Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Washington Capitals 2011-2012 Previews: Dennis Wideman

Dennis Wideman

Theme: “If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.”
-- Niccolo Machiavelli

We are going to guess that Machiavelli was thinking of something other than hockey when he wrote “The Prince.” And if Dennis Wideman has designs of vengeance on Tuomo Ruutu, the Carolina Hurricane forward who ended Wideman’s season with the Caps 14 games after arriving from Florida in a deadline trade, we’re thinking Wideman’s desire for vengeance might be wrought on the rest of the league for having been denied a chance to go deep in the post-season after toiling for 61 games for a disappointing Panther team.

Thirteen games into his tenure with the Caps last spring, Wideman was cruising along – a goal and six assists, plus-6, and he hadn’t yet skated fewer than 22 minutes in any game. With Mike Green on the shelf with a concussion he suffered in late February, Wideman was just what the doctor ordered, so to speak. But late in the second period of his 14th game with the Caps, a doctor was what Wideman would need, although it might not have seemed so at the time. Wideman collided with Tuomo Ruutu in open ice, suffering what appeared to be a charley horse to his thigh. Coach Bruce Boudreau even remarked after the game that he was only “day-to-day” with his injury. Little did anyone know that what Wideman suffered was not a charley horse and a bruise, but compartment syndrome and a hematoma that required surgery that ended Wideman’s season.

The chance to help the Caps go deep into the playoffs in his rear view mirror, it is now a case of Wideman lending his talents to yet another Capitals push to escape the potholes of early playoff round exits. Even though Caps fans got a glimpse of what he might contribute, it was perhaps not a clear one. What the Caps have, first of all, is a minutes-eater. Only once in six seasons has Wideman averaged fewer than 20 minutes a game, and in the past four seasons hasn’t averaged fewer than 23:33 a game.

Wideman has been a respectable scorer from the point on the power play. He is 14th among defensemen in power play goals since the lockout (31). But on the other hand, he has the 21st worst plus-minus over that period (minus-31).

Only 12 defensemen have recorded more shots on goal since the lockout than Wideman. Then again, only 21 defensemen were on the ice for more goals against last year. Even though he has played for a few real dogs (a 57-point team in St. Louis in 2005-2006, a Florida team that would win only 30 games in 2010-2011 after Wideman was traded to Washignton), he has put up iffy plus-minus number in better environments (a second-worst minus-14 on a 91-point team in Boston in 2009-2010). There is something of a risk-reward aspect to Wideman’s play.

Fearless’ Take: Wideman has almost twice as many career special teams goals (37 – 35 on the power play, two shorthanded) than even strength goals (19). He is one of only ten defensemen to have recorded at least nine power play goals in a season at least twice since the lockout. In 453 career games he is 35-74-109 on the power play. Compare that with Mike Green, who is 41-72-113 in 366 games on the power play. One would be hard pressed to find a pair of blueliners with that kind of man-advantage production.

Cheerless’ Take: For all those goals he’s been scoring from the blue line he has exactly one goal in 30 playoff games on 65 shots. That’s a 1.5 percent shooting percentage.

The Big Question… How will Wideman do with fewer minutes?

Chewing up wide swaths of minutes has been a signature part of Dennis Wideman’s game over the past several years. Given that he is coming off a gruesome injury, and the Caps have a deep defense, he would seem to be penciled in as third pair (perhaps paired with Jeff Schultz). Last year, splitting time in Florida and Washington, Wideman got about 17 and a half minutes a game at even strength, another four on the power play, and two and a half on the penalty kill for his 24 minutes a game. This year, he might have his even strength time shaved to 16 minutes or so, his power play time perhaps cut in half (unless the Caps start drawing more penalties more frequently), and perhaps keeping his two minutes of penalty killing time a game. Will having his ice time cut by four minutes keep him fresher or render him stale?

In the end…

Yes, Wideman is perhaps a risk/reward defenseman, but he is not likely to be called upon to be a shutdown defenseman on this team. That duty falls to Karl Alzner and John Carlson, and he might benefit from the steadiness of a Jeff Schultz the way Mike Green has in years past. Wideman brings a knack for scoring on the power play that the Caps utterly lacked from the blue line last year. In the regular season the Capitals’ defensemen were 7-13-20 as a group, five of the goals coming from Mike Green and one by Wideman. In the playoffs they were 1-2-3 in nine games, all the scoring coming from Green. Wideman can help add to the threat from the blue line and perhaps open things up for the big forwards on the power play. That could lift the Caps from their disappointing tie for 15th in regular season power play efficiency last season and their almost embarrassing tie for 12th among 16 teams in post season power play conversion frequency. That is where Dennis Wideman might get his best chance to exact a little revenge on the league for missing out on his chance for post-season fun last year.

Projection: 76 games, 10-26-36, plus-10

(photo: Greg Fiume/Getty Images North America)

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