Theme: “I'm always making a comeback but nobody ever tells me where I've been.”
-- Billie Holiday
One might take that quote in a number of ways as it applies to Mike Green. First off, there is the matter of concussions. He suffered one, perhaps two as a result of: a) taking a shot off his helmet courtesy of Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik on February 6th, and b) an elbow to the head from New York Ranger Derek Stepan on February 25th. The latter incident forced Green to miss the remainder of the regular season, but even upon his return his head could not avoid harm. In the series-clinching game of the opening round against the Rangers, Green took a shot from the Rangers’ Matt Gilroy flush in the noggin, popping screws off his helmet. One might forgive Green if a good portion of the season was remembered only through a fog.
The result of his assorted injuries was that Green missed a total of 33 games, the 49 games he did play being the lowest number of games played since his first year in Washington, in 2005-2006. It brought the total of missed games for Green to 54 over the past three seasons after he played in all 82 games in the 2007-2008 season. And it is this trend, forged over the past three seasons, that is of as much concern as the nature of the injuries he suffered last season.
But when Green was in the lineup, something interesting was going on, and that brings us to the second way you might take that quote. In 2008-2009 Green scored 31 goals in only 68 games played, a 37-goal scoring pace ove 82 games. But was he sacrificing defense to that end? He had the second highest Corsi value on-ice at 5-on-5 that season among defensemen playing in at least 50 games, but his relative Corsi value dropped to 12th in that group (numbers from behindthenet.ca). Think it was a big drop? Well, here is context. 110 defensemen that season were on ice for more goals than Mike Green. That would be roughly consistent with his ranking 98th in quality of competition faced, but the picture is one of a generally competent defenseman, not a forward in defenseman’s clothing. He hasn't "been" anywhere; he's been there all the time, a better defenseman than many might think.
In 2009-2010 Green did himself one better – or three better, actually – in points scoring, going from 73 to 76 points and again being a better than a point-per-game scorer from the blue line (75 games). He did it facing a bit stiffer competition (86th among defensemen at 5-on-5 playing in at least 50 games), although his relative Corsi value dropped to 36th in that group of defensemen. There was still the matter of there being 48 defensemen in the league having been on the ice for more goals against than Green. Last season there were 157, although that can be attributed to his missing those 33 games. He did slip, though, in quality of competition faced, no doubt a product of the competition burden the kid defensemen – Karl Alzner and John Carlson – were bearing.
Fearless’ Take: Over the last four seasons Green has grown into a more physical player. His hit totals have increased, on a per-82 game basis, from 94 to 133, dropping to 115 before jumping to 182 last season.
Cheerless’ Take: That takeaway-to-giveaway ratio of 0.56:1 over the past four years isn’t anything to get all excited about. Compare that to some defensemen of note last season. Shea Weber was 1.22:1. Kevin Bieksa was 1.22:1. Dan Hamhuis was 1.30:1. Marc Staal was 1.46:1. How those things are scored might vary by the scorer’s eye from rink to rink, but that’s still a mighty big difference.
The Big Question… Has Mike Green’s injury trend made him less valuable to the Caps?
The Caps certainly have hedged their bets in answering this question with Dennis Wideman and Roman Hamrlik in the fold, either one being able to provide some offense (they combined for 74 points last year), although whether either is an upgrade to Green on defense is an open question (Hamrlik perhaps being the best among the three). The answer to this question, however, might have to wait until the season is over. There, the intersection of both Green and John Carlson reaching restricted free agency might force the Caps into an either/or choice. And if Green’s health is again an issue, it would have to impact his value to the club.
In the end…
Back to the original statement. Mike Green might be poised to make something of a comeback in terms of his scoring statistics, although like other Caps we looked at, we think we have seen his career year. That doesn’t mean he will not remain a dangerous offensive player. And he is among the better puck-carriers in the league. He does remain a high-risk/high-reward player in that last season he was second on the team in giveaways and among the top 35 in the league, despite missing those 33 games.
He is not, however, as commonly assumed, a liability on defense. Be assured, if there was a Rod Langway Award for top defensive defensemen, Green would not soon be among the finalists for such an award. But the giveaway issue aside, he is a better defenseman than that for which he is given credit. As we noted, “where he has been” is right where he is – a competent defenseman in his own zone who has superior gifts in the offensive zone. With this team, though, and the manner in which they have provided for depth in the kind of defenseman Green is, he is not likely to approach those career numbers set in 2008-2009 or 2009-2010.
Projection: 68 games: 13-30-43, +14
(Photo: Reuters/Jason Cohn)