Thursday, September 08, 2011

Young Guns, One and All -- Part 4: Mike Green in the Playoff Era

The individual parts of this series end with a look at Mike Green in the Caps’ playoff era. As befits his position, that being “defenseman,” there are some differences in his performance from his Young Gun cohorts. But there are some similarities as well.

There is the familiar bend in the player’s trend line – a sluggish start, a period of high production, and a tapering off. But where Green’s trend line differs from those of his cohorts is the late effects of injury on production. It is more profound than even the effects of injury absences on Alexander Semin’s production:

(click on picture for larger version) 

Green began the four-year playoff era for the Caps having appeared in all 82 games in the 2007-2008 season. And in that season he established himself as one of the best offensive defensemen in the game with an 18-38-56, plus-6 season. In a sense, it has been downhill from there in an important respect. In the three years since, Green appeared in 192 of 246 games (78 percent of the contests). That number includes only 49 appearances last year. He appeared in only one of the last 26 games of the year, and in that one he lasted two shifts and had 2:25 of playing time before sustaining a concussion that caused him to miss the last 20 regular season games.

That has the effect of pulling that trend line down earlier and more sharply than his teammates. And it raises a question. The question is not whether Green is a talented offensive defenseman; he is. He produced at a 40-point pace last year, which still would have left him among the top 25 scoring defensemen in the league. Not a bad pace for someone who missed as many games as he did as often as he did (he had five separate instances in which he missed at least two consecutive games, including that 20-game streak at the end).

The question is whether Green can be a durable enough defenseman to provide reliable production from that position. The matter of his durability might have factored into the decision to pursue Dennis Wideman at the trade deadline last season (he was obtained days after Green suffered the concussion that ended his regular season). And it might be a factor in the Caps having signed Roman Hamrlik to the blue line this past summer. Missing 54 of the last 228 regular season games the Caps have played, it is an open question.

The silver lining, if you will, is that despite all those games missed, the Caps still managed to bend that standings points trend line upward at the end of the 2010-2011 season. They were 16-3-1 in those last 20 games of the regular season that Green missed. Stranger still, perhaps, is that in the four losses the Caps allowed as many as three goals in regulation only once. Did the Caps evolve into a team that could successfully absorb the absence of a key offensive component such as Mike Green?

Mike Green poses something of a uniquely diverse set of considerations. One could think to themselves that if Green returns to anything close to what he was in even the 2007-2008 level of offensive production (18-38-56), let alone the 70-point player he was on two occasions, the Caps could be an unstoppable force. On the other hand, have the Caps so remade themselves into a defensively formidable team that Green’s offense is superfluous? Or, does his higher risk tendencies with the puck make him a weaker link in that defense? Then again, is it going to matter if Green is becoming a player susceptible to stretches of absences due to injury?

How Green fits into the Caps’ scheme of things will be among the more interesting subplots to the upcoming season. Until this past season, he had established himself as the most productive offensive defenseman in the NHL. In 2011-2012 he does not have to return to that level of production – the club around him, even on the blue line, is much stronger than when he was putting up 70-point seasons. But in a league where having a solid top-four defensive squad is gold, one would think that Green has to be productive and durable to make that top-four as solid as it needs to be, even with the addition of a Dennis Wideman, a Roman Hamrlik, or the emergence of a John Carlson.

That is a look at the individual members of the Young Guns at an individual level. Is there to this than the sum of the parts, though? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see about that.