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Hockey Notes

Retaining Wideman is a defensible move

By Fluto Shinzawa
May 23, 2010

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With speed, he carried the puck into the offensive zone. He stepped around a potential hit from Flyers defenseman Matt Carle and barreled into the right corner. With his right foot just inches from the endboards, he spotted Milan Lucic open at the far post and snapped a tape-to-tape pass that the left wing shoveled home.

And with that Game 7 play — one that no other defenseman on the team could have made — Dennis Wideman showed why the Bruins would be foolish to ditch him this offseason.

There is no doubt that after a career year in 2008-09 (many teammates fall into that category, too) when he had 13 goals and 37 assists in 79 games, Wideman had some of the worst stretches of his career in 2009-10. In 76 games, he collected 6 goals and 24 assists while posting a minus-14 rating. Wideman especially struggled at home, where he was regularly booed every time the puck was on his stick.

“Just lost confidence,’’ Wideman said. “Then got completely frustrated with everything that was going on. I had a problem rebounding.’’

The TD Garden boo-birds weren’t the only ones who let Wideman know what they thought of his game. On Jan. 20, thinking a public lashing would wake Wideman from his doldrums, Bruins coach Claude Julien ripped into the defenseman with some of the most withering remarks he’s ever made about one of his players.

“We’re almost 50 games in now,’’ Julien said. “It’s time to take charge of the situation and bring your intensity level up. If you want to play like a 5-6, maybe that’s what you’re going to get, ice time-wise.

“It’s pretty simple. We’ve got to do the right things for our hockey club. He needs to pick up his game. He knows it. He wants to. He’s got to understand that his intensity and compete level have to be better.’’

Julien never followed through on his threat to cut back Wideman’s playing time. Aside from a three-game stretch in March, Wideman received at least 20 minutes of ice time per outing the rest of the season.

By season’s end, however, Wideman had earned back the workloads he deserved — and the boos that rattled around the Garden earlier. On April 8, after Sabres center Derek Roy picked off his off-the-boards clearing pass and beat Tuukka Rask, Wideman heard the razzing again. Enough so that the next day, general manager Peter Chiarelli went public with his support of Wideman.

“I recognize and respect the fans’ ability to have their opinions,’’ Chiarelli said. “Their opinions have been strong. They’ve been strong against me and my moves, toward Claude and the players. But I don’t think it’s fair to single out a player like that, especially considering how he’s been playing.’’

Fortunately for the Bruins, Wideman brought his best stuff when it counted the most. In the 13 games against Philadelphia and Buffalo, Wideman tallied 1 goal and 11 assists to lead the Bruins in playoff scoring. He averaged 26:02 in ice time per game, third on the team behind Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk.

“Just had a couple good games and tried to forget about all the stuff that happened before,’’ Wideman said.

There is always a threat that Wideman’s mental game could go south again and affect his on-ice play. He is among the team’s most plodding skaters, and another year of mileage on his wheels isn’t going to make him any fleeter.

But considering the absence of puck-moving defensemen in the organization (a shortcoming partially addressed by the late-season acquisitions of Matt Bartkowski and Steve Kampfer), an on-top-of-his-game Wideman is a vital piece of the defensive six-pack.

Wideman can play big minutes. When necessary, he can be paired with Chara. He can man the point on the power play. When carrying the puck out of the corner, he can hit an in-stride center instead of going up the wall into the teeth of the forecheck.

Wideman has two years ($3.875 million annually) remaining on his contract. Considering his assets, it’s a good bet he’ll play out his deal in Boston.

CHICAGO STYLE
Panthers in for Tallon remake
Any regret that ex-Chicago general manager Dale Tallon (left) felt while seeing his former club march through the playoffs was lessened when he was introduced as Florida’s new boss last Tuesday.

“Without them, I wouldn’t be here, in more ways than one,’’ said Tallon, who was fired by the Blackhawks last July. “We’re committed to the blueprint we developed in Chicago. I’m especially proud of those kids. That’s the type of team we’re going to build in Florida.’’

The Panthers, who haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 1999-2000 (current Ottawa GM Bryan Murray was in charge at the time), have been the definition of mediocrity while Bill Torrey, Chuck Fletcher, Rick Dudley, Mike Keenan, Jacques Martin, and Randy Sexton were at the helm. With the aggressive Tallon on board, they at least have the potential to become an exciting team.

Like most GMs, Tallon said the heart of his approach will be building via the draft. In Chicago, Tallon oversaw the selections of Jonathan Toews (No. 3 in 2006) and Patrick Kane (first overall in 2007), two-thirds of Chicago’s No. 1 line.

While landing high-end picks, Tallon also overhauled the roster, shipping out Kyle Calder, Mark Bell, and Tyler Arnason, Chicago’s top three scorers in 2005-06. Arnason was traded to Ottawa for Brandon Bochenski and a 2006 second-round pick. In turn, Tallon flipped Bochenski to the Bruins for Kris Versteeg in a deal that still stands as Peter Chiarelli’s worst.

In Florida, one candidate to be moved could be Nathan Horton, who scored 20 goals in 65 games this season. Despite being the No. 3 overall pick in 2003, Horton is not known around the league for having a work ethic commensurate with his physical talents. “No heartbeat,’’ said a Bruin who has friends in the Florida room.

“We weeded out people who didn’t want to pay the price,’’ Tallon said. “If you don’t want to pay the price and you don’t want to be involved here, you’re not going to be here.

“We’re going to make that known right off the bat. No nonsense. This is going to be a professional approach. We want players that want to be here and are committed to win.’’

Some of Tallon’s most controversial decisions involved the UFA market. He signed Brian Campbell to an eight-year, $57.143 million contract in 2008. The following summer, Tallon locked up Marian Hossa to a 12-year, $63.3 million deal. Later that month, Tallon was let go, partly because of an error that resulted in six restricted free agents, including Versteeg, receiving late qualifying offers.

As the Panthers attempt to re-engage their fan base, Tallon might pursue similar free agent signings.

“Campbell was the No. 1-rated defenseman, and we made a commitment in Chicago,’’ Tallon said. “We were telling everyone we were going to be a first-class organization. We needed to make a splash to keep the fans from saying, ‘Same old Blackhawks.’

“He was available. We overpaid, as you always do on July 1. He fits into the style of play we wanted to incorporate — up-tempo puck possession. I like a team up the ice, playing in the other team’s zone.

“You overpay on July 1, then in August, you get better deals. The players have July as their day to get fat. In August, it’s our time to pluck the gems out and be successful in the free agent market.’’

ETC.
One way to guarantee it
It is no secret that Taylor Hall (left), the dynamic 18-year-old left wing, would be the best fit for the Bruins, considering his promise of an immediate impact and Boston’s strength up the middle in David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, and Marc Savard. Trouble is, even though Hall is ranked No. 2 by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, it would raise few eyebrows if Edmonton, which owns the first overall pick, trained its sights on Hall instead of Tyler Seguin. The Bruins could guarantee their crack at Hall by trading for the No. 1 pick. But that’s something that hasn’t taken place since 2003, with clubs being wary of dealing such an asset. That year, Florida traded the first overall selection (it would be Marc-Andre Fleury) and the No. 73 pick (the hated Dan Carcillo) to Pittsburgh. In return, the Penguins gave up the No. 3 pick (Nathan Horton), the No. 55 selection (Stefan Meyer), and Mikael Samuelsson, a 26-year-old already in his third organization (San Jose, Rangers, Pittsburgh). Using that trade as a model, a current-day equivalent would be for the Bruins to send the Oilers the No. 2 overall pick, a second-rounder, and Blake Wheeler for the first pick and a third-rounder. Certainly something to think about if the Bruins are sure Hall is their man and that Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini feels the same way. One caveat: The annual draft combine, which features fitness and psychological testing and interviews, takes place in Toronto over the next few days. No telling which way that might swing things.

Draft drought
This item is offered with the disclaimer that the bounties of the draft can take five or more years to blossom. However, it is curious to note that from the three drafts that Peter Chiarelli has presided over for Boston (2007, 2008, 2009), only one player has dressed for an NHL game: Zach Hamill, making a token appearance in Game No. 82 this season. In the Eastern Conference, that is the lowest number of NHL games appeared in by players selected in the last three drafts.

Aiming at Asham?
If the 2010-11 salary cap remains around $56.7 million, the Bruins will have approximately $10 million in available funds. They aren’t expected to make any big-ticket free agent signings, but one cost-efficient pickup could be Philadelphia’s Arron Asham. The 32-year-old right wing, who has been skating with James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux, had 10 goals and 14 assists while recording 126 penalty minutes in 72 regular-season games. The 5-foot-11-inch, 205 -pound Asham is as tough as they come and can also put forechecking heat on opposing defensemen. Two years and $1.8 million could get it done.

Loose pucks
David Krejci had nothing bad to say about Mike Richards’s season-ending blast in Game 3 against Philadelphia. “Clean hit,’’ Krejci termed the play, which caused a dislocation in his right wrist when it bent the wrong way . . . Here’s hoping that an affiliate change for Springfield will result in better times for the hard-luck AHL club. The Falcons, who have missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons, will serve as Columbus’s AHL affiliate in 2010-11. Edmonton, which had been Springfield’s parent club since 2007, will have its AHL team in Oklahoma City next year . . . Wise move by Buffalo GM Darcy Regier to re-up Mike Grier (one year, $1.4 million). The veteran right wing would have been a good fit in Boston had he hit the open market . . . Nicklas Backstrom, who signed a 10-year, $67 million extension last Monday with Washington, will be 32 in the final season of his contract. No surprise, then, that Backstrom will be due $8 million in 2019-20, given that the center’s game should still be in a sweet spot. Washington GM George McPhee shouldn’t need any buyout protection if Backstrom stays healthy . . . Cyclist Lance Armstrong wasn’t pleased Tuesday when Versus cut away from the finish of the Tour of California to air the Canadiens-Flyers pregame show. In a PG-13 tweet, Armstrong questioned the parties responsible for the programming decision. Apparently, viewers can’t get enough of Brian Engblom’s mullet . . . Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who resides in Edmonton during the offseason, estimated that he has driven back to his native city from the East Coast — a 50-hour trip — approximately 10 times. This year, Boychuk planned to have his truck shipped back to Edmonton, choosing to fly home instead. Lightweight . . . Also from the driving-trumps-flying department, have to admire Montreal Gazette veteran Pat Hickey, who drove from La Belle Province to Philadelphia to cover Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. Surprise, surprise: Philadelphia fans trashed Hickey’s 1999 Honda Accord (only 350,000 miles) and ripped off one of his Quebec plates. After filing a police report, Hickey made it across the border, even without his plate. “Everything went smoothly,’’ Hickey wrote in an e-mail. “I was stopped twice, once in New Jersey and once in New York. But as soon as I showed them my registration and police report, I was good to go. I talked to a friend who works at the border on Tuesday night and they were ready for me when I went through.’’ Getting your car vandalized might be only a slightly worse experience than plodding through customs at Montreal’s Trudeau Airport (took me a full 90 minutes to get to the gate last time).

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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