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The Mike Green Question

Last Tuesday, Capitals fans everywhere were delighted with the return of Mike Green, after missing 23 consecutive games with a groin injury.  An injury that, supposedly, might never fully heal.  Midway through Green second game back (@SJ 1/7/12), Hunter shut him down again.  Hunter said it was because of tightness, and not a hit he took, but it does little to dispel my worries.  Green did not practice with the team on Sunday.

It might only be January, but it is worth reminding that Green is currently in the last year of his deal.  A deal that sees him make 5.25 million.  Given some of the current contracts, that number was expected to increase dramatically.  Since 2008, when Green signed his current deal, we have seen many comparable blueliners sign contracts worth North of 7 million annually.  Most recently, Buffalo gave Christian Ehrhoff a deal that gave him 10 mil for the first season.  Most fans would have been more than happy to give Green this raise.  He is one of the most popular players on this team, and most would probably be in favor of unloading Alex Semin, if it meant that Green would stay.

That was all pre-injury, though.  Now Green has a permanent mark on his record.  While concussions have certainly become the #1 thing people are looking for in player history, groin should be just as looming.  Back in pre-Savardian times, persistent groin injuries was one of the biggest black marks a player could have on their record.  When it is already out that the groin will never be 100%, any GM will think twice before looking at a long-term deal.

As great as the Caps are with Green in the line-up (9-1), the Caps have been forced to cope without him.  The veterans, Hamrlik and Wideman, have rediscovered their old form.  Wideman, who I pegged as a 3rd-pairing guy who would leave in the offseason, has become Washington’s most consistent blueliner, logging more than 24 minutes a game.  Carlson and Alzner are both continuing to develop their games, though Carlson seems to be going through more growing pains.  Orlov, who I thought would see minimal action as an injury call-up, has become an everyday starter in place of Jeff Schultz, who I still see moved at the trade deadline.  John Erskine has proven capable, albeit seeing limited ice time. 

Is Mike Green the best defenceman the Caps have?  I think that is unquestionably true, when he is healthy.  The question becomes, how much should the Caps reasonably offer Mike Green.  Going into this season, I was hoping to see Green sign a long-term deal, at a relatively good hometown discount.  I was hoping somewhere in the area of 7 years, 40-45 mil.  This probably meant no more Alex Semin, but I thought the Caps had enough new talent (Brouwer, Johansson) and more coming (Kuznetsov) that they could part with the enigmatic winger.  Now, I don’t know if the Caps can go anywhere near those terms with Mike.  Unless he plays at least 41 games, and produces should the Caps make it to the post season, I can’t see them being comfortable with anything more than a 1 year contract with Green making less than his current deal.  At one point, I would have placed Green as the 2nd or 3rd most important player on this team (depending on where you value Backstrom).  Now, I have to put him lower.

So, the question I pose to all of you is, “Can the Capitals continue to succeed without Mike Green, in the long-term?”

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Comments

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Mike Green not only ISN’T a great defenseman—earning plaudits in the form of All-Star nominations mostly because he’s gifted offensively—he’s an injury waiting to happen. He reminds me of players most fans in other sports are already familiar with: Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers, Bob Sanders of the Indianapolis Colts and until recently, Andrew Bynum of the Los Angeles Lakers, among many others i could name.. Likable people (mostly)—and talented players one and all, but certain to make you pull your hairs out one strand at a time waiting for them to put in a full season without spending time on the injured list.

If I were the Capitals I would do one of three things, if possible:

1)  Make Mike Green a full time forward where his defensive lapses would be marginally less disastrous

2)  Get Kusnetsov on the team NOW, since the Caps never seem to score when they play responsibly on defense and vice versa whenever they go up against Cup-worthy opponents on the road (the San Jose Sharks being just the latest case in point)

3) Cut your losses and trade the talented, (and also injury prone) Alex Semin to any GM who’s stupid enough to part with a two way forward and\or a great goal tending prospect.

Someone write back and poke holes in what I just said.

I dare you

Clifford
Santa Monica

Posted by Clifford on 01/09/12 at 08:14 PM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

Mike Green is not the same player he was a few years ago.  He has become very good in his own end.  You don’t become a 2-time Norris finalist while just scoring goals.  Green is only 26 years, and if he stayed healthy could see his best years on D over the next 5.  Unfortunately, the groin will never fully heal.  As far as the rest of your ideas,

2) Kuznetsov is entirely incapable of playing in the NHL this year.  The CBA makes it impossible for him to do so.  At best, he could play in Hershey if he signs an EL contract after the KHL season ends.  The Caps have shown lately that they can balance their offensive game with their defensive.  They are still fine tuning Hunter’s system.

3) Not sure that is best for them right now.  He is playing great right now.  I can’t see how moving a top-line guy with double-digit goals.  I’m not saying keep him forever, but that isn’t a move I see them making for at least another month.

The only place I would be interested in shopping with right now is Anaheim and their fire sale, but I doubt Boudreau wants anything to do with Semin.  He was always a fan of Schultz, so that is where I would hope the Caps go as far as moves.  Especially since Schultz has played only once in recent games.  That would be a nice 2.5 to get off the books.

Posted by Matthew Tate on 01/09/12 at 08:40 PM ET

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Based on his history Mike Green remaining healthy falls under the category of wishful thinking. The comments I’ve heard about Mike Green by hockey pundits like Phil Esposito, Don Cherry and Mike Milbury, among others (“he takes the wrong angle to puck carriers, gives up the puck in in his own end more often than you’d expect from an upper echelon defenseman, gets caught up ice leading to out manned attacks”, etc) don’t make sense if he really is an elite blue liner…Mike Green will never make anyone forget Borje Salming, Larry Robinson or even Brad Park. In fact despite his Norris Trophy nominations I’ve never heard any long time hockey observer describe Mike Green as a great defender. Why? Because he isn’t. He’s a gifted scorer and an a decent\average defender. And I could live with that if the Caps didn’t play so deplorably in their own end (see the two most recent games on the road against San Jose and Los Angeles, among many, many others) OR if he could stay healthy OR if the Caps would resume compensating for their frequent team-wide defensive shortcomings by scoring the way they did the season before last when they tallied 313 goals, as I recall. That stye of hockey (absent defense) rarely wins Cups, though. The 1971 Boston Bruin club that was nothing special on defense, but who scored 399 goals with Bobby Orr, Ken Hodge, the afore-mentioned Phil Esposito, John Bucyk, John Pie McKenzie, Derek Sanderson, et al is the only exception to that rule that comes to mind in the last 40 years.

So Kusnetsov isn’t contractually available this year? I guess that leaves next year then—or as soon as he can get here because without a collection of really good two way players (like Pittsburgh’s) the Caps’ only hope is to outscore their opponents—or so it seems to me. At least they’d be more entertaining, although if they ever assimilate Dale Hunter’s system and it ends up translating into wins against strong clubs on the road it would thrill me to death…

As for the enigma Alex Semin, I’ll concede that this season he’s making fewer mistakes in his own end and taking far fewer dumb cluck penalties at critical junctures in games than he has in the past. But someone with his eye-popping offensive skill (which would make his inconsistency on the forecheck and backcheck much more tolerable) shouldn’t go through extended scoring droughts like he does. He has 50-goal talent written all over him. He has the hands to at least approximate Steven Stamkos’ production, in my opinion. But he’s either disappears for long stretches of games, or he does inexplicably dumb things, or he gets injured. I don’t know where to go with this guy except trade him, and mind you I’ve always absolutely LOVED this guy’s pure ability…

Clifford

Posted by Clifford on 01/10/12 at 04:20 PM ET

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Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate.  This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals.  The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.

In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at  York College of Pennsylvania.  I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland. 

You can follow me on twitter @FStreetTate but I must warn that I do tweet about more than hockey. You can also e-mail me at any time at overtheboard@gmail.com.