Green Says New Deal Won't Go to His Head

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 30, 2008

NEWARK, Sept. 29 -- Last September, Mike Green came to training camp simply hoping to earn a job. By April, the young defenseman had earned so much more: fan favorite status at Verizon Center, a catchy new nickname and enough leverage to negotiate one of the league's highest salaries.

But Green's challenge these days, he said, might be even more daunting than the one he faced a year ago.

"Of course there's pressure, pressure to make sure you're producing because you did the year before," said Green, who scored a goal in Monday night's 3-2 preseason victory over the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. "But I want to push myself. I want to get more goals. I want to get 25 this season."

Considering Green's slow start under Glen Hanlon (three goals in 21 games) last season, scoring 25 isn't out of the question. His offensive stats spiked under Bruce Boudreau, a proponent of Green's since their days together in Hershey, Pa.

So upon replacing Hanlon last November, Boudreau removed the reins from the sweet-skating defenseman, increased his ice time and put him on the power play. Green scored a goal in each of Boudreau's first two games behind the bench and, except for a March slump, he never looked back.

Green ended up leading the Capitals in ice time (averaging 23 minutes 38 seconds) and all NHL defensemen with 18 goals, three in overtime. His knack for scoring in the clutch earned him the nickname "Game Over Green" while his nifty stick-handling and daring end-to-end rushes won over fans in Washington, where by midseason, fans started showing up with T-shirts bearing the words "Gang Green" on the front and "Game Over" on the back.

His reward was a four-year contract extension that will pay him $5.25 million per season, the 19th-highest annual salary for a defenseman. It's an unfathomable amount of money for Green, the product of a modest upbringing in a working-class neighborhood in Calgary.

"I didn't have all the luxury things some folks had," said Green, the middle of three children raised by Kate and Dave Green. "I had roller blades and a hockey stick. But I think that helped me. Nothing was given to me; I had to work for it."

"It probably won't hit me until I get that first check," he added. "It's definitely a comforting feeling, but it doesn't change anything."

Said Boudreau: "He's the kind of guy who says, 'I know I've got a lot of money and now I'm going to have to show them that I'm worth it.' He's not one to take things for granted. . . . A few years ago, his parents wrote me and my wife a letter thanking us. When you come from good stock, money doesn't change you."

It has, though, allowed Green to purchase a luxurious Arlington condominium and upgrade from a Nissan 350Z to a customized Cadillac Escalade. But the bigger paycheck won't change his work ethic, he said. In fact, if anything, it's made him work harder. During the offseason, Green added nine pounds of muscle, while reducing his body fat, and now is listed at 6 feet 2, 208 pounds.

In addition to bulking up, Green said he also wants to refine his play in the Capitals' end, a process that can often take years for defensemen.

"Defense is a hard position to master," Boudreau said. "So much of it is playing the angles. The longer he plays in this league, the better he'll understand that. He's got years left to grow as a hockey player. We haven't even touched on how good Mike Green is going to be."

Capitals Notes: Forward Viktor Kozlov suffered a mildly strained groin in the first period and did not return. The injury is not believed to be serious, but he is not expected to practice Tuesday. . . . Michael Nylander had two primary assists while Green, Boyd Gordon and Alex Ovechkin scored for the Capitals, who improved to 4-0 in the preseason. Brent Johnson earned his second win, stopping all 18 shots he faced in the first 40 minutes.

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