Washington Capitals Take Big Risk With Big Investment in Mike Green

July 16, 2012 | Andrew Tomlinson

The Washington Capitals are taking a big risk by signing Mike Green to a reported three-year $18.25-million dollar contract, as the defenseman has yet to show he can play at a high level for multiple seasons.

It is no secret Mike Green was at one time a face of the Capitals’ franchise. A founding member of the “Young Guns” quartet — a Capitals marketing campaign, not a new boy band — Green has broken the NHL record for consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman, earned the nickname “Game Over Mike Green” and been a Norris Trophy candidate. Several injuries and largely inconsistent play have made him anything but a lock to be a productive defenseman for the rest of his career though.

Green declined to sign is qualifying offer of five-million dollars from the Caps, but him walking away was something everyone knew would not happen. With the Caps letting Dennis Wideman walk to the Calgary Flames and an already thin defensive core, they couldn’t let him walk away or they would risk failing to field a competitive team. It is not as if they were out of options though and the one they chose, they may regret going forward.

Saddled with a concussion, ankle and wrist injuries the last few years, Green is becoming nothing but a question mark for this team. After starting out white-hot to start the season, Green went down after taking a puck to the face and never regained his form. He started out with three goals and three assists before the injury and after, he had just one assist in February, March and the handful of games in April. He may have contributed two goals to go with two helpers in the playoffs, but altogether his totals from last year do not justify the size of the contract he got.

Using CapGeek.com to look at Green’s cap-hit, quickly you find out he is being payed a similar amount of money as players head and shoulders better than him. Comparable hits include Brett Burns from the San Jose Sharks, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith from the Chicago Blackhawks, Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins. During his three year stint as an offensive powerhouse from the blue line, Green might have deserved the same money as the players previously named, but not after the last two he has had.

When you talk about Green being overpaid, it isn’t an indictment on his ability or skill set, but instead on his ability to stay on the ice to use it consistently. Between 2006 and the end of the 2009-2010 season, Green was one of the top defenseman in the league. His stats have to come with a sort of asterisk though, as the team he played on was the definition of fire-wagon hockey. In the last two season, with a return to a defensive system, not only has Green only put up 31-points, but he also a paltry plus-11.

Perhaps most concerning about all of those stats, is it has come in only 81 games over two years. Considering an NHL season is 82 games long, it is not a good sign Green hasn’t even played the equivalent of one season over his last two. Recurring nagging injures and a few discipline problems have kept him in and out of the lineup. A guy cannot be defined by just two years of his career, but Green has only played a full season once in his seven years an NHLer, which is not good.

It is his consistent inability to stay on the ice that really makes this deal a head-scratcher. If you are the Caps why not head to arbitration, the worst case scenario is he earns more money for one year and you make him earn the long term contract next season. Now though, the team is linked to him for at least three years when they had other options.

Perhaps most puzzling about the extension is the Caps have a player in John Carlson ready to step in to the role currently occupied by Green shortly. Even though Carlson regressed a bit last year, the young hard shooting d-man plays the exact same game as Green and in at least a year should be ready to take over for Green. It seems feasible then, that Washington could have signed him to a shorter deal, especially since Green only wanted a two year deal originally.

Moving forward Washington has to live up to the decision it has made and while they may have a lot of cap space now, as they start to retool the roster, the space occupied by Green might be something they wish they could use. If he stays on the ice and comes back to form, Green’s deal is a steal and gives Washington flexibility, but if his career is any indication of his future, it looks like he might not be a risk worth taking.

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