Sometimes things…well…sometimes they just don’t go as planned.
Then there’s Wade Redden, who retired from the NHL Thursday. He didn’t plan his hockey career to go the way it did in his 30s. A second overall pick in 1995, five-time 10-plus goal scorer and a reliable, leading defenseman for an emerging, powerful Senators franchise became the butt of minor league jokes and overpriced contracts. He played 1,023 NHL games in his career, scored 457 points, won a World Cup gold, two WJC golds and was a member of Team Canada at the 2006 Olympics.
But what he’s mostly remembered for these days is being the overpriced anchor who had to be waived to the American League for two years by the New York Rangers.
In the summer of 2006, the first full off-season with a salary cap in place, the Ottawa Senators faced a decision: either re-sign their top point-getter from the blueline, or their top minute-muncher. Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara were both 29 years old and had identical $3.724 million cap hits. But because of the cap and owner Eugene Melnyk’s desire for GM John Muckler to spend carefully, the team could only keep one.
As you know, they went with Redden and watched from Chara’s long shadow as he walked away to Boston. The giant Slovak inked a five-year deal with a $7.5 million cap hit, while Redden stayed in Kanata on a two-year deal worth $6.5 million per.
By the end of Redden’s contract, Ottawa had neither player – and had nothing to show for it.
Would the Senators take a re-do on that one? The very next season they made it to the Stanley Cup final, where they were trounced by the Anaheim Ducks. You could say that if they had won that series it would have all been worth it, forever and always. But they didn’t win it – and after they didn’t win it they immediately became a playoff-incapable team (again) that won only five post-season games over the next five seasons. Meanwhile, Chara won a Norris Trophy in 2009 and a Stanley Cup in 2011 with the Bruins. To this day, the one-man defense corps is a yearly consideration for the Norris.
So, ya, it’s fair to say the Sens would do that one again.
It’s easy to make that judgment today, but even if you were a Senators fan hitched to Chara’s wagon at that crucial point in the franchise’s existence, you couldn’t have foreseen the off-a-cliff drop Redden would soon take. In the last year of that two-year deal with Ottawa, the Sens tried to trade him, failed, and lost him in free agency to the Rangers. After two miserable seasons there, with quickly declining point totals and time on ice – New York Post columnist Larry Brooks dubbed Redden’s six-year, $39 million contract “the worst in the history of the NHL, if not in the history of hard-cap pro sports” – the Rangers waived him.
Redden spent the next two seasons in the American League before he was bought out through a post-lockout amnesty. He signed with St. Louis last season, was traded to Boston and played five playoff games, though none in the final. In with a bang, out with a whimper – every athlete’s nightmare.
The last few years of Redden’s career speak to the unpredictability of sport. It shows even a No. 1, 30-year-old, assistant captain defenseman on a Stanley Cup finalist can find that no one at all wants him as little as three years later. A major asset can become an outcast in a matter of months.
What is Redden’s legacy?