Now that we’ve looked back at the free agents Stan Bowman signed last summer, let’s look at a guy they should spend some of the Brian Campbell-created cap space on this summer.
There were some obvious issues with the group of defensemen available to coach Joel Quenneville at the end of the year, and both Bowman and Quenneville noted the need for an improvement on the blue line in their season-ending media time. Thankfully, there is a player hitting free agency that the Hawks should pursue.
First, let’s name the elephant in the room: the 2011-12 Blackhawks were soft. In the regular season, 203 players in the NHL were credited with more than 100 hits. Only three of those were Blackhawks: Brent Seabrook (198), Bryan Bickell (128) and Jamal Mayers (102).
The defenseman we’re looking at had 113 hits in 82 games this year. He’s listed at 6’0 and 200 pounds, but plays a physical blue line.
The other screaming need on the Hawks is help on special teams. They were bad on both the power play and penalty kill, and desperately need help on both units.
We’re thinking of a defenseman who fits a number of specifics the Hawks are desperately searching for. He had 20 power play points this year while averaging 3:16 per game with the advantage, but also skated 1:56 per game short-handed.
What’s more, this defenseman is a righty shot; of the defensemen under contract next year, only Seabrook and Steve Montador share that in common with him. Duncan Keith, Nick Leddy, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Dylan Olsen all shoot lefty.
Final statistics show that the Blackhawks had four defensemen – Seabrook, Keith, Johnny Oduya and Hjalmarsson – that blocked at least 100 shots this season, but obviously the majority of Oduya’s came in Winnipeg before the deadline.
The defenseman we’re considering had 132 blocked shots this season.
What’s most important about this defenseman than even his 11 goals and 36 assists or 23:54 average ice time is his contract status: he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Who are we referring to?
Dennis Wideman, who played the entire 2011-12 season with the Washington Capitals after splitting last year between the Panthers and Caps.
Wideman, who won’t turn 30 until the end of March next year, is coming off a four-year deal he signed with Boston that carries a cap his under $4M per season. He was selected to represent the Caps at the 2012 NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa.
For as good as Oduya looked next to Leddy at the end of the regular season, Wideman would be an upgrade on everyone not-named-Seabrook in a Blackhawks sweater next season. He can skate, hit, play the puck and is willing to pay the price by getting between the puck and the net.
Obviously if the Hawks add another defenseman this summer, whether it’s by signing Oduya to an extension or looking to another player like Wideman, they’ll likely need to move someone off the NHL roster.
Leddy and Dylan Olsen figure to be part of the organization’s future plans and wouldn’t figure to be going anywhere. However, the future status of Montador, who struggled throughout the second half of the season with concussion problems, isn’t clear, and Hjalmarsson has been underwhelming since he got paid a couple years ago.
A few other names that might be intriguing to Blackhawks fans are Philadelphia’s Matt Carle, Florida’s Jason Garrison and, of course, Nashville’s Ryan Suter. But considering age, resume and likely cost, Wideman is the guy Bowman should target early this summer.