a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

05/22/12 The Case for Dennis Wideman

After playing for three teams in as many years since 2009-10, Dennis Wideman is probably looking to settle down somewhere. If he decides to leave Washington, might he be interested in Edmonton? Would the Oilers be interested in him?

Having just turned 29 years old in March, Wideman is an experienced veteran of seven NHL seasons. He's a right handed shooter who has been good for 0.47 points per game over his career, which would make for roughly 38 points over an 82 game season. He scored 46 points in 2011-12. Amazingly, the entire Oilers defense scored just 105 points all year, so it almost goes without saying that Wideman would be a good addition offensively. He's also a reasonable safeguard against Ryan Whitney never returning to form.

There is nothing in the even strength numbers to suggest that Wideman's point totals were the result of luck, either.

Wideman was one of three Capitals defensemen who faced the toughest competition on the team, and despite his reputation for being somewhat soft, his workload was not softened with easy zone starts. He started his shifts in the offensive zone only 49% of the time, but kept his head above water in possession. He also led the Capitals in total ice time, which was broken down this way:

Even Strength: 18:41 per game
Powerplay: 3:16 per game
Penalty Kill: 1:56 per game

He was used in all three situations, with emphasis on the offensive side. 7-19-26 of his points were collected at even strength, which is a higher total than all of Jeff Petry's team-leading 25 for the Oilers. Wideman padded his stats on the powerplay, where the Capitals were only ranked 18th in the NHL at 16.7% efficiency and 26th with just 41 powerplay goals. That means that Wideman was somewhat lucky to have collected 20 points on the powerplay, but it happened because he was a staple when the Caps were up a man. He played 268:51 of total powerplay minutes, which was a whopping 151:21 more than the next-closest defenseman (John Carlson). Only Alexander Ovechkin played more total powerplay minutes than Wideman.

He had 113 hits and 132 blocked shots in 2011-12, which would have ranked third in both categories this season out of all Oilers defensemen. His 175 shots would have led the Oilers' defense by a mile.

So with all that in mind, why wouldn't the Capitals re-sign him?

They will undoubtedly try to. Wideman ended up being very important to his team in 2011-12, and filled in nicely in the absence of Mike Green, who was lost to injury for much of the season. But if the Capitals plan on keeping Green, that could make things tight budget-wise for the defense. A pending RFA, Green's new deal will be at least as large as his current $5.25 million cap hit (assuming that the new rules of the CBA are similar to their current form), and he's not the only player in need of a new contract. John Carlson will get a big bump in pay from his current $845,833 stipend, and six other defensemen are already under contract. With Wideman already making a hair under $4 million, his new contract could be too rich for the Capitals to squeeze in.

Alexander Semin may not be back with the Caps, which would free up $6.7 million in cap space, but they will need to replace his points somehow. Semin has been good for 54 points in each of the last two years and a total of 408 in his 469 career NHL games. If the Capitals elect to sign a player or two to replace that production, it will eat up a fair chunk of the space they gain from not re-signing Semin.

One big knock on Wideman, however, is his disappearing act in the playoffs. He scored 12 points in just 13 playoff games with the Bruins back in 2009-10, but this year he had just three assists in 14 playoff games as the Capitals were eliminated in the second round once again. Over his career Wideman has collected 25 points in 44 playoff games, but only one goal in all that time. It's unclear if you can win with Wideman, and that may scare some teams away from him.

But the Oilers are a team that could use his talents. If they plan on pursuing a free agent defenseman, they could probably do worse.

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