LOWELL, Mass. -- Dennis Seidenberg recently recalled the anxiety he was feeling in the fall of 2009 during a chat with unsigned veteran defenseman Ryan Whitney.
Now a fixture with the Boston Bruins, Seidenberg was coming off a solid 70-game, 30-point season with the Carolina Hurricanes but found himself looking for work.
"Back then I had a good year in Carolina and thinking I was going to sign first day [of free agency] and nothing happened until the first week into camp," said Seidenberg, who eventually signed a contract with the Florida Panthers then was traded to Boston during the 2009-10 season. "That feeling sitting on the couch at home, not having a contract, is the worst in the world. So I'm in a different position and hopefully it'll work out."
Seidenberg, who played in teammate Milan Lucic's Rock and Jock charity softball game Thursday night, is in a different position this season because he's entering the final year of the four-year contract he signed with the Bruins in June 2010. That summer, despite an injury that ended his season prior to the Bruins' journey into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Boston and Seidenberg's camp wanted to get a deal done before the start of free agency.
So far, Seidenberg has been worth every penny of that $13 million contract. Some would even say he's been underpaid, and it'll be interesting to see what the market garners for Seidenberg, or what the Bruins decide he's worth. For the veteran from Germany, the key will be not worrying about anything beyond the upcoming season.
"It's about playing your game and playing to your best and whatever happens after that. I mean, you just try to play your best and not to think about your contract. I think it's always hindering you or it's making you think, and that's what you don't want," Seidenberg said.
In his first full season in Boston, Seidenberg skated in all but one regular-season game and every postseason game during the Bruins' run to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship. Following his 32-point regular season, he contributed 11 in the playoffs and was plus-12 for the title drive. He averaged two seconds fewer played per game (27:37) than Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and with him helped form a championship-worthy shutdown pair.
Seidenberg has hardly slowed down since that season. He's second to Chara in average ice time in each of the past two seasons (regular season and playoffs) and has led the team in blocked shots each of his three full seasons in Boston. He's been among the team leaders in hits, including leading all Bruins defensemen last season.
Though he turned 32 this season and has garnered some notoriety around the League as one of the better defensive defensemen, Seidenberg isn't letting his improvement as an all-round player stagnate.
"I can always get better," he said. "There's always room for improvement and you never stop improving. I mean the best players in the world, they always want to get better. And I think there's a lot more room to improve, for sure."
There will be a lot of factors in the Bruins' decision to keep Seidenberg or replace him. Many of those will be out of the defenseman's control. For one, there are several up-and-coming young defensemen in pursuit of full-time work in the NHL. Andrew Ference's departure via free agency opened one role. But considering the way Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski performed in the 2013 playoffs, which ended with Boston's loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of the Cup Final, the competition could be stiff for playing time among young players and veterans.
"It's about playing your game and playing to your best and whatever happens after that. I mean, you just try to play your best and not to think about your contract. I think it's always hindering you or it's making you think, and that's what you don't want."
-- Dennis Seidenberg
Seidenberg is prepared for the challenge.
"I'm sure there's kids that want to fill that spot," Seidenberg said. "But, I mean, I still feel young. … I'm not old yet, but when you play a while you always want to prove yourself and want to show you still belong. And there's no doubt in my mind that I still belong."
During Boston's drive to the Final, Seidenberg missed a few games with a hamstring injury then played with an elbow problem. He said he's fully healed heading into training camp next week. Though the summer was short, he doesn't even want to broach the subject of a hangover. He said he "cherished every day" of the summer, spent mostly in Florida and his wife's home state of New Jersey, but is eager to get going and erase the memories of last summer's conclusion.
"I think a couple of weeks I would say," Seidenberg said in response to a question about getting over the 17 seconds that turned a Bruins' win into a championship for the Blackhawks late in the third period of Game 6. "I mean, you never totally get over it. Especially, it was a crazy ending and it's never going to happen, probably again. But it makes you that much better going forward, I think. You learn from those kind of things and those kind of games and move on."
Motivation to make the most of the 2013-14 season will be plentiful for Seidenberg. He wants to win a second championship, hold off the young guys in pursuit of his job, and make sure he's a desirable signing for the Bruins or another club. His desire is to stay, and he plans to let his play do the talking.
"I like Boston. My family likes Boston," he said. "But I have to play well in order to stay. Whatever happens happens."