Photo credit: Susan Walsh
At age 23, defenseman Mike Green scored 31 goals. His 2008-2009 season was one of the most remarkable scoring performances by a blueliner of all-time. His bright blue Easton Stealth CNT was a lethal weapon. It was just the seventh time in league history a defenseman topped 30 goals. That last player to accomplish the feat, Kevin Hatcher, did it 26 years earlier.
The next year, Green’s goal total dropped by 12. He still easily lead all defensemen with 76 points. The Capitals cruised to the Presidents’ Trophy.
“He set the standard for offensive defensemen in the league,” Karl Alzner, Green’s longtime teammate, said of his 31-goal season. “That’s been the benchmark for a lot of guys. Guys are trying hard to get there, and no one’s been even close. ”
“I think he’ll be a guy that gets remembered in Washington forever,” Alzner added.
But you know what happened next: the Caps got Halak’d, Bruce got fired, Green got concussed, then concussed again, Hunter Hockey became a thing, which is somehow better than what Adam Oates did.
Between 2010 and 2013, Green played just 116 games over three seasons. He scored a mere 34 points during those campaigns, a far cry from 31 goals. For a former Norris Trophy-finalist, it represented a sad decline, albeit one due to injury.
Green doesn’t play big minutes anymore. However, under Barry Trotz, he has reestablished himself was one of hockey’s top offensive defensemen. Paired with Jack Hillen and later Tim Gleason, who occupied stay-at-home role, Green was allowed to jump up in the play and be aggressive, hallmarks of Trotz’s style.
“Mike Green can do anything a forward can do, so why not let him do it?” Trotz said.
Rather than pass the puck around aimlessly until it was picked off, Trotz’s defensemen were told they could hold on to the puck and do what they wanted. For Green, that style harkened back to his high-flying golden years under Bruce Boudreau.
“I’d rather have the puck on my stick than it coming down on me,” Green said. “I think that’s what I did a lot more in my younger years, I’d carry it more than move it.”
Green added of Trotz: “He never put any limits on any of us, including myself, and really encouraged us to evolve and get better.
While Green had the puck more, he saw much less ice as a third pairing D-man. He dipped under 20 minutes a night for the first time since he was 21. Rather than view it as a demotion, Green said it was a refreshing change that allowed him to stay healthy for an entire season, something he desperately wanted.
“I think it had everything to do with it,” Green said when asked if the number of minutes he played was responsible for his ability to say in the lineup for most of the season. “It’s hard to play 82 games and stay healthy. Especially when you’re a puck-moving defensemen, maybe guys target you a little bit more to eliminate you from the puck.”
As a third pairing defensemen, Green’s biggest role this year came on the power play. It’s a small fraction of the game, but a large part of Washington’s offense: over one fourth of their goals were tallied on the man advantage. The power play’s main weapon, of course, is Alex Ovechkin. Before Trotz decided to go mad late in the season, Green was Ovechkin’s main set-up man, assisting on 40 percent of Ovi’s 25 power play goals. Ovechkin scored the most power play goals by a player in almost 10 years as the Caps’ PP topped the league once again. Green is responsive for a lot of that.
Mike Green will be 30 in October. It’s clear, however, that he is still a serious offensive threat and a good hockey player. Green wants to stay in Washington. The Capitals want him too. But the Caps also have Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, and Jay Beagle to re-sign. They will not be able to keep everyone. Though he might be due for a pay cut, someone will give him lots of money. The Caps may not be willing — or able — to throw a ton of cash at a guy who played fewer than 20 minutes a night this season.
“It’s gonna come down to if he’s comfortable with that role and what do you pay for that role going forward,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “It’s probably going to be a little complicated. There’s a lot of moving parts around that.”
During his press conference on Monday, MacLellan said Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt would be in the lineup next season. Alzner, Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, and Matt Niskanen are already locked in. That leaves no room for Green.
“If it works out, that’d be great,” MacLellan added. “If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t.”
When you put it that way, it sounds like the giant Mike Green banner that hangs over the side of the Ballston Common Mall parking garage will likely be coming down sometime in July. For a Green, a player who has spent his entire 10-year career in Washington, that’s an uncomfortable prospect.
“It’s hard to think of the uncertainty of this summer and what might happen,” Green said. “It’s probably a little scary at times for myself to think that anything could happen. I’ve got to thank Washington for everything up until this point. It’s been quite the journey.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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