While appreciating some of the clever moves like stealing Kris Versteeg out of Edmonton and grabbing Michael Stone just before the trade deadline, I can’t escape the feeling that the presense of Dennis Wideman hung like a black cloud over the Flames all season, leading to more and more wild theories from fans that the refs were against the Flames because of Wideman’s hit on linesman Don Henderson early in 2016.
I was surprised when the Flames didn’t cut the veteran defenseman loose during the summer. To me, Wideman had embarassed the city, embarassed the organization. And the more games he played, the more the conspiracy theories grew. “The refs have it in for us because of Wideman” went the refrain, even into the playoffs when it was the command centre in Toronto now looking for any reason to shaft the team. A slew of calls in crucial situations in the Anaheim series only intensified that feeling.
Wideman’s game deteriorated to the point that the coaches couldn’t play him any more in the last couple of months. Dealing him before the deadline was impossible with his 5 million dollar contract and propensity for giveaways. Yet, even with him in the press box, fans kept pointing out the refs hated Calgary and were doing all they could to see them fail.
Was perception reality? Doesn’t matter now, although as a former official, I would say refs don’t work that way. But they’re also humans and one of their own was taken out of his career by this player’s actions, which may percolate in the subconscious and lead to bias.
It’s not why the Flames exited so quickly but I believe not divesting themselves of Wideman when they had the chance last summer was an error. One management now has plenty of time to think about.