Mike Green’s Signing a Necessary Risk

Monday afternoon, the Washington Capitals announced that they had signed defenseman Mike Green to a three-year contract worth $18.25 million.  The deal, which covers two summers of unrestricted free agency for Green, has an annual salary cap hit of just over $6.08 million.

“It’s been a long process,” the defenseman said on a conference call Monday.  “With the setback of the injury, we were going to wait.  It’s been pushed back, but I think that obviously I wanted to be in Washington and they wanted me back.”

The Capitals should have wanted Green back, because they needed him.  As I wrote just hours before Green was signed, he is one of their best defensemen and, when healthy, is one of the best puck-moving rearguards in the entire NHL.

Since Green signed his four-year contract before the 2008-09 season, only five defensemen have collected more points than Green’s 180 – Nicklas Lidstrom, Dan Boyle, Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, and Zdeno Chara.  Only one, Weber, has scored more goals.  That is without doubt elite company, and though Green is by no means in the same class as these defensemen at this current moment, it shows just how good he has the potential to be.

His defense is improving.  Not only has Green visibly been better at blocking shots, holding coverage in his own zone, and making plays on the body, but he has been the Capitals’ best possessor of the puck on the blue line each of the last four seasons – despite the fact that his offensive zone start percentage decreased in each of those four seasons.  That is definition improvement, and even if you don’t believe in ‘fancy stats,’ he has yet to have a plus-minus season in the red since becoming a regular.  He’s not great defensively, but he is better.

Still, the signing is undoubtedly a risk.  A big risk.  When you look at the last two season’s of Green’s career, he has suffered with bad injuries – a bum ankle, a concussion, and an abdominal injury, to name a few.  Committing this type of money and term to a player with that type of recent injury history is scary.  But for his part, Green feels as though he is through with consistently being hurt and is ready to work harder than ever to return to his old form – that of one of the premier offensive defensemen in the NHL.

“I think they [the Capitals] know what I’m capable of,” he added.  “It’s been unfortunate the last couple years that I’ve suffered from injuries but I think I’m over them now, I think I’ve got them all out of my system.  I think that as happy as I am that they’re happy and they know that I’m committed to the hockey team and doing whatever I can to be the best that I can. “

Read more on Green’s contract here.

At first, it is difficult to understand why Green may feel this way, considering his poor play down the stretch (1 point after February 28th) and his average playoffs.  A closer examination, however, reveals two things that could favor a bounce back campaign for Green.

One of those is the insertion of Adam Oates as Washington’s head coach.  Green struggled under Dale Hunter’s defensive style, just as he struggled under the defensive style of Glen Hanlon.  He, and the Capitals, hope that offense can begin to flow after this changeover, just like did when Bruce Boudreau was hired in November of 2007.

“What Dale expected was a kind of grind chip in chip out kind of game,” Green added.  “I respect him as a coach and played that way and played hard for him but I also at the same time I’m excited that Adam is here.  Actually very excited.  From what I’ve heard, his style fits my style of play and the other guys, and hopefully there is a balance between Bruce Boudreau and Dale, and hopefully Adam is the guy.”

Green is also likely to see significantly more time on the power play under Oates, which will help his numbers increase because he is one of the best power play quarterbacks in the NHL.  Under Hunter, Dennis Wideman inexplicably saw a lot more time on the man advantage, which hurt Green’s totals.

In addition, Green conceded Monday that he didn’t feel right in March, April, and into the postseason.

“I’ll be honest with you, I really didn’t feel as though I was back to myself until the middle of the playoffs,” he admitted Monday.  “Not as far as the mental game, just my injury from surgery.  Not that it was bothering me to the extent that I couldn’t play my game, but physically it just took that long for the injury to heal, and then I was able to play my game again.  It was a little too late, but I’m 100% now and ready for next season.”

An orthopedist in the Boston area confirmed this as a likely scenario, saying in a telephone interview that it often takes four weeks or longer of sustained physical activity for the abdominal muscle to return to full strength following a procedure such as Green’s.  Simple observation also supports this theory.  Though Green had two points in both the Bruins and Rangers series, he was noticeably better and more comfortable against New York.

Overall, however, the deal remains a risk, albeit a manageable one and a necessary one.  Three years is not very long, though it seems as though two would have been ideal given the circumstances of the negotiations.  The money is high, but it is actually a smaller percentage of the salary cap than his last contract was at the time of its signing – an important note to remember.  It also removes two years of unrestricted free agency, which would again drive his price up.

I am still a bit surprised that Green was able to get a raise despite his last two seasons, but overall, I am a fan of the signing because of the need that the Capitals had.  No team can expect to be competitive with John Erskine and Jeff Schultz playing every game and relying upon John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov to provide all of the offense from the back end.

Anyway, Green himself is more than confident heading in to next season.  About midway through the conference call, he was asked by Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times if he felt as though it was possible to return to his old level of offensive dominance.

“100%, it’ll be next year,” he responded immediately.

Whyno asked him again.  Green held his ground.

“Absolutely, there is no question about it.  I feel as though I’m just getting in to my prime.”

Only time will tell if he is right.

But the Capitals had to give him the time.

Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR.  Follow him on Twitter here.