The speculation had frothed since the season ended, wondering whether Mike Green would remain part of his team’s plans, no louder than after the Capitals left free agency with $69 million committed to two new defensemen. Green’s status, as an unrestricted free agent next summer with a hefty $6,083,333 cap hit (and a limited no-trade clause), could provide enticing trade bait. But General Manager Brian MacLellan continued to back the 28-year-old, as he has done since arriving on the job one month ago.
“He’s a good player,” MacLellan said. “He had a little bit of struggles with injuries last year. He had an okay year. But we’re hoping to get him back on track, yes.”
Improving upon Green’s inconsistent season of high possession numbers (51.7 percent Corsi-for, tops on the team) and low on-ice goal differentials (minus-10 in five-on-five situations, with a 44.8 percent goals-for rate) will be among Coach Barry Trotz’s top priorities, especially if the Capitals are bullish about the puck-moving Green coexisting alongside their new additions.
“I think Mike, his resume speaks for itself in terms of what he can do,” said assistant coach Todd Reirden, who will work with the defensemen. “Offensively I’ve seen it first-hand on the opposite bench, his ability on the power play and at even-strength to be able to add offensively, he’s an extremely talented player.”
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Green’s agent said he recently spoke with Green and received no indication his client was anything but pleased with the signings of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik.
“He’s excited about the additions because it makes the team better today than it was yesterday,” Craig Oster said.
Now that the Washington Capitals have splashed into free agency with two long, lucrative signings that, in the eyes of MacLellan, addressed the team’s sore defensive needs, the attention turns to an offseason of waiting. Save the possible late addition of a center, after unrestricted free agent Mikhail Grabovski signed with the Islanders, the roster appears, again in the eyes of MacLellan, to be complete. Months remain until postseason, and with only developmental camp lurking between now and then, plenty of time exists to review the roster and plan.
“I like our defense,” MacLellan said Tuesday. “We have six really good defensemen … I think we feel comfortable with where we’re at now.”
So where do Orpik and Niskanen factor into the defensive pairings? MacLellan expects Niskanen, John Carlson and Green to play on the right side, leaving Karl Alzner, Dmitry Orlov and Orpik manning the left.
Carlson and Orpik played together sparingly with the United States at the Sochi Olympics, and both Orpik and Niskanen come from the Penguins. Their on-ice time together was low (only 80 minutes last season) but the comfort level already exists.
MacLellan also mentioned the possibility of pairing Orpik with Green to “help stabilize [Green’s] game, make him feel a little more confident in the D zone and maybe give him more confidence to go offensively.”
“In terms of true pairs, that’s something I’m going to continue to look over video and see what things can work well,” Reirden said. “We’ll go through that in preseason. I certainly like the options that are in front of me right now.”
The possibility remains that Green could be a solid deadline trade chip, an expiring contract dealt to a fringe postseason contender seeking one final boost. But for now, MacLellan left nothing uncertain: Green is part of the Capitals, and they plan to keep him.
“That situation, I haven’t had a chance to reach out to him yet, just coming in the last couple days, we’ve been pushing towards free agency here,” Reirden said. “Certainly that’s something I look forward to having a conversation here in the next few days. Again, his talent level speaks for itself.”