MONTREAL — Life progresses around Dennis Seidenberg.
The defenseman’s family has settled into its rhythms of school and fall life in Boston, his former city of employment. His ex-teammates are under contract and either competing at the World Cup of Hockey (Zdeno Chara is a fellow Team Europe defenseman) or preparing for the start of training camp, just like they do every year.
Seidenberg, however, is stalled. On June 30, the Bruins informed him that they would pay him $4,666,667 over the next four years if he turned in his Black-and-Gold uniform. Seidenberg was originally due $7 million in salary through 2018.
It was a difficult message to absorb for a player who had served the Bruins for 401 of his 758 career games and played a critical shutdown role alongside Chara in the 2011 playoffs to help the Bruins win the Stanley Cup.
“I’ve kind of turned the page,” Seidenberg said. “But then again, my family’s still in Boston. They started school in Boston. So you always think about something you’re still with but you’re not. So it was something that was obviously disappointing. But it doesn’t really matter right now. I have to go into this tournament, play my game, and hopefully something comes up.”
The buyout would have been one thing had Seidenberg been able to supplement his reduced four-year earnings from Delaware North with another NHL contract. That has yet to happen.
For the last two-plus months, Seidenberg has been working out in New Jersey, playing in Olympic qualifying for Team Germany, and crossing his fingers that juice still remains in his NHL future.
The trouble the 35-year-old Seidenberg faces, however, is the reality that his opponents are becoming faster, quicker, and younger while his joints continue to creak. Seidenberg’s fitness was never in question. But brawn cannot slow the decline of critical quick-twitch muscles. It would do Seidenberg’s potential employer no good to pay him NHL money and give him a roster spot if he chases the game to the degree in which he did in his last days in Boston.
Seidenberg trained alongside younger brother Yannic in Munich for part of the summer. The Seidenberg boys participated in Olympic qualifying exhibition games in Minsk, Belarus. Opponents included Austria, Latvia, and Japan.
“Over there, we played Japan,” Seidenberg said with a smile. “It’s tough when you come play Team North America after that.”
Seidenberg, a healthy scratch for Team Europe in the exhibition opener against Team North America, made his tournament debut Sunday at the Bell Centre in the Europeans’ 7-4 loss. His team’s opponent did Seidenberg no favors. The blend of Canadian and American precociousness thrives on speed and skill. They can pick apart defensemen who are a step behind.
In the first period, Seidenberg, playing the right side next to Roman Josi, drifted into the neutral zone in hopes of cleaning Sean Couturier’s clock. Seidenberg glanced off Couturier and wiped out Marian Hossa instead. With Seidenberg caught up the ice, the North Americans scurried off for a three-on-one rush. Thomas Greiss turned back Vincent Trocheck’s initial shot, but Dylan Larkin punched in the rebound to put Seidenberg and the Europeans down, 2-0. Before they knew it, they were down, 5-1, with Greiss in the showers after allowing four goals on eight shots.
Jaroslav Halak (22 saves on 24 shots) helped to stabilize Europe’s game. But the North Americans’ quick start was too much for the Europeans to overcome.
“We ran right into their game,” Seidenberg said. “Their transition game is pretty fast. We didn’t stand up properly in the beginning. I thought we started to play better defensively and positionally and turned it around at the end. But it wasn’t enough.”
The Europeans have a final exhibition tuneup against Sweden on Wednesday. Whether Seidenberg will play is unknown. He landed three shots on net and blocked four shots in 20:05 of ice time, fourth-most among team defensemen after Josi (23:28), Andrej Sekera (22:11), and Chara (21:34). The Europeans start preliminary play against Team USA on Saturday, and they are long shots to advance through the first three games to the semifinals.
Seidenberg, however, has a lot invested in the tournament. He is not just trying to help the mishmash collection of Europeans to make it far in the World Cup. He also is competing for a contract. To earn NHL work, he’ll have to lean on opponents, block shots, and log heavy minutes to show he still has NHL mileage in his skates.
“I just have to focus on playing my game,” Seidenberg said. “There’s no magic to it. It’s playing a simple style of hockey. That’s basically it. I don’t have to try and do something I can’t do. That’s going to go the other way if you do that.”
Seidenberg is used to uncertainty. It took until Sept. 14, 2009, for the Panthers to sign him to a one-year contract. But that was a different time. He has kids in school now that he might have to uproot based on his situation. Life is not easy when you’re told you’re no longer needed.