The roller coaster that the Bruins went through in 2009-10 was mirrored by one of their key players. It seemed as Dennis Wideman went, so went the Bruins and for a good stretch of the season Wideman was not going.
The defenseman played three less games than he did a year ago (79 to 76) but scored 20 less points, down to 30 from a career high of 50. When he is going good, Wideman can be an assist machine with his dangerous shot from the point, second only to probably Zdeno Chara in terms of effectiveness (Johnny Boychuk has Wideman beat in terms of pure power). He has never scored more than 13 goals in a season, not bad for most defenders especially considering the scheme that coach Claude Julien employs. Julien has been activating defensemen from the blue line in the last two years more often but the way the plays work is that it is usually from the off point that will crash the net while Wideman takes the shot. That makes for some nice helpers along the way but not always finding the back of the net.
After a decent start to the year, Wideman started having trouble after the Winter Classic. He registered a -12 and only four points between Jan. 1 and the Olympic break, with two of those points coming in the final game against Florida. It was no coincidence that the Bruins were absolutely wretched during that period. Wideman was a ghost on the ice except when he appeared just so he could turn the puck over at the blue line. Julien relies on his defense to get pucks at the net and play solid on the point and on the walls and Wideman was doing none of that.
“I think the last part of the season I played really hard, I played quite a bit better,” Wideman said. “The middle of the year got a little frustrating and I let it get to me a little bit too much. Going through a couple things and injuries and stuff like that and it just kind of compounded and lost some confidence and it took me a while to get it back.”
Wideman said that the injuries were not serious. A little bit of a shoulder tweak here, a wrist there. They bothered him but he said he did not miss any games because of them. Really, it was all about confidence, or lack thereof.
“Just some nagging stuff that I didn’t really talk about. Just some nagging stuff,” Wideman said. “I wasn’t really that just lost confidence and got completely frustrated with everything that was going on and had a problem rebounding. Then there was all the other stuff that was going on with throughout the year and just got frustrated and lost confidence.”
It was hard for the media to ignore Wideman in January because his play was just absolutely terrible. It came down to the point where Julien, who had mildly dissed to the media after practice one day, refused to answer any more questions on the defender or any other “specific questions on players.” That moratorium lasted all of one day as Julien ended up answering a question from this reporter about Trent Whitfield the next day, but the incident was the highlight of the low times for Wideman and the Bruins. For Wideman specifically, he knew things were going bad when the denizens of TD Garden started giving him the Bronx cheer.
“Probably the first game that I started to get booed there [was the worst],” Wideman said. “Around December at the end or something like that.”
Somewhere after the March 18 game against the Penguins, things started to pick up for Wideman. He still had a turnover problem but the hits were coming back (though he not known for his especially physical play) and observers could tell that he was more mentally in it when he started throwing his body around to block shots at the point. He picked up a couple points against Calgary in late March and ended up playing big minutes along with the other surviving defensemen when Dennis Seidenberg and Mark Stuart went down and Andrew Ference was still not healthy enough for games. Wideman’s confidence grew. He doesn’t know how, it just did.
“I don’t know, just played a couple good games and forget about the stuff that happened before and just build on it and build on it and a couple months stretch things just started to turn around,” Wideman said.
In the playoffs, Wideman was one of the Bruins top players. He blocked shots, he took shots, he moved the puck through the neutral zone. His signature play (which would have been more of a defining moment if the Bruins had one the game) was in Game 7 against the Flyers when he took a broken breakout, reset the rush himself and took the puck into the offensive zone, all the way down to the corner and centered it to Milan Lucic who was crashing the net for the goal and a 3-0 lead in the first period.
It was the last goal the Bruins scored all season.
Wideman ended the playoffs as almost a point per game player with 12 (a goal and 11 assists) in 13 games. He was a +3 though that number was higher before the Flyers comeback.
There are whispers that Wideman could be traded. That could be good for the Bruins, especially after the season he just had. But, when the good Wideman is around, the Bruins are definitely better. He knows he cannot control it but understands if that is the direction that Peter Chiarelli wants to go.
“I can’t control that. If he wanted to trade me then that is part of the game,” Wideman said. “It is never fun being traded, you want to stay with the team you are with, I love it here and I like Boston. I don’t want to but I can’t do anything about it if that is what the organization decides to do.”