FanPost

What Happens When Dennis Wideman is Healthy?

Eventually, Dennis Wideman is going to be healthy enough to return to the Capitals' lineup.  This past Monday, Wideman skated in full pads for the first time since suffering a severe leg injury when hit by the Hurricanes' Tuomo Ruutu on March 29.

When Wideman is deemed ready to play, the Capitals will have a decision to make.  I believe they will eventually choose from three options:

1. Leave Wideman out of lineup

2. Put Wideman in and take Jeff Schultz out

3. Put Wideman in and take John Erskine out

I submit that these are the only three options, because taking Carlson, Alzner, Green, or Hannan out of the lineup (assuming each is healthy) are not options that will be considered.

While I believe that Wideman will be inserted into the lineup, I don't believe it's a slam dunk.  Wideman, Schultz, and Erskine are three very different defenseman, as a quick view of their career regular season and playoff stats show.

Regular Season

Gm

G

A

Pts

Pts Per Gm

+/-

PIM

Shots

Shot %

ATOI

Schultz

319

10

56

66

0.21

86

109

175

5.70%

19:12

Erskine

396

11

31

42

0.11

-25

724

303

1.50%

14:39

Wideman

453

56

149

205

0.45

-31

331

918

6.10%

23:09

Playoffs

Gm

G

A

Pts

Pts Per Gm

+/-

PIM

Shots

Shot %

ATOI

Schultz

15

0

1

1

0.07

1

6

8

0.00%

19:10

Erskine

24

0

3

3

0.125

4

26

20

0.00%

17:48

Wideman

30

1

21

22

0.73

4

8

65

1.50%

25:13

Let's take a look at some defensive stats from this past season:

Gm

Hits

Blocks

Tka

Schultz

72

53

138

17

Erskine

73

166

120

11

Wideman

75

95

126

38

For good measure, their vitals:

  • Schultz is 25 years old, 6'6", 230 pounds  and shoots left
  • Erskine is 30 years old, 6'4", 220 pounds and shoots left
  • Wideman is 28 years old, 6'0", 200 pounds and shoots right

We can see that, very generally:

  • Wideman eats more minutes, is more offensive, and is the only right-handed shooter of the three.
  • Schultz blocks more shots, tends to be more stay-at-home, and is the largest of the three.
  • Erskine is more rough-and-tumble and closer to an enforcer - he was 2nd to Matt Hendricks in regular season penalty minutes.

So - what do the Capitals do?  

Leaving the lineup the same as round one and keeping Wideman out would be the gutsiest call.  Wideman was a +6 in 14 games with the Caps at ate up 24 minutes per game.  Wideman is not Scott Walker.  GMGM traded for him so he could play, not so he could be insurance. However, there will be voices that say "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

As tempting as it might be to leave well-enough alone, I think they insert Wideman.  Right now, the Capitals have only 2 defensemen in the line-up that have would be considered offensive:  John Carlson and Mike Green.  Wideman adds nicely to the mix without sacrificing too much defense (he's not Marc-Andre Bergeron of the Bolts).  Wideman can spell Green on the powerplay or man the point with Green, putting Ovechkin on the halfboard or in front of the goalie.  Green and Wideman have never been in the lineup together, so we have no idea what the PP will be like when they are.  Wideman also gives Bruce Boudreau three right-handed defensemen and three left-handed defenseman, and we know he likes symmetry.  Lastly, as noted already, Wideman can eat minutes, which can come in handy in multi-OT games.

When they put Wideman in, I think they should take Jeff Schultz out.  I write this not to jump on the "Sarge is slow" meme.  I write this because I think that Erskine's toughness is needed more than Schultz's "stay-at-home" quality and blocked shots.  I think that Scott Hannan and Karl Alzner play that stay-at-home role very nicely, and Erskine is good enough in that area.  Schultz is just not a tough guy, and I think having a bruising defenseman will be important to set the tone in some games.  In addition, Schultz is averaging over 23 minutes TOI thus far in the playoffs, well above his career averages.  This season, he averaged just under 20 minutes per game. He could tire out.  Lastly, if you look at this season's statistics above, Wideman had more hits, more take-aways and nearly as many blocks as Schultz.  Wideman's effectively replaces any of Schultz's "toughness" and adds offense.

From where I sit, Erskine has improved enough to earn a spot in the lineup.  He's more judicious with his hits and appears, IMO, to take fewer stupid penalties.  He appears to be in the right spot at the right time during games.  Most importantly, he fits the need for a 6th D more than Sarge does.

Thus - for my money, I'd like to see the Caps dress at defense:

Alzner-Carlson

Erskine-Wideman

Hannan-Green

If this FanPost is written by someone other than one of the blog's editors, the opinions expressed in it do not necessarily reflect those of this blog or SB Nation.

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