The Toronto Maple Leafs, who play the Washington Capitals here Saturday night, have lost Darryl Sittler, their superstar center, for at least six weeks with a knee injury. Walt McKechnie has been slowed by tendinitis in his ankle and another center, Don Ashby, recently retired.
Since the Capitals have five centers on their prsent roster, it was suggested to General Manager Max McNab that this might be the time to execute an advantageous deal with the Leafs.
"The only guy they want is Green," McNab replied.
Defenseman Rick Green is strictly in the red as far as statistics go, which a minus-33 rating that not only is low on the team but threatens to match Bill Mikkelson's seemingly inpregnable minus-82 of year one. yet nobody outside the end sections at Capital Centre is uttering a disparaging word about the 6-foot-3, 211-pounder who was the first choice in the 1976 amateur draft.
"Green is the best defenseman we've got," said Coach Danny Belisle. "He's one of the best in the league. The main reason he's on for so many goals is because we put him in so many pressure situations."
Green used his weight to take opponents out of the play, he carries the puck well and he is not intimidated by anyone. Only the lack of anticipation, that rare ability to adjust to something that has not yet happened, threatens to keep him from superstar status. Still, those minuses keep pilling up.
"I'm aware of it," Green said. "I know I'm leading the team. But it's not brought up to me by either Danny or Max. A lot of times I just happen to be on the ice when we get burned for a bad goal.
"I'm doing my best to cut down on the goals against. I'm trying to get on the plus side. But it seems like I'm alwasys on for them. It does bother me. It's really frustratint.
"We're getting goals scored against us all the time, some in pretty strange ways, and we have trouble getting goals for us. We're working to make things happen and it just doesn't seem to be going our way. But we'll keep plugging It's going to happen for us. We've got potential. We're going to make it work. It's got to turn -- I hope."
If it doesn't, if the Capitals truly are destined for permanent despair, Green can take consolation from the fact that his three-year contract expires this spring. Should he fail to agree to terms, he almost certainly would be traded, rather than be permitted to play through his option year and become a free agent.
Toronto is not the only NHL club to express repeated interest. Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles are others casting covetous glances at the big guy with so much talent and so many red marks.
Green's defensive partner, Pete Scamurra, was examined in Buffalo today and found to have an acid buildup in his stomach that could have produced an ulcer. With medication and a strict diet, he will play Saturday night.
Belisle, who may have missed his calling by being born a few years too late to emcee "What's My Line?", today restored Bob Sirois to the No. 1 unit with Dennis Maruk and Tom Rowe.
Belisle's starting Christmas shift of a week ago, placing Sirois with Ryan Walter and Bill Riley, while moving Greg Carroll onto the Marku-Rowe line, had acquired an April Fool taint, upsetting the players as well as the team's scoring production.