- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2012

How long is the scar?

Dennis Wideman pulled up his red workout shorts and revealed the line stretching down his right thigh.

“That big — a foot,” he said.

It’s the only visible reminder of the Washington Capitals defenseman’s painful and seemingly endless ordeal last spring.

What started out as an awkward but unimposing hit from Tuomo Ruutu of the Carolina Hurricanes on March 29 soon became one of the defining moments of Wideman’s career. He left the game and went right to the hospital, but that’s when the certainty ended.

“When I got the hit, I knew it wasn’t good. But I never thought it would be as long or as bad an injury as it was,” Wideman said earlier this month. “It never really crossed my mind about how long it would take or how bad it was.”

It was hematoma and compartment syndrome, an injury severe enough to knock Wideman out for the rest of the season and Washington’s brief playoff run. Sedation and delusions, though, prevented Wideman from getting the same sort of depression that many hockey players go through when they can’t shake an injury and get back on the ice.

“I think the whole time that I was hurt, I was in denial about how bad it was. I just thought I would be able to play if we kept going in the playoffs, I thought was going to be able to play,” Wideman said. “But looking back on it now, there was no way I was going to be able to play. That probably helped me in the rehab process that I had the delusion that I was actually going to be able to play. It made things easier.”

Wideman rehabbed, made it back with no real problems this preseason and managed to not only bounce back but make his first NHL All-Star Game. This weekend in Ottawa, he’ll be among the likes of Nashville’s Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Calgary’s Jarome Iginla.

It’s been a whirlwind year for Wideman but not one he expected to include an All-Star appearance. Even though he’s tied for third among defensemen in points with 34, he wondered if he was being traded when general manager George McPhee called him to tell him he was an All-Star.

“I never thought that I would make the All-Star Game,” Wideman said. “It’s just kind of the way it’s always been. I’m not a guy that usually gets a whole lot of recognition or anything like that.”

Not during a November that included Wideman putting up just four points and a minus-13 rating, and certainly not as he was trying to build strength back in his right leg, which he has joked is now as seasoned as 37-year-old teammate Roman Hamrlik’s legs.

Wideman, 30, has a sense of humor about it now, but that doesn’t mean he always was able to laugh about his situation.

“There’s some days where you’re like, ‘What the heck?’ when you’re just doing the same thing or no one’s here and you’re the only one here with the trainer or whatever and it kind of sucks not being around the guys,” he said. “I realized, too, that it was an injury and that comes with the territory.”

One thing Wideman boasts is a sense of perspective. He doesn’t lament his injury and insists it hasn’t changed his game or his life. It’s not like a severe knee injury or concussion, he admitted.

But the Capitals wish he had been with them in the playoffs last spring when they were swept in the second round by the Lightning.

“I think we missed him quite a bit. I think the whole reason why we got him was to add another threat. You see what he’s doing this year, that’s what he could’ve done for us last year,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “I think especially that second series we could have used him a lot. It maybe would have changed the way that things ended for us. It was a big loss. He’s a big-time player, and that’s why we got him.”

Wideman makes mistakes. No one will argue he’s the most adept defender in his zone, though he usually compensates for it with offensive pop.

The absence of Mike Green for all but 10 games this season put pressure on Wideman. He could never be Green, but his ice time shot up. Wideman is averaging 24:29 and playing in all situations.

“It puts a lot more on him, and he’s been handling it real well,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “He’s had a good season as far as play-wise and with Greener out, a lot of the onus is put on him. I know he likes to deflect that kind of stuff, but he’s handled it real well and is playing good hockey.”

Wideman does like to deflect, though in the final year of his contract he concedes he has thought about the future. An All-Star appearance surely increases the value of a big-minute defenseman already making $4.5 million.

But with the collective bargaining agreement expiring in September, Wideman — who has bounced around and is on his fourth NHL team - knows there is more uncertainty than usual.

“It’s not as simple as whether Washington wants me here. It has to do with can they fit [me] under the cap with the contracts that we have on the books. It’s complicated. It’s not like it used to be with no cap where the teams with money were just like, ‘We like him. We’re going to sign him,’ ” Wideman said. “So yeah, I’ve thought about wondering where I’m going to be next year or what’s going to happen. But at the same time, that stuff happens when you’re sitting on the couch at night watching TV. Not when you’re at the rink.”

Of course it’s much better for Wideman to be sitting at home than in a hospital, and much better that he can play rather than wonder when he’ll be back on the ice. But his future isn’t the first thing on his mind.

“I’m not really thinking about it as much right now in the heart of the season,” Wideman said. “You’re just trying to win, trying to get us back to where we should be as a team.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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