Given every opportunity to tell the Bruins fans to go stick it and maybe even ask for a trade out of Boston, Dennis Wideman never did it.
Even once he was dealt last summer to Florida in the multi-player trade that landed Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell on Causeway Street, Wideman kept his daggers to himself rather than throw them at the residents of the town that did a complete 180-degree turn in terms of opinions about him from the glorious season of 2008-09 to last season.
For the first time since that trade with the Panthers, Florida is on Boston’s home ice for a regular-season game with Wideman expected to be in the lineup and ticketed for his regular 22-plus minutes of ice time.
If he’s on his game, we’ll see Wideman take plenty of risks – some that will pay off and some that will turn into gaffes. He might throw a hit or two, and he’ll definitely be manning the point on the power play. It would be great if one thing we didn’t see – or hear — tonight is any hatred toward Wideman.
Judging by the responses to one of my posts on my Twitter feed, some combination of boos and creative chants should come Wideman’s way after the puck drops (or maybe even during warm-ups) tonight at TD Garden. I say, let’s go for the creative chants and scrap the tired ritual of booing for one night.
Most of the time, I’m pro-booing. As a sports fan, I boo players on my own team when they don’t perform and players on the other team that I either dislike or that left my team to triple their salaries. But Dennis Wideman is one guy that doesn’t deserve to be booed.
In fact, in 2008-09, while the Bruins were making their run to the top of the Eastern Conference, some were actually putting the words ‘Norris Trophy contender’ in front of Wideman’s name. A 13-goal, 50-point, plus-32 season can do that for a guy. But then we all know what happened. In a season that featured pretty much every Bruins player falling off in production or suffering serious injury, Wideman went from the people’s choice to public enemy in a matter of months. Some of it was his own doing, as he failed to turn things around until the stretch run and often spoke about his own motivational problems. Boston doesn’t stand for ho-hum attitudes from its athletes.
That he’d battled through a major groin pain the season before and was still probably the Bruins’ best chance to provide puck-moving support to Zdeno Chara among the Bruins’ defense corps – which Wideman showed in the playoffs by leading the team in scoring – didn’t build up enough good will to keep Wideman from falling into the ugly category of guys that get booed at home.
The boos varied in volume from game to game, sometimes period to period, but there was no doubt which Bruins player Boston’s faithful chose to vent its frustration at. He scored the game-winning goal in a crucial tilt against Buffalo last April, and for one night he was cheered. That night turned out to be the exception rather than the rule over the course of the eight months of the season.
Given an opportunity to complain about the treatment, especially in light of the fans’ fickle nature – as evidenced by that game against the Sabres – Wideman passed and instead relished the one night of glory and continued to just blame himself publicly for his poor play and the reaction of the fans.
Once the season ended in historic failure against Philadelphia in the second round of the playoffs, no one would’ve blamed Wideman for pulling the cord in an effort to be an ex-Bruin. Maybe behind the scenes he did that, but out front he never fired back. For that he should be commended. And just two months into the new season, Bruins fans should be grateful that someone else saw enough in Wideman to make the trade that landed two key components in Boston’s hot start in the Hub. That first-round pick was obviously highly coveted by the rebuilding Panthers, but it’s not likely they would’ve taken Wideman and the two years, $8.5 million left on his contract if he didn’t still possess some level of skill.
So now tonight Wideman will be wearing his familiar No. 6 but in an unfamiliar combination of red, gold and navy blue. It’d be easy for everyone just to muster a boo and continue hating him. However, there’s an opportunity to rise about that and bury the hatchet with a guy that never wished this city and its fans ill.
Phil Kessel, a guy that basically forced his way out of town with outrageous contract demands, gets booed every time he touches the puck – and rightfully so. But when Tyler Seguin earlier this season did what Kessel hasn’t been able to do in more than a season – score a goal in a Bruins-Toronto match – the boos were drowned out by the perfect chant of “Thank you, Kessel.”
So the Bruins rooters should be equally creative tonight. They could plagiarize themselves and wait for a Horton or Campbell goal to thank Wideman. They could chant that anyway just based on the performance of those two former Panthers through the first 16 games. Or maybe they can come up with something else, perhaps a “Horton’s better” or just cheer on the Bruins with the knowledge that Wideman taking his talents to South Beach hasn’t done anything to change the fact that the Bruins are a contender in the Eastern Conference and the Panthers are still a perennial also-ran on the verge of making history by not making the playoffs again.
You can fault Wideman for his drop-off in play while with the Bruins, but he never did anything off the ice to warrant woeful treatment, didn’t beg his way out of town nor did he pick a fight over the reaction to him. For that, he should at least be excused from the bath of boos that has drenched so many before him.