), but if the Senators weren’t planning on re-signing him anyway, it’s too bad that they may not be able to get anything for him.
Hopefully he’ll play again this season.
What Does This All Mean?
Sadly, I can see what is going to happen from a mile away. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if Wideman stays with the team, but nothing that the organization has done recently suggests to me that they want to keep him, or that they’ll even be able to keep him.
I have been pumping his tires ever since he began the 2016-17 season very well, and I think he’s a perfect third pairing player that can provide some offense. Is he prone to some mistakes? Sure, but name me a third pairing player who isn’t.
When July 1st comes around, I can’t imagine Wideman being a part of the Ottawa Senators organization, and that’s a damn shame.