BOSTON – They are the two Bruins that most let the team down for the better part of the 2009-10 season.
Now Boston has to hang out the “for sale” sign and hope someone decides to bite. If Peter Chiarelli’s lucky, P.T. Barnum was right and his adage about suckers applies to NHL front offices as much as the rest of the world.
Where the Bruins might’ve gone during the regular season and then the playoffs had defenseman Dennis Wideman and right winger Michael Ryder played up to their potential and lofty salaries is anyone’s guess. All we know is that both were utter failures for too long and it cost Boston a chance at a higher seed and then a chance to avoid an historic collapse.
Some might say that lumping Wideman in with Ryder is unfair because the veteran blueliner looked more like the 2008-09 version of himself in the playoffs. But their similarities outweigh their differences. In their break-up day meetings with the media, both talked about letting their struggles overwhelm them in the regular season to the point that a bad game became a bad week and so on.
“Usually, I’ve always been pretty good at not getting too frustrated and not letting things get to me too much,” said Wideman, who dropped from 50 to 30 points and a plus-32 to a minus-14 over the course of just one year. “Or if I have a bad game, or a bad little stretch, I can usually get over it pretty quick. I think this year I didn’t do that at all. I got frustrated with some stuff and lost some confidence and it just built and built, and I couldn’t shut it down until a little later in the season.”
In 13 playoff games, Wideman was actually Boston’s leading scorer with 12 points (one goal). He also posted a plus-3 rating. Ryder started the playoffs hot with two goals in Game 2 against Buffalo. He finished the postseason with just four goals (one that Brian Boucher put in the Flyers’ net), five points and a minus-4 rating. His regular-season total famously dropped from 27 to 18 (including two meaningless goals in Boston’s finale in Washington) from last season to this.
“It was definitely frustrating at times. I think a lot of guys in here felt like that,” Ryder said. “And then when things aren’t going right, you take it on yourself and then sometimes if you don’t show it at the rink, at home you kind of take it out on yourself. But I’ll learn from the playoffs, the things that I did a little different, maybe try to do a little more in the regular season, like getting prepared and stuff like that. It’s a lot easier to get motivated for games in the playoffs than the regular season sometimes.”
I’m glad to know Ryder is going to try to be prepared for games next season, even if they don’t have the importance of playoff games. If that’s what $4 million against your salary cap gets you these days, then something’s wrong with the NHL’s economy. Wideman, who makes right around the same amount as Ryder, made that very point numerous times during the season. Time and again we heard about how much easier it is to get up for playoff games, and you wonder if Wideman and Ryder are willing to refund some people’s money after a couple of those “unimportant” regular-season tilts.
General manager Peter Chiarelli talked Tuesday about a different attitude that had to be filtered down from him through head coach Claude Julien to the players. The best bet for Chiarelli is to get the guys with the wrong attitudes new addresses. Of course, it might be taking less than a penny for every dollar in trade. But there’s no doubt Wideman still holds some trade value. Puck-moving defensemen, especially ones a year removed from a 50-point season, can look attractive to a team desperate for help. And if said club is from a small market, somewhere Wideman could avoid some of the scrutiny that bothered him with the Bruins this season, all the more likely they’d be to want him. The best solution for Chiarelli’s dilemma about how to re-sign Dennis Seidenberg, Mark Stuart and Johnny Boychuk is to make Wideman a goner, if he can.
Ryder, meanwhile, avoided the wrath of the Boston faithful. Maybe it’s because Bruins fans hold defensemen to a higher standard considering the franchise’s history of greatness on the back end. Nonetheless, a winger that brings little to the game unless he’s scoring – a 180-degree difference from most forwards, who use other aspects of their game to help them get out of slumps – is going to be a hard sell. The only thing really to do, if Chiarelli can’t find a sucker that will do something better than swap bad contract for bad contract, is to send a message to Ryder that if he doesn’t start treating the regular season with some semblance of urgency, he’ll be skating with a ‘P’ instead of a ‘B’ on his chest. Then let’s see how he manages to get motivated logging ice time with Providence in classic AHL showdowns against Worcester, Manchester and Bridgeport.
There really is no bigger insult to Bruins fans and management than a player that admits that some games aren’t worth working hard for. That’s not the “hard-to-play-against” made Chiarelli or anyone wants his players to have, and the Bruins can’t risk Wideman and Ryder lacking it again next season. Moving them both in the offseason would be the best maneuver the GM could make.