There is a laundry list of things that have caused the Ottawa Senators to be much worse in 2017-18 compared to last season, and goaltending is the most obvious answer. However, something that hasn’t been talked about enough is the loss of Chris Wideman due to injury. He isn’t a star player on this team, but he was a stabilizing presence on the third pairing who could also help on the powerplay.
The 28-year-old is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and it’s unclear whether Ottawa will be interesting in retaining him. Having said that, it should be an easy decision. With him hopefully rejoining the lineup before the season ends, perhaps fans can remember why he should be sticking around.
Chris Wideman still in the non-contact Powder Blue Jersey. pic.twitter.com/yfd7HtNFx4— TSN 1200 (@TSN1200) March 16, 2018
Wideman clearly has his limitations, and that is why Guy Boucher never fully trusted him, especially in the playoffs. But there are no 3rd pairing defensemen in the league that don’t have limitations, and I hold my stance that he’s easily one of the best depth defensemen in the league, mainly because I think he would be able to hold his own on the second pairing if they ever gave him a shot there.
Before I get into his actual on-ice play, let’s look at the financials of a potential new contract for him. His current contract gives him a cap hit of $800k, which is pennies for a player of his caliber. And according to Matt Cane’s contract projector, he’s in line for a 1-year deal worth $961,401. If he gets a 3-year deal, that cap hit rises to ~$1.38M, but that’s still incredibly cheap.
For comparison, other defensemen around the league making around that kind of money include Mark Borowiecki ($1.1M), Roman Polak ($1.1M), Johnny Oduya ($1M), Deryk Engelland ($1.1M), and Francois Beauchemin ($1M). If that’s the going rate for players like that, anything under $2M for Wideman would be an absolute steal.
Then there’s also the question about if there will be room for him on the roster next season.
If Erik Karlsson is traded, then there absolutely is room for him, since the only other right-handed defenseman would be Cody Ceci. But even if Karlsson stays, Wideman deserves a constant spot in the lineup. Erik Karlsson, Mark Borowiecki, Thomas Chabot, and Ben Harpur are under contract for next season, plus Cody Ceci, Fredrik Claesson, and Wideman himself are free agents.
Assuming all of those players come back, the defense pairings could look like this:
Considering Wideman is one of three right-shot defensemen, there’s no reason to not play him. In no way are both Borowiecki and Harpur better than him, so it would be asinine to have him as the 7th defenseman on this depth chart. In addition, Wideman brings something that none of the bottom-four defensemen bring: an offensive weapon. I don’t think having two players like Borowiecki and Harpur on the same pairing would be beneficial, simply because their playing styles are too similar.
But why does Wideman deserve a new contract exactly? Well let’s look at his production since the beginning of the 2016-17 season.
Out of 197 defenseman with at least 1000 minutes played, Wideman ranks fifth in relative corsi at +5.57%, surrounded by names like Hampus Lindholm, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, Brent Burns, and Zach Werenski. He also sits 18th in relative expected goal differential (+3.67%), and has even actually gotten great goal results with a 59.7 GF% that sits 6th. So his shot share numbers as well as the actual goal numbers have been phenomenal.
It’s true that he doesn’t get the hardest minutes on the team, plus he has only played 16 games this season so the sample size is only 92 games. His offensive zone start percentage is highest in the league at 41.32% so that certainly helps his overall numbers, but it’s not a given that a defenseman will be great if they start more shifts on the offensive zone.
As a matter of fact, the five defensemen immediately after him in terms of offensive zone starts are Colin Miller, Torey Krug, Shayne Gostisbehere, Noah Hanifin, and Kevin Shattenkirk. Some of those players have some defensive deficiencies, but overall that is an incredibly talented group. So yes, we can take into account his soft deployment, but that doesn’t mean his production means nothing.
Wideman has also shown an incredible skill by being able to play with anybody on the Senators roster. There have been 29 different defense pairings since 2016, and Wideman appears in five of the top 10 pairings in terms of relative corsi:
He has played with six defensemen, and the only player he has a negative shot share with is, unsurprisingly, Cody Ceci. Having solid numbers with Karlsson is expected, but to be above 50% corsi with all four of Marc Methot, Dion Phaneuf, Mark Borowiecki, and Fredrik Claesson as well? That’s pretty amazing.
Honestly, considering how many bad 3rd pairing defenseman there are out there in the league, Wideman doesn’t have to clear that high of a bar to warrant being re-signed. He’s thrived in his role as a Senator, and if anything, I think he’s being under-utilized. I really doubt he is going to cost very much since his counting stats aren’t amazing, and he’s only averaged 13:43 per game in whole his career.
Therefore, it would be an incredibly poor decision to not re-sign him, and since Pierre Dorion has his work cut out for him at other parts of the team, this should be a slam dunk. Don’t sleep on Chris Wideman, because he’s sneakily one of the best third pairing defensemen in the league, and I’ll be excited to see him fully healthy again.