Sometimes, all fans want to do is yearn for normalcy.
Focus only on the results on the ice, player development, offseason transactions and the draft.
Some fans can do this and naturally, the organization wants you to do this. Forget the years of poor results on the ice and turmoil off of it, management and ownership want everyone’s attention drawn to the young talent that the organization has stockpiled. For others, it can understandably be a challenge to ignore all of the complications and distractions that regularly occur when it comes to the Ottawa Senators.
Even in the middle of the summer, issues that you think are buried and are remnants of the past have a way of putting this organization back in the limelight.
Two and a half years after the infamous Uber video incident, Chris Wideman spoke to The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford about that day and what he believes is the profound impact it had on his career.
Although everyone now knows that the Uber driver uploaded the video to YouTube and sent the link to the Ottawa Citizen in an attempt to publicly shame and embarrass the players after they left him with a bad or non-existent tip for the drive, the article (note: paywall) shed light on how the Senators organization dealt with the fallout and the mental struggles Wideman has endured since.
According to the story, the Senators players involved — Wideman, Thomas Chabot, Matt Duchene, Dylan DeMelo, Alex Formenton, Chris Tierney and Colin White — were participating in pre-game activities ahead of their November 4, 2018 home game when they were unexpectedly summoned to the general manager’s office.
There they were told to line up and watch the grainy video seen below.
At that point, Rutherford wrote that:
Dorion went down the line, addressing the players. “I traded for you,” he said to DeMelo and Tierney. “You’re supposed to be a leader,” he said to Duchene.
Then Dorion got to Wideman, and it was clear he would be the scapegoat.
“I was told that someone’s head was going to roll and it was going to be me,” Wideman says.
Pierre Dorion refused to comment on the article, but I certainly understand why the general manager would be frustrated. At the time of this meeting, the Senators had the league’s 25th-highest points total thanks to their 5-6-2 record. Unlike the players in the Uber, the Senators weren’t taking any shots. In averaging 38.7 shots against per game, the team was spending too much time defending in its own end. Mix in a penalty kill unit that was clicking at an abhorrent 68.9-percent success rate and team morale is going to suffer.
Conversations like the ones that the players had in the Uber happen all the time in competitive sports. They happen between players. They happen between coaches. They happen between executives. These conversations and coping mechanisms in which people blow off steam just never appear like this for mass public consumption.
For Dorion and the Senators, it was just another embarrassing episode that drew more attention to the dysfunction that this organization has struggled to avoid.
Dorion’s anger was justifiable but misplaced. The Uber driver violated the players’ privacy and trust. The players were just blowing off steam and venting with another frustrating start to their season. The players weren’t despondent. They obviously cared about self-improvement and winning games. Fucking rights, ‘Melo.
It was disappointing for this event to see the light of day, but it was a teachable moment. Rather than rip the individual players for their part, let them address the coaching staff and their teammates in a closed-door meeting.
To put the players in a firing line, rip them individually, or even let a few of them know they owe the organization and management loyalty because they were acquired in a trade is just incredibly lame. Taking it a step further, threatening and then jettisoning the most expendable player does not make for much of a statement either.
Prior to the team’s November 4th game against the Lightning, Wideman played in each of the team’s 15 games registering two goals and three assists. Never a particularly strong skater to begin with, Wideman looked like a shadow of the player that he once was when he returned. The previous year, Wideman was felled by injury after Evgeni Malkin inadvertently fell on top of him. The fall forcedWideman to do the splits on the ice tearing his hamstring and causing him to miss the remainder of the 2017-18 season.
Although Wideman put up some modest point totals in his first 15 games, gone were the strong underlying possession metrics that characterized his previous few three seasons in the NHL. As a third-pairing defenceman, Wideman thrived on taking advantage of soft matchups and really helped the Senators with his puck-moving ability. Following the injury, he just looked lost on the ice.
Here are his isolated individual impact visuals from HockeyViz.com:
Offensively, save a small blip during the 2016-17 season (the top portion of the ice in the visuals), Wideman had a tremendous positive impact when he was on the ice. Defensively, he was an average player, but he certainly wasn’t a liability on the ice. During the 2018-19 season, the script flipped. He was no longer was an impactful player and defensively, the Senators gave up a ton when he was on the ice — which is surprising given that Thomas Chabot was the teammate who Wideman spent most of his time with.
The Uber video never ruined Wideman’s career, it was just the influential moment the Senators needed to divest themselves of the player. That Wideman was on a one-year deal that would take him to unrestricted free agency just made the decision that much easier.
Unfortunately for Wideman, Ottawa was probably the best place for him to carve out a lengthy NHL career. Drafted in 2009, he had spent nine years with the organization and had grown up and developed with the rest of the talent that came through the system. Even though he was a third-pairing defenceman, had he not got hurt, there was a chance that Wideman could have carved out a career here in the same way that Mark Borowiecki did. It certainly would not have been difficult for the handsome and charismatic Wideman to have landed a cushy media job here once his playing days were over.
After spending this season overseas and picking up the KHL’s defenceman of the year award, Wideman is ready to come back to North America and prove that he can still play at the NHL level. At 31 years of age, Wideman’s prime years are probably behind him, but this represents his best opportunity to get back into the league. If he is healthy, there should be an opportunity for him in this post-Seattle expansion league to help a team’s depth and bottom pairing.
Important Offseason Dates:
With the conclusion of last night’s Stanley Cup Final, you may be wondering what the important dates for this offseason are.
Starting tomorrow, the first buyout period begins. Barring some unforeseen events, I just don’t see the Senators going down this route at this time. Next summer might represent a better opportunity to buy Colin White out ahead of his 26th birthday at one-third the cost of what is remaining on his contract, but aside from that future possibility, I believe the Senators will hold firm here.
On July 17th, the Senators’ protection list for the expansion draft will be due. The expectation is that the Senators will protect seven forwards, three defenceman and a goalie. Earlier this season, I discussed how the Senators should prepare its expansion list and my thoughts have not changed much since that time.
The only difference I would make is that with the addition of Victor Mete via waivers, I would change my philosophy from protecting eight skaters to seven forwards and three defencemen (Note: in both scenarios, you can only protect one goaltender.)
My updated protection list would be as follows:
Forwards: 1) Brady Tkachuk; 2) Drake Batherson; 3) Connor Brown; 4) Nick Paul; 5) Colin White; 6) Logan Brown; and Vitaly Abramov.
Defencemen: 1) Thomas Chabot; 2) Victor Mete; 3) Josh Brown
Goaltender: Filip Gustavsson
The intent behind exposing skaters like Evgenii Dadonov, Nikita Zaitsev or Chris Tierney is to encourage Seattle to take some salary off Ottawa’s hands. None of these players would command a significant trade return at this time anyway, so losing them for nothing would allow Ottawa to replace these players with cheaper alternatives who can play at a similar replacement level or just reallocate that money into better players who will simply push this team to a higher competitive level. (Note: if the Senators protected Austin Watson and left Colin White exposed, it would do the same thing. I just think the organization can afford the player another year to showcase himself for a trade.)
On July 23rd and 24th, the NHL will conduct its entry draft. With the Senators owning the 10th overall selection, expectations are high that the team will be able to add another highly coveted prospect to its ranks. I hope to have more draft coverage coming your way in the weeks leading up to it, but in the meantime, give the recent podcast with The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler a listen.
NHL free agency will open a few short days later on July 28th. Eugene Melnyk has made it known that the Senators will prioritize adding a top-four defensive defenceman and a first-line centre to the ranks, but I feel like whatever additions the team makes will be nominal in nature. It would probably best serve the organization to continue patiently building its roster.