Friday, May 3, 2013

Out of exile, Redden fits in nicely with Bruins

By Larry Wigge

The New York Rangers said Wade Redden was too old to be making $6.5 million for two years and exiled him to the Connecticut Whale.

The St. Louis Blues signed the Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, native, for one-year $1 million and then opted for veterans Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold at the trading deadline and sent Redden to the Boston Bruins for a seventh-round conditional draft choice.

In Game 1 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the cast-away scored the Bruins first goal and then set up Nathan Horton for the second goal in a 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

For a time, it seemed like Wade Redden might just be an extra body for the Bruins, an insurance plan. But, the conditional seventh-round pick now became a sixth-rounder because he played in the playoffs.

And boy did he play.

It was Redden's ninth career multipoint playoff game of his career -- his first since 2006 -- and the goal also marked the first he's scored in the postseason since 2007.

"It's been a long road," Redden said. "Obviously in the position I was in, there was a lot of uncertainty. I kept working and kept believing I guess.

"It’s great to be here now and have the chance and make the most of it."

Said coach Claude Julien, "What we've tried to do when he came here is make him feel welcome, make him feel appreciated and give him some confidence that way. So far, it's paid dividends."

Redden's journey has seen its ups and downs, and for one night at least, he was in the unexpected position to be one of the heroes for a team contending for a Stanley Cup.

The 35-year-old defenseman knows all about keeping with it. When the Rangers sent him to Hartford of the American League, he easily could've quit. He'd already made a fortune on his contracts with Ottawa and New York. Instead, he skated in more than 100 games for the Wolf Pack/Whale.

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli used to work in the Ottawa organization. He remembers Redden as a highly-regarded defenseman, who used to pair with Zdeno Chara on the Senators Stanley Cup team in 2007.

"I really don't want to put any pressure on him in that regard," said Chiarelli. "He's more of a heady player ... that first pass. He's a terrific passer, first pass, vision. He can play on the power play, but that's not why we acquired him."

Redden admitted that he thought two-plus seasons of playing in the American Hockey League might have been too much. He actually thought about quitting.

"It crossed my mind," he said. "After thinking about it for a bit, I'm sure glad I didn't. I think there's more hockey left in me. Getting out of New York and getting a fresh start is the best thing for me."

"He was pretty down on himself," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, a teammate for a decade. "He was questioning what he had done and should do and whether he should even be playing hockey. We all live the game. I thought he should try Europe or the minors and get the fire, the excitement back. We're pro athletes, hockey players. This is what we know. This is what we do."

The input was appreciated.

"Alfie has always been a guy I looked up to as a teammate and as a friend," Redden said. "He's pretty sharp. He sees things and has a good perspective.

"His advice was the same as lot of the other people I spoke to: 'Keep playing and a lot of good things can come from it.'"

In the summer of 2008, he became a free agent. He turned down other suitors to accept $39 million over six years from the Rangers

"I went to New York with high hopes," he said. "It didn't work out and it was difficult for me. It weighed a lot on me. I kind of got into a negative spiral, myself and everything around me. I let it get the better of me. Now, I'm getting away from that, getting a fresh start and seeing where it takes me.

"It is a pretty rare case, I guess ... I definitely have a sour taste in my mouth from how things went in New York."

Wade Redden broke into the NHL in 1996 with the Ottawa Senators. He had been the second player picked in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft behind only Bryan Berard. In the 17 years since, he's played 1,118 professional hockey games, including the last two-plus season in the AHL.

"I went down there to Connecticut with a good attitude to work hard," Redden said. "I was going to the rink every day to play hockey. I tried to approach it the same way. It's still a pretty high level. The AHL has a lot of great players in it ... I still had to play hard and work at things.

"There were times when things weren't going my way and stuff like that, but you've got to battle through that."

Five years earlier, while coaching in Columbus, Ken Hitchcock and Blue Jackets management pursued unrestricted free-agent defenceman Wade Redden, who was fresh off a 38-point campaign with the Ottawa Senators.

"I coached him in the World Cup of Hockey in 2004 and the 2006 Olympics and I coached against him a lot when him and Zdeno Chara were a pair for Ottawa, so I knew him really well," Hitchcock, now head coach of St. Louis. "When (the Rangers) assigned him to the American Hockey League ... he could have just cashed a paycheque and accepted his lot in life. But he took a leadership role there as team captain and he was a good mentor so I think it shows a lot about his character.

"It's not where he wanted to be but he showed his Connecticut teammates that sometimes hockey can throw you curveballs and you gotta stand in there and keep swinging."

Curveballs. Knuckleballs. All of the above were tossed at Wade Redden during his two-plus seasons in the AHL.

He remembered once being called an old man.

"Nice play, old man."

It was a jibe from an opposing player after the puck hopped over Redden's stick during a recent game.

Redden just chuckles when he tells a story about how he made $81,000 a game more than what a typical AHLer would make. His wife Danica and their toddler Leni, who lived in a townhouse a couple of miles up the road from the Connecticut Arena.

After listening to comments like those, Wade Redden is now comfortable in Boston.

Playing 16 minutes per game and scoring one and having another shot tipped in by Nathan Horton in Game 1 make Redden feel right at home.

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