Five organizational switches, 16 years and 14 going on 15 professional seasons later, Whitfield’s hopes of becoming a steady NHL regular are virtually dashed. His two lengthiest single-season runs in the top circuit were a 61-game ride with the Washington Capitals in 2000-01 and 44 appearances with the same team in 2003-04.
After he missed the past weekend’s action with the Providence Bruins, the team he has captained for two-plus years, his entire pro hockey hourglass may be on its last grains of sand. The 35-year-old has not had a reasonably smooth, healthy campaign since his first year back with the organization that originally drafted him.
In turn, the best Whitfield might be able to hope for is to bring a little symmetry to his career. That is, assuming the NHL lockout is resolved in time, put in a mid-to-late-April appearance with the parent club after the playoff picture has settled before retiring.
Otherwise, he is reduced to a Reg Dunlop (or Crash Davis in Joe Haggerty’s terms) position of spending his final strides trying to help the P-Bruins halt their hex of repeat playoff no-shows that has plagued them since his arrival in the fall of 2009.
Whitfield placed third among Providence point-getters in 2009-10 even while missing 28 games, in part due to a cumulative 16 games played on an injury-riddled Boston team.
An Achilles ailment sidelined Whitfield for almost the entire first half of 2010-11, in which time the Baby Bs went 14-17-3 in his absence. He returned on Jan. 7, after which Providence went 24-19-3, including a 12-6-1 thrill ride in March and April that coincided with Whitfield’s hot streak of 13 goals and 12 assists in 18 appearances.
All the more impressive given the initial fears that Whitfield would have been out of action for the full campaign. His recovery and radiance easily earned him an additional two years with the Bruins.
But as it happened, there would be no follow-up on that resurgence the next fall, or dramatic reprise of it the next spring. Instead, Whitfield went pointless in the team’s first five games in October 2011, then suffered a concussion that kept him out of action until December.
By New Year’s, he had only one goal and no assists to speak of in 13 appearances. He subsequently sprinkled 15 points over 37 AHL games played while the team failed to muster a sustained push for the playoffs.
In a rancid rerun of last season, Whitfield went barren for the P-Bruins’ first five games and has not suited up since as the calendar delves into November. His only scoresheet entries are a cumulative four shots on goal (no more than one per outing) and four penalty minutes.
Even if he were consistently healthy and productive, Whitfield would likely be in his final year with the Bruins family. Providence mainstays hardly ever extend their stints beyond four seasons, as evidenced by the offseason releases of both Zach Hamill and Andrew Bodnarchuk.
Add his exponentially discouraging health history to the equation and the odds are against any other organization craving Whitfield’s services when he hits free agency in July 2013. Not in a skating capacity, anyway.
By all accounts, Whitfield’s valiance, loyalty and leadership have not ceased to endear him to the Providence team and fanbase. But at this point, it may be time for him to capitalize on that by taking the late 90s Peter Laviolette route of transitioning to a behind-the-bench role.