Throughout his career in the NHL, Mike Green has been somewhat of an unjustified whipping boy for Washington Capitals fans, a person to blame the team’s failures on.
He’s a playoff choker. He doesn’t play defense. He’s soft. And because he is supposedly these things, there are a significant portion of fans that want him off the team.
This summer, Green is a restricted free agent – something he hasn’t been for four years. The last time he was, coming off an 18-goal, 56-point season, Green was rewarded with a four-year, $21 million contract.
Last month, the Capitals extended their qualifying offer to Green in order to keep his rights – which was valued at one year and a little more than $5 million. It would have given the Capitals, and Green, a full season to judge where each other were before either hammering out a new contract or going their separate ways.
But as you probably know by now, Green declined the offer, allowing it to expire at 5 PM Sunday afternoon. That means that for Mike Green to remain a Capital, (and all signs point to this being the case), he needs a new deal. And that’s good.
Because the Capitals need Mike Green.
Yes, I understand that Green has had an injury plagued and relatively poor last two seasons. But when he has been healthy, for the most part, he has proven to be a valuable asset. His offense, while not as spectacular as it has been in years past, has usually been steady.
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.
What’s more, with the addition of Adam Oates as the head coach of the Capitals, it has been stated that the Capitals will move back to a more up-tempo style of play for the upcoming season, a type of hockey that Mike Green thrives in. Plus, he’s more likely to see more power play time than he did last year – when he inexplicably saw less power play time than Dennis Wideman per game despite being a significantly better power play quarterback. Both of these things could, and are perhaps even likely, to have a positive impact on his numbers,
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.
By almost all accounts, Green is a top four defenseman. When healthy, he can be a force from the back end. He has proven that.
He’s also, unfortunately, one of only three “top four” defensemen currently on the Capitals’ roster, along with John Carlson and Karl Alzner.
Dmitry Orlov has sky-high potential, but he is not there yet. Roman Hamrlik, despite his solid playoffs, is no longer in that category. Jeff Schultz and John Erskine are bottom-pair defensemen. As are Jack Hillen and Cameron Schilling (should the latter make the team). If he were to be absent, it would force two of Erskine, Hillen, Schultz, and perhaps Schilling to play every game, which would, quite frankly, be very bad. It would significantly weaken the Caps’ defensive corps, and it would leave all of the offensive minutes from the back end to Carlson and Orlov.
What’s more, the only likely scenario that would see Green leave, a trade, isn’t very likely in and of itself. The only way I could see Green moved would be for a top-six winger – and because of Green’s perceived flaws (and actual ones, like durability), a team with a valuable winger on the trade block isn’t likely to take Green as a major part of a deal. And he is too valuable to be a “sweetener ” in a deal.
So now that Green has declined his qualifying offer, it is likely that he will get a new deal. Because the qualifying offer has expired, there is no more minimum salary. If Green wants term at less than $5 million, which seems to be what is going on, I would not have a big issue with that. It wouldn’t be great, but with Tom Poti, John Erskine, and Roman Hamrlik coming off the books next July, it could certainly be manageable.
The bottom line is that at this moment, the Caps need Green at his best to be competitive next season. He can’t be at his best and helping the Capitals without a contract.
What money and term would you give Green?
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.