The Curious Case of Mike Green

Posted March 8, 2013

Mike Green healthy…for now. (Photo by Alena Schwarz)

At 27 years of age, Washington Capitals star defenseman Mike Green should be in the prime of his career. But the question now is not whether he will regain his Norris Trophy contender form, but how much he will even play at all.

Green, from Calgary, Alberta, has always been an offensive defenseman. In the 2004-2005 season, his last in the Western Hockey League with the Saskatoon Blades, he scored 14 goals and 66 points in 67 games. In the 2008-2009 season with the Caps, he scored 31 goals in 82 games, his best goal-scoring output in Washington. However, over the past three seasons, he has played no more then 49 games, and scored no more then 8 goals.

Since the beginning of the 2008-2009 season, Green has suffered from groin, shoulder, head, and ankle injuries. He played in 49 of 82 games in 2010-2011, and only 32 last season. Green has already missed about 20 percent of the games in this lockout-shortened season.

Green was re-signed by the Caps during the past summer to a three-year deal with a cap hit of 6.083 million and change, a risk no matter how you look at it. When healthy, Green is a game changer. No one on the Caps can bring the puck up the ice like he does, and his semi-regular overtime goals is the reason he was nicknamed “Game Over” at one point. Green also owns the National Hockey League record for consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman with eight.

McPhee could have tried to sign Green to a lesser deal, citing injuries as a reason. As a restricted free agent, the Caps had some leverage. If he signed with another team, the Caps could have matched (provided they gave him a qualifying offer) or taken the numerous draft picks he would have been worth, but would they be able to replace him in free agency or with one of those picks?

When healthy, players with Green’s level of skill do not become available often, so replacing someone like him isn’t assured. No one currently in the organization can do the things Green can or has done in the past, and drafting someone with his potential won’t help the team anytime soon.

Going forward, the Caps and McPhee have some serious thinking to do. They can no longer rely on Green making it through three quarters of an NHL season, let alone a full one. While it is possible, it is unlikely. His cap hit will still be on the teams books through the 2014-2015 season. If they were to trade him, assuming they find takers, the Caps will have a hard time finding free agents that can fill his role. Are the Capitals willing to lose players on the current roster and/or prospects and picks to replace him? There are many questions with no real answers.