After a disappointing 2015-16 campaign, the Calgary Flames are on the cusp of an offseason ripe with change. General Manager Brad Treliving still seeks a new head coach for his club and a new tandem of goaltenders.
Once those key decisions are sorted out, the team’s management group can turn their attention to the rest of the organization’s roster decisions, and one name that is sure to come up is Dennis Wideman.
The veteran rearguard has been a serviceable addition for the Flames thus far, coming over in 2012 after a successful stint in Washington. Scoring at a 40-point pace in each of his first two seasons with Calgary – both of which saw him limited to only 46 games – Wideman had his best season with the Flames in 2014-15, scoring 15 goals and 56 points to finish as the fourth-highest scoring rearguard in the league.
Cashing in on that career-best season with a trade last summer would’ve been the best case scenario for Calgary, as Wideman’s stock dipped in 2015-16. The 33-year-old posted just 19 points in 51 games as his role decreased, and was also hit with a 20-game suspension for a questionable hit on linesman Don Henderson (the suspension was retroactively lessened).
The central issue for Wideman and the Flames is simply the fact that he’s owed too high a salary for the role he’ll be given next season. He’ll suit up as, at best, the fourth defender with a cap hit of $5.25 million, playing behind Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton.
The Flames would likely rather move Wideman to clear up cap space in an offseason that requires some significant spending. Treliving will be shelling out around $12-14 million per season for Johnny Gaudreau’s and Sean Monahan’s extensions, and there’s still the issue of signing a starting goaltender as well – hopefully a high-quality option.
With Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton leading Calgary’s blue line, alongside a decent group of younger options behind them, paying over $5 million to Wideman doesn’t seem feasible. That being the case, here are three teams that could pursue his services.
The Sabres have a staggering $25 million in projected cap space for next season, per CapFriendly.com, meaning the financial side of a potential deal could work out.
Buffalo does have some key contracts to get done – notably those for restricted free-agents Zemgus Girgensons, Marcus Foligno, and Rasmus Ristolainen. That cap space will surely shrink considerably after these deals are inked, but the club should still have no problem fitting in Wideman’s salary for one season.
In terms of the on-ice fit, Buffalo’s defensive depth suggests they could use Wideman’s services. 21-year-old Ristolainen led the club’s blue line with 41 points in 2015-16, and figures to be the team’s top defender for the foreseeable future.
Past him, though, the Sabres had trouble generating offense from their defense, as only one other defender topped 20 points (Zach Bogosian posted 24 points in 64 games).
Generating more total offense is likely an important goal for the Sabres in 2016-17, as they finished 25th in the league in goals-for per game this season, while finishing in the middle of the pack in terms of powerplay effectiveness.
Adding Wideman could be a decent short-term option to remedy the situation. He’s scored at a points-per-game pace of at least 0.36 (i.e. a 30-point pace, if translated over a full 82-game season) in all but one season of his career, with the lone outlier occurring decade ago.
Wideman would likely be the Sabres’ second-best offensive option on the backend behind Ristolainen, and could provide a boost for their power play unit as well.
For Buffalo, the draw would be adding more offense to their blue line, and a veteran voice for a club who has a fairly young core. They wouldn’t have to give up much to get Wideman, as the Flames are likely more concerned with clearing cap space to improve this summer rather than getting maximum value back for the veteran blue liner.
Think of teams desperate for improved blue lines, and the Bruins are likely one of the first that come to mind. Boston has suffered mightily for mismanaging their defense over the past few years, with crucially important talents like Dougie Hamilton and Johnny Boychuk being traded away from the organization.
With Zdeno Chara looking like he’s lost a step, and Torey Krug seeming to be the only viable offensive option moving forward, the Bruins are in dire need of a blue line improvement.
The only drawback for Wideman returning to his former club is that the veteran likely won’t do too much to help Boston in their own end.
His Corsi For percentage has averaged out to 45.3 percent over the past four seasons in Calgary, and he hasn’t been above 50 percent since 2011. He was, however, a strong option for the Bruins during his time there, and that familiarity could make for an easy transition.
What he can do is add some more offense from the blue line – something the team lost when they traded away Dougie Hamilton. Wideman certainly isn’t a long-term fix for the club, but could be a decent option for a year as the organization waits for prospects like Jakub Zboril to make the jump.
The Bruins have a crucial offseason to navigate, with seven free-agent forwards to decide between and only four defenders signed to a defense corps that needs to be rebuilt.
With $21.7 million in projected cap space, they should be able to fit in Wideman after all of their current contract situations are sorted out, especially if the Flames retain a portion of his salary.
Another factor to consider is the fact that Treliving and Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney have already linked up on a deal in the past, as Sweeney traded Hamilton to the Flames in the first significant move in his tenure as GM.
That history could prove crucial in Treliving’s efforts to finesse a deal to get Wideman off the books. The two reportedly nearly came to terms on a Wideman deal until his 20-game suspension was handed down, meaning they may be willing to revisit the discussion now that the veteran will be ready to suit up for his redemption tour in 2016-17.
Perhaps the team most starved for defensive help is the Oilers. It’s been a key weakness for the club for years, and there doesn’t seem to be a quick fix coming in 2016-17.
General Manager Peter Chiarelli has been open about wanting to fix his blue line as soon as possible, as the Oilers would like to finally transition out of their rebuilding phase and begin contending for a playoff spot.
Chiarelli is going to swing for the fences with bigger options – either by trading a roster player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or the club’s fourth-overall pick in the 2016 draft. But that might not be enough to fix the team’s backend.
The Oilers have a few promising options in Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse, and a serviceable veteran in Andrej Sekera. They’ll likely also add one more big name through one of the above-mentioned trade avenues. Chiarelli could thus opt to bring Wideman in for one more year as a transitional piece, providing some offense and a veteran presence for Klefbom and Nurse.
By 2017-18, these two young rearguards should be more ready to take on a central role for the club, as should other prospects within the organization – perhaps Jakob Chychrun or Olli Juolevi, should the Oilers choose to go that route at the 2016 draft.
Wideman could serve as a one-year stop-gap as Chiarelli continues to re-tool his blue-line – a decent option considering the Oilers likely wouldn’t have to give up much, and may be able to convince Treliving to retain some of the veteran’s salary.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently elaborated on a potential deal between the two Albertan rivals as well, suggesting the familiarity factor between Wideman and Chiarelli (his General Manager during his time in Boston) could play a role as well.
He won’t be-all and end-all answer to Edmonton’s defensive woes – far from it – but the veteran would give Edmonton a right-handed shot from the backend, some help on the powerplay, and – as the Flames saw last season – a decent contingency option should one of the top-pairing names get injured down the stretch.
Key to consider is the fact that Wideman controls his own destiny. The veteran has a no-movement clause on his deal, as he signed it with the leverage of being a potential unrestricted free agent back in 2012. However, considering he’ll have to sign a new contract after this upcoming season, it’s fair to assume Wideman would rather go to a club that will give him a bigger role and a bigger opportunity to prove he’s worth a substantial contract next summer.
Wideman won’t get that playing behind Calgary’s ‘big three’, meaning Treliving shouldn’t have a hard time convincing him to waive his no-movement clause and opt for a much-needed change of scenery.