Recently, PHR has been shining some light on remaining free agents in a very quiet market, with players like P.A. Parenteau, Daniel Winnik, Brian Gionta, Jarome Iginla, and Drew Stafford getting some extra attention. The one thing that those players have in common is that there is not a defenseman among them. The last defenseman profiled was Johnny Oduya, who signed with the Ottawa Senators the next day and remains the last major UFA to have signed an NHL deal. Meanwhile, veteran Andrei Markov left for Russia, while big blue liner Cody Franson remains in limbo (and should consider investing in some real estate there).
Why have no other defenseman garnered attention, both from NHL teams nor the PHR team? There are simply few quality defenders left on the market. Outside of Franson, one lone defenseman remains unsigned from PHR’s list of the Top 50 2017 Free Agents: Dennis Wideman. Wideman was the last man to make the list, ranking 50th overall and 14th among defenseman. At 34 years old and coming off back-to-back seasons that could both be considered the worst of his career, Wideman wasn’t exactly a hot commodity. However, it was still projected that Wideman would find work based on a long track record of being able to play major minutes and put up points, even if just on a short-term inexpensive deal.
Luckily for Wideman, that is still a distinct possibility even in mid-August. The free agent market, for not only defenseman but for all players, is all but dead, yet opportunities remain. Signings have been few and far in between, but Wideman faces only Franson for any open blue line spots and brings a very different skill set. Wideman is an 11-year veteran with 387 points in 815 NHL games and was once considered one of the top puck-movers in the game. Wideman even drew Norris Trophy votes in 2008-09 with the Boston Bruins and turned his impressive resume into a five-year, $26.25MM contract with the Calgary Flames in 2012. Wideman is far from that player today, but still carries the pedigree of a possession defenseman capable of playing big minutes when needed and helping out on the power play.
Even if Franson signs a new contract first, Wideman’s chances of landing a deal of his own are still fair. In each of the past two years, two legitimate NHL defenseman have signed contracts late in free agency. Last year, it was Dennis Seidenberg going to the New York Islanders and Kyle Quincey signing with the New Jersey Devils. Seidenberg looked rejuvenated in Brooklyn and earned himself an extension, while Quincey proved to be a valuable veteran and trade chip for the Devils and has already signed with the Minnesota Wild this summer. In 2015, it was Franson himself, ending up with the Buffalo Sabres on a two-year deal, and David Schlemko, yet another one-year value deal for the Devils.
If the pattern isn’t clear yet, a one-year “show me” deal for Wideman with the New Jersey Devils remains a very real possibility. For the third season in a row, the Devils could greatly benefit from adding a talented veteran on the cheap. Although the team has a pair of consummate pros in captain Andy Greene and veteran Ben Lovejoy, as well as some exciting young players like Damon Severson, Mirco Mueller, and John Moore, the team is lacking in depth. Bringing in Wideman, who has become accustomed to a part-time role in Calgary over the past few years, to be a spot starter, capable injury replacement, and mentor to the young offensive blue liners would be a savvy signing by GM Ray Shero.
Another team that is going to be rumored to be in on a top-four defenseman until they actually go out and get one is the Colorado Avalanche. With just three defenseman currently signed to one-way deals and a depth chart lacking in legitimate NHLers, the rebuilding Avs are desperate for help on the blue line. It would not come as surprise if Colorado ended up signing both Wideman and Franson if their “D” corps looks as bad in camp as it does on paper.
Other interested parties that may be looking for affordable veteran depth – and specifically keyed in on a right-handed shot – include the Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Kings, or a return to the Washington Capitals.
The original speculation for Wideman was that he would sign a one-year deal worth $1.5MM. At this point in the off-season and given Wideman’s age and the substantial wear on his tires, a one-year pact is all but certain. The $1.5MM? That isn’t out of the question. Wideman’s past two seasons with the Flames were none toof inspiring and Calgary fans were happy to see him go. However, that doesn’t mean that Wideman can’t return to form with a change of scenery and is just two years removed from a career-high 56 points. He may still be able to command a seven figure salary. The longer he goes unsigned though, the more and more likely he ends up under $1MM. Wideman seems unlikely to take the absolute minimum, $650K, and will hold out hope that he can get somewhere in the neighborhood of the $1.25MM deals that Quincey signed last year and this year. In the end, he may have to settle for only a bit more if he wants to extend his NHL playing career. One way or another, Wideman will be making much less and will have a very different role with his next contract versus his last.