Part 1 of the Dennis Wideman Saga is reaching it's end. The suspended defenceman has served 18 of his 20 game suspension and despite hearings and appeals, it looks like he'll serve the full 20. That would make Wideman eligible to return to the Flames lineup on March 11 when Calgary takes on the Arizona Coyotes. Part 2 of the Dennis Wideman Saga then becomes: What do the Flames do with Wideman when he returns. Is he welcomed with open arms and just thrown back into the lineup? Does he get his "A" back right away? Is he a healthy scratch so he can get back on his feet and get some practice with the team? In a lost season these are all important questions because the answers directly affect 4 other Flames players: Deryk Engelland, Jakub Nakladal, Tyler Wotherspoon and Jyrki Jokipakka. These, along with the injured Ladislav Smid and the traded Kris Russell, are the players who were picking up the slack on the blue line since Wideman last played on January 27th against the Nashville Predators.
The Flames have been supportive of Wideman throughout this entire process and said and done all the right things in the public eye. But what is it like behind the scenes? This incident has put the Flames in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons and if you believe the conspirators, Calgary is racking up the penalty minutes as payback from the officials (that's a completely different column if you want to tackle that) for the hit on Henderson. There's that old saying of "there's no such thing as bad publicity," but when your team in in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, you should be concerned.
In Wideman's absence, the Flames have brought up Wotherspoon and Nakladal and traded Russell for Jokipakka. Smid played well in his first few games for the Flames, but became increasingly exposed when pressed into full time duty before getting injured. So where does that leave The Replacements once Wideman comes back? Well, in my opinion, the Flames should sit Wideman as a healthy scratch. As a healthy scratch he's getting paid that ridiculous salary of his and honestly, it would give the players who've stepped up in his absence a chance to keep contributing. The Flames know what they have in Wideman and this season is a loss, so why not see what Wotherspoon and Nakladal have to offer in the last 16 games of the season? It's not like Dennis Wideman is a key cog in the defensive machine that is the Flames defence, Is he really that important on the power play unit? And all those shots that go sailing wide of the net (a player has never had a more appropriate name), are they really that critical to the Flames chances of winning?
Here are Wideman's numbers so far this season and then a look at how the other 5 players have fared since Wideman was suspended:
|Deryk Engelland||Ladislav Smid||Jakub Nakladal||Tyler Wotherspoon||Jyrki Jokipakka|
The guys that have stepped in during Wideman's little vacation have played just fine. The numbers aren't All Star worthy, but there's been chemistry between the players. One thing you haven't seen from 4 of those 5 players is the standing around the crease while an opposing player snags a rebound and scores an easy goal. That happens all too often when Wideman is on the ice. The hard part is at least one player becomes the odd man out and unfortunately because this is pro sports and money talks, guys like Wotherspoon and Nakladal might be taking the trip back to Stockton.
The Flames were 21-24-3 before Wideman hit Don Henderson on January 27th. They've gone 6-12 so far while he has been out and more of that could be put on Karri Ramo being hurt and Hiller forgetting how to be a goal tender as opposed to Wideman not being around. The Flames remaining schedule shows only 2-3 games that look like possible wins. Calgary should give Engelland, Nakladal, Jokipakka and Wotherspoon every chance to show what they can offer this organization, instead of just handing the overpaid Wideman his job back. But as we've seen with Hiller, what makes sense to everyone else, is rarely done until it's too late.
What do you think?