The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

No extension talks for defenseman Mike Green, but confidence from Capitals brass

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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Back on July 1, after Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan signed defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to lucrative deals worth a combined $67.75 million, a residual question arose, impacted by the two former Penguins hired to shore up Washington’s blue line:

What does this mean for Mike Green?

At the time, MacLellan answered with confidence. The two-time Norris Trophy runner-up was still part of the organization’s plans, he said, despite an inconsistent season limited by conservative defensive assignments and marked by untimely turnovers. No, he continued, having Orpik and Niskanen did not make Green expendable. They just wanted him “back on track.”

MacLellan repeated that confidence on Friday, the opening of Capitals training camp, though since July his praise Green had always been followed by a coda: “When he’s playing well.”

Green can be one of the NHL’s “elite power play players,” when he’s playing well.

Green is “one of the best defensemen in the league,” when he’s playing well.

And so this upcoming season, the final for Green on a contract that had paid him $6.083 million annually since 2012-13, was dubbed by MacLellan as a “feeling-out period,” because though MacLellan assumed Green would continue to play a role in Washington, he needed to see more before opening the lines for extension talk. (To be fair, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Jay Beagle, Aaron Volpatti, John Erskine and Jack Hillen all enter unrestricted free agency next summer too.)

“No, I think there’s a lot of uncertainty here,” MacLellan said, when asked if negotiations had begun. “I think we need to get into the season, see how our D pans out, what the pairs are like, how it looks. I think we need to play some games.”

Often paired with Dmitry Orlov, Green posted a 51.8 percent Corsi-for last season and his 38 points – 23 at even-strength – led the Capitals, but the inconsistency came from defensive zone giveaways and his even-strength goals-for percentage (44.8) was a career-low.

Under Trotz, who wants to return Green to his puck-moving strengths, the Capitals hope their third highest-paid player can regain the form shown in the late 2000s, when his points twice topped 70, his Corsi-for topped 54 percent and his stock was never higher.

“I think he’ll benefit from the guys we brought in,” MacLellan said. “There’s going to be less pressure on him to put up points. There will be less pressure on him to carry the load for our team. We’ve got five really solid players back there that can carry the load at different times.

“Brooks Orpik’s going to add a lot. I don’t know if he’ll be paired with Mike Green, but whatever pair he’s on is going to take probably the heavy matchups. That’s going to free Mike up to play the way he wants to play. Hopefully it’s loose, hopefully it’s fun to watch. He moves the puck well. He jumps in the play well. All those things, we’re looking for Mike for this year.”

A member of Trotz’s leadership group, and one of three assistant captains last season, Green has been embraced by the new regime as a central piece, something of which he has taken notice.

“I’m just excited,” he said. “Very encouraging with the new coaches and the mentality that’s been implemented here over the last three months since they’ve taken over. It’s been very encouraging, very excited to get going.”

Yet whether the Capitals and Green’s camp begin extension talks sometime later, MacLellan said, hinges on whether the fresh start turns into results.

“I think we want to see where he’s at,” MacLellan said. ‘I imagine he wants to identify where his role is going to be and the comfort level with our organization and our coaching staff and management.”