WILMINGTON, Mass. – A year ago at this time, Dennis Seidenberg was a man without a team.
He was skating in North Carolina with some former Hurricanes teammates before inking a deal with Florida two days into training camp.
“I was anxious. I didn’t know where I was going to go and what I was going to do,” the defenseman said after Bruins captains’ practice at Ristuccia Arena Wednesday.
The 29-year-old Seidenberg is living in a different world now. He reported to the Bay State 10 days prior to the official start of training camp armed with a new four-year contract worth a cap hit of $3.25 million per season – which makes him the second-highest-paid defenseman on the Bruins behind just captain Zdeno Chara.
So Seidenberg knows where he’s going to be this season and probably the next few after, but the Bruins can’t be 100 percent positive what they have in the 6-foot-1, 210-pound blueliner. They know what they paid for: a legitimate No. 2 defenseman who could either form a dominant top pair with Chara – like he did after joining Boston at last spring’s trade deadline – or even a leader of a second pair that could complement Chara’s duo and make Boston a title threat.
However, the NHL has yet to see Seidenberg fill that role on a consistent basis. There’s no doubt that his 17-game audition in the Hub played to rave reviews before an arm laceration ended his season. The best news for Seidenberg and the Bruins is that he’s back at full health, as he confirmed that his surgically repaired arm actually started to feel perfect as early as June. Now Seidenberg can only hope that after conquering his latest ailment, and after overcoming major knee and wrist injuries, and a concussion, in past seasons, he can finally get his career off its start-and-stop path.
Seidenberg’s 79 games played and 22:57 of ice time with Boston and 22:54 of time on ice with Florida set career highs last winter after his 5-25-30 totals and minus-9 rating in Carolina in ’08-09 didn’t earn him a job until last fall. Seidenberg finished last season with 4-28-32 totals, including nine points (two goals) in black and gold. So can Seidenberg continue to prove he’s a late-bloomer in need of just health and playing time to be a second fiddle on a championship blue line? The Bruins are banking on it.
With the way Boston’s defense is currently constructed, after Chara at No. 1 you have Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk, Mark Stuart and Matt Hunwick rounding out the projected top six. Based on salary alone Seidenberg sticks out as the lead candidate to be the Bruins’ No. 2. As brief as his stints of consistent production have been, Seidenberg also earns second-D status based on merit. In Ference, the Bruins have an inconsistent veteran that struggles to overcome his size and injury problems. Boychuk was an impressive rookie that now has to show he can adjust to a league that he won’t be able to take by surprise anymore. Stuart and Hunwick are still young and learning on the job after down ’09-10 campaigns due to injury and ineffectiveness, respectively.
I would argue that all of Boston’s defensemen other than Chara and Seidenberg would best be suited at this time to play on a third pair on a championship-caliber team. However, two will be in the Bruins’ top four when the club’s run for a first Stanley Cup in nearly 40 years begins this fall. In order to prevent Boston’s lack of depth from costing it in some of the bigger showdowns this season, Seidenberg has to emerge as a true second defenseman – one that can carry his own pair.
The Bruins need Seidenberg on pace for 50 points this season in order to be taken seriously in all the Cup chatter. That’s the role Dennis Wideman, pre-deterioration and pre-trade, was supposed to fill. Seidenberg will be granted the ice time, at full strength and on special teams, necessary for putting up such numbers. The Bruins’ upgraded front line should also aid in an increase in production for the team’s top backliners. Boychuk has proven he can adequately fill the spot next to Chara, so it’s not required that Seidenberg man that spot. As long as Seidenberg can stay out of harms’ way and not get too caught up in the idea that he’s no longer playing for a contract, the stage is set for him to make a name (and a pair) for himself.
After Wednesday’s practice, he didn’t sound overly satisfied about his contract status or permanent position on Boston’s depth chart.
“I’m happy that I’ve got a little bit of security and being part of a team that’s got great history and I think has a real good chance to go far and do something in the next few years,” he said.
From last year to this, Seidenberg went from an afterthought signing to a core performer. The Bruins need him to make sure that by the time he gets to next autumn’s camp he’s continued his upward climb toward star status.