While the NHL owners seek to install draconian measures to dramatically reduce the earning power and freedom of the league's players, Mike Green was able to cash in under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement on Monday.
Despite missing more games (83) than he played (81) over the past two seasons, the high-scoring Capitals defenseman agreed to a three-year, $18.25 million extension with Washington that will carry a $6.083 million cap hit through 2014-15.
That deal may be the latest example of why the owners need someone to protect them from themselves, but that shouldn't be the responsibility of Mike Green or the NHL Players' Association as a whole. Green took advantage of the rights still available to him, and the restricted free agent's decision Sunday to reject the club's one-year qualifying offer proved a wise one, as he landed the multiyear deal he sought less than 24 hours later.
Whether it proves a wise decision for Washington will be determined by whether Green spends more time on the ice than on the trainer's table in the next three years. Assuming, of course, the owners allow him access to either by not imposing another lockout.
Green, who carried a $5.25 million cap hit on his previous four-year deal, is capable of being a game-changing offensive force from the blue line. He put up three straight seasons with 18 or more goals from 2007-08 to 2009-10, including a monster 31-42-73 campaign in 68 games in 2008-09.
He followed that up with a 19-57-76 line in 75 games in 2009-10, averaging more than a point a game in that two-year span with 149 points in 143 games. Much of that damage was done on the power play, where Green's numbers — 18-20-38 in 2008-09 and 10-25-35 in 2009-10 — were better than most defensemen's overall point totals.
If Green can get back to that level of production, the investment Washington made on Monday will be money well spent. But can Green get back to that level?
He's only 26, but there's a lot of wear and tear on that body. He was limited to 32 games last year by an ankle injury and a recurring groin problem. That came after playing just 49 games in 2010-11 due to concussion-related issues.
Even when he did play, Green was far from the force he had been in previous seasons, managing just 31 points over 81 games with 3-4-7 totals last year and 8-16-24 totals in 2010-11. Even that limited production became more dependent on power-play time, as Green did not score an even-strength goal last season.
That's a disturbing trend, especially for a defenseman who has earned a reputation for being somewhat one-dimensional. While Green's defensive deficiencies are often overblown, he's clearly more comfortable leading an attack than attempting to defend one.
Those struggles contributed to his falling short in the Norris voting during his two big offensive seasons, but Green also had over 100 blocked shots and was a combined plus-63 in those two years. He also showed his willingness to commit to a more demanding defensive system this past year, answering coach Dale Hunter's team-wide call to get into the shooting lanes with 28 blocks in 14 playoffs games.
That may not be the wisest course of action for a player who has been plagued by injuries as much as Green has in recent seasons, but it does show a determination to play a better all-around game. And new coach Adam Oates is likely to open things up a bit more, which should play more to Green's strengths.
The hope that Green would be able to stay healthy and return to his old form was the primary reason for the Capitals coughing up so much money. But Washington was also in a bit of a bind on the blue line and really couldn't afford to not lock Green up after allowing Dennis Wideman to leave earlier this offseason.
Wideman led the Caps defense in scoring last year, though his 11-35-46 totals didn't come close to Green's old numbers and Wideman was a minus-8. Still, Wideman earned a five-year, $26.25 million deal from the Flames in part because of his durability. Wideman played all 82 games last year and has played at least 75 games in each of the last six seasons.
The most games Green has played in the last four years is 75, but the Capitals are gambling that he will be able to put those injury issues behind him over the next three years. They might not get good odds on that, but the payoff if it does happen will be impressive.
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