No. 8: When he was acquired by the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline in 2007, defenseman Dennis Wideman became Public Enemy No. 1.
Not only had the Bruins dealt away popular forward Brad Boyes to acquire Wideman, but the blueliner’s struggles in his own end and with the puck on the breakout made a Bruins squad that was sinking toward the bottom of the league look even worse.
Well, what a difference a year made. By the time the 2007-08 season came to a close, Wideman had earned his spot as the club’s No. 2 defenseman behind Zdeno Chara. And when it came time to re-up with the 25-year-old restricted free agent, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli did what he had to do — signing Wideman to a four-year deal worth a reported $15.75 million. The commitment Boston made to Wideman, and the Ontario native’s development as a top-notch puck-mover, were grand enough to earn a spot on the list of Top 10 Bruins stories of ’08.
After signing the deal and giving up the chance to reach unrestricted free agency in the summer of ’09, the once-maligned backliner was eager to get out on the ice and thank the Bruins with his play.
“I’m really excited. The last couple of years, it’s been one-year deals and stuff like that,” he said. “And to be given a contract this length makes me feel pretty good and makes me want to be part of this organization going forward.”
In Wideman’s first 20 games with the Bruins, he posted just 1-2-3 totals and a minus-3 rating. And then things didn’t seem to be getting any better the next fall, as his first training camp under head coach Claude Julien was so unimpressive he was a healthy scratch on opening night. But the next night Wideman cracked the line-up and didn’t come out again for the duration of the regular season, despite playing much of the year with a debilitating groin injury. He posted 13 goals and 23 assists for 36 points — all career highs — and a career-best plus-11 rating. His work on the power play gave the Bruins a needed boost, and his play without the puck gave Julien the confidence to put Wideman in for all situations.
During his first stint in the NHL playoffs, Wideman posted three assists in six games against Montreal.
However, there was still a tendency to fall back into bad habits and make a difficult play out of a hard one at times during the season. That led some to think maybe the Bruins would be better off looking elsewhere for help on the back line. A potential arbitration hearing also made retaining Wideman a risky proposition, what with the salary cap ceiling and Wideman’s comparables receiving lucrative salaries from other clubs.
But without any contentious hearing, the Bruins and Wideman’s reps worked out a deal. And through the first 34 games of the 2008-09 season he has put up 7-12-19 totals and an astonishing plus-17 rating. Julien’s system and Wideman’s abilities have been a perfect fit. And the contract signed over last summer has worked out well for all parties involved.