As the madness of the draft, free agency, and development camp slowly winds down, many Caps fans, including myself, are still wondering about how DC will get under the salary cap for next season. The most obvious answer, to me and many others, is still to get Tom Poti’s money off the books, but some fans are calling for something else – trading defenseman Mike Green before the season starts. I understand the reasoning behind this from a salary cap perspective. Green’s cap hit for the upcoming season is $5.25 million, certainly pricey, and it stands to reason that he will demand more when he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Trading him would, without a doubt, lessen the strain Washington has on the cap and make it easier to both get new players, if needed, at the trade deadline and spend the necessary money next summer to keep key guys on board.
In addition, however, a growing number of fans think that trading Green will be a double bonus – that the Capitals will be able to not only dump salary, but dump an overrated player who makes too much money. Wait, What?
One of the main knocks that people had on Mike Green during his first four years in Washington was that he wasn’t very good in his own zone, despite his ridiculous plus/minus ratings in those seasons. That’s true. Green was not a very good defensive defenseman when he started his career with the Capitals. Last year? Not the case. In his 49 games played during 2010-11, Greenie blocked 109 shots, two of which went off his noggin. Over a full 82 game season, that equates to 182 blocked shots. Not only would that have led the team, but it would have been tied for fifth overall in the NHL. Also in 2010-11, Green laid out 100 hits. Over a full 82 game season, that equates to 167 hits – which would have led the team, again, and been 21st overall in the NHL. He got so much better in his own end that Bruce Boudreau played him in the final minutes of games and on the penalty kill, which you never saw before. Doesn’t play defense? According to who?
Now that we’re done questioning his defense, do I need to even start with his offensive accolades? Yes? Over the last four years, no defenseman has scored more goals, and only one has more points – this guy named Nicklas Lidstrom, who is probably one of the top three defensemen off all time. Lidstrom has Green beat by four points – and has played in 40 more games. Also, in the last ten years, only one defenseman has averaged more than a point per game in a season – Green. He’s done it twice. The only person to come close was, you guessed it, Lidstrom, who averaged exactly one point per game during the 2005-06 campaign. Oh, and Green’s offense may have been down this year, but he still had eight goals and 24 points in his 49 games. Over a full season, that’s 40 points, which would have led the team. Again.
But wait – there’s more. Mike Green chokes in the playoffs, right? If the Caps are going to win, they need to get rid of him, right? News flash: there is only one player on the Caps has NOT routinely choked in the playoffs: Alex Ovechkin. Alexander Semin? Nicklas Backstrom? Mike Knuble? Brooks Laich? All of these key players have had bad playoffs in at least one of the last three seasons. You wanna trade all of them, too? Green has been poor in the playoffs, yes. So has everyone else. You don’t dump a two-time Norris Trophy nominee for doing something everyone else on the team has done. It’s madness. Yes, Mike Green makes too much money for what he produced last year. For what he did in his first three seasons, not so much.
All of this being said, hear me loud and clear: Mike Green is NOT untouchable. If the right deal comes along for a very good, veteran, two-way defenseman or elite scoring winger, you pull the trigger. But not purely to dump salary, and not as a way to solve a problem that certainly exists, but is not fixable by the removal or addition of a single player. He’s just too valuable.