Theme: “You're never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you're never as bad as they say when you lose.”
-- Lou Holtz
When Dennis Wideman was obtained at the trading deadline in 2011 for a low-level prospect and a third-round draft choice, it was viewed as something of a steal. Here was Wideman, a player who could provide some pop from the blue line, who could serve as an insurance policy in the event of the continued absence of Mike Green (he was out after suffering a concussion and in fact would not return for the rest of that regular season). It looked to be quite a move, too. Wideman was 1-6-7, plus-7 in 14 games upon joining the Caps, but then he succumbed to an injury of his own – compartment syndrome in his right thigh as a result of a collision with Carolina forward Tuomo Ruutu’s knee last March 29th. It ended his season.
Fast-forward to the beginning of this season. Wideman began the year as if nothing had happened to interrupt his career, let alone a career-threatening injury. He started the year with points in each of his first seven games, eight of his first ten, and 11 of his first 14 contests, over which he was 3-9-12. Since joining the Caps he was 4-15-19 in 28 games, providing just the “pop” the team needed.
But as that run to start the season wore on, the seeds were being sown for what would be an up and down year. After going his first 11 games as an even-or-better player, he was on the ice for each of the last four goals scored by the New York Islanders in a 5-3 win over the Caps. And it was then that folks remembered – you had to take the good and the bad with Wideman. He could be very productive in the offensive end of the rink (in three of his previous four seasons he had at least ten goals and had 30 or more points in all of them). He also could be an adventure in his own zone – a minus-38 in 439 career games before joining the Caps, including a minus-59 in the 212 games immediately preceding his trade to Washington.
Wideman’s up and down season is shown clearly in his “tens.” Scoring-wise, he was prolific in the first half with eight goals and 29 points in his first 40 games. He had a dip in his second ten-game segment (0-3-3 in ten games), but was otherwise consistent in goals, assists, and points. And his scoring was largely a product of his power play contributions (4-8-12 in his first 40 games). One might have had him on a short list for the Caps’ MVP in the first half, especially with Mike Green missing so much time. But those plus-minus numbers – plus-7, minus-7, minus-8, plus-5 in those first four segments. And while his scoring cooled off in the second half (3-14-17 in his last 42 games), that plus-minus continued to be all over the place – plus-4, minus-4, even, minus-5.
Looking deeper into his numbers, Wideman was one of only two Capital defensemen playing in at least 20 games at 5-on-5 who had a PDO value below 1000 (John Carlson was the other, but the quality of competition he faced was second only to Karl Alzner). The problem was save percentage. At 5-on-5 it was second worst among this group of defensemen (numbers from behindthenet.ca).
One of the odd numbers here was his zone starts at 5-on-5. Wideman and Green are the “offensive” defensemen on this club. Green’s offensive zone start number was puzzling enough (50.0 percent), but he played in so few games as to dismiss that in part as aberration. Wideman’s number was 49.0 percent, not what one might expect (or at least hope for) for a defensemen whose strength is at the offensive end of the ice.
At a more basic level, Wideman’s goal differential on/off ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 was only one of two values on the wrong side of “even.” His goal differential of -0.22 was second worst among these Caps defensemen. Only John Carlson’s -0.81 was worse, and Carlson suffered from facing better competition and himself had a miserable last half of the season defensively.
Odd Wideman Fact… Dennis Wideman didn’t do “even” games this past season. He finished only 30 of 82 games in that fashion (26 on the plus side, 26 on the minus side).
Game to Remember… December 9, 2011. On November 19th the Caps visited the Toronto Maple Leafs, where they were pasted by a 7-1 score and Dennis Wideman was on the ice for three of the seven goals. On December 9th the Caps and Wideman had a chance to right the wrong done to them in Toronto. Wideman made the most of his opportunity, having a hand in all four Caps goals, all of which came on power plays (two goals, two primary assists). For Wideman it was a career high in goals and points in a game – his first multi-goal game and his first four-point game.
Game to Forget… November 5, 2011. Through 11 games Wideman was 3-7-10, plus-8, and had yet to record a minus game in the young season. That streak came to an end with a loud thud on November 5th against an unlikely opponent. Wideman was on ice for the last five goals scored in that night’s game against the New York Islanders. Unfortunately for Wideman and the Caps, four of those goals happened to be scored by the Islanders over a span of just 22:04. The implosion wasted a 2-0 start by the Caps, and Wideman finished the game a team-worst minus-4.
Post Season… No Capital defenseman was on ice for more goals against than Dennis Wideman, and at even strength this isn’t close. Wideman was on ice for 13 goals against, all of them at even strength. John Carlson was on for eight even strength goals, and Karl Alzner was on for seven. No defenseman had a worse plus-minus. What made this worse was the fact that his scoring dried up – no goals (on 23 shots), three assists (only one at even strength).
In the end… It is tempting to give Wideman a poor grade, but this discussion is meant to cover the entire season, not just the last dozen games of the regular season and the playoffs. But that really is the final exam of a sort in this case. The Caps were fighting for a playoff berth and were locked in what would be two seven-game series. Wideman was not much of a factor. On the whole, he has his good moments – stepping up early when Mike Green went down (an all-star worthy effort; it led to his second highest career total in points) – and his bad ones. Unfortunately, the lack of consistency and the fact that the bad moments (or utter lack of good ones) came too often in the stretch run and the post-season make it more difficult to give him a good grade. Of more practical import, it makes it hard to see how the Caps would be justified in retaining him at a raise in pay given that they have the contracts of Mike Green, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner to deal with in the near future.