When Mike Green took the NHL by storm recording 73 and 76 points in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, respectively, the popular joke was that he was a winger listed as a defenseman. Green had free rein to jump in the play, pinch and try to find any way to maximize his offensive contributions in the days of the run-and-gun offensive Capitals under then-coach Bruce Boudreau.
This season, Coach Adam Oates certainly encourages Green to be involved offensively, but he’s placed some restrictions on the two-time Norris Trophy finalist. Oates doesn’t want Green below the top of the faceoff circles, as CBC’s Elliotte Friedman first noted in his weekly 30 Thoughts column.
Call it the Ray Bourque rule, if you will. Oates always respected the Hall of Famer defenseman’s ability to contribute offensively while still being a sound defensive player during their time as teammates in Boston. He wants to give Green the same type of structure and allow for the Calgary native to be in better position to distribute the puck in breakouts and offensive zone entries.
“When I played with Ray, that was always Ray’s philosophy. His job was to get to the offensive zone and contribute on the offensive blueline,” Oates said. “You know, you’re not a forward, you’re a defenseman. At the end of the day, you’re still a defenseman. And it’s more important for us to have Mike available for those 27 minutes handling the puck than it is for him to be behind their net.”
Green, 27, doesn’t mind the change. He understands that teams are looking to take advantage of a pinching defenseman more than they used to, and that he still has plenty of freedom to make the correct decision about jumping up in the play. It’s about making the right one, and not putting the team at risk.
“You can always jump down in the holes and whatnot, but I think off the rush there’s no need to get up in the play and go past the top of the circles,” Green said. “If you’re getting quality chances it’s going to be at the top of the circles.
“If there’s an opportunity to jump up in the play and I’m going to create a 3-on-1 or something, I’m obviously going to do it,” he said. “It’s a hockey read and that’s what he talks about a lot, making hockey reads. But there’s no need to be up in the play over the top of the circles. If it’s a 3-on-3 there’s no need. We’ve talked about it and it’s very clear what our limits are, and that’s that.”
Oates said the guideline extends to the rest of the defensemen as well, though it doesn’t impact the rest of them quite as much as it does Green.
As Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson have stressed from the beginning, it’s a part of the system for the defensemen to be involved in the play offensively. But while they’re encouraged to join offensive possessions, each player is responsible for being aware of what’s happening on the ice and making the correct decision when it comes to jumping up.
“The system tells us when to pinch and when not to pinch. You look over your shoulder, and if you have a forward supporting to you and they’re rimming the puck, if you think you can get it, you go down and you be aggressive,” Jack Hillen explained. “That’s why you have a system. I never think twice about it; I’ve never second-guessed whether the forward’s going to be there. And if you look over and you think the forward won’t be able to get back, you just don’t go and you play it safe. You only go when you’re a hundred percent sure that your forward’s backing you up and you can get the puck.”