The prospect of leaving the Washington Capitals had already “scared the [heck]” out of defenseman Mike Green even before the postseason reached its disappointing conclusion, so of course the feeling had not yet dissipated when he arrived to address reporters one last time. Friday afternoon, the 29-year-old sported a freshly trimmed beard, slicked-back hair and the soft tone of someone facing an uncertain future. In less than three months, Green will enter unrestricted free agency. His time with the only NHL organization he ever knew might have been running short.
“It’s hard to think that the uncertainty of this summer and what might happen, is probably a little scary at times for myself to think that anything can happen,” he said. “I’ve got to thank Washington for everything, up until this point. It’s been quite the journey and we’ll see what happens.”
Younger versions of himself shied away from contract negotiations, leaving the business side of hockey to agents and management, but this time Green wanted full involvement. This summer promises to dump Green at the biggest crossroads of his decade-long career, when suitors will come calling for the right-handed, former Norris Trophy finalist who finished second among regular NHL blue-liners in points per 60 minutes this season, per stats.hockeyanalysis.com. The Capitals had already decided against trading Green’s expiring contract, but never opened extension negotiations. It seems unlikely they will have enough salary cap space to make a competing offer for someone who made over $6 million this season in a third-pairing role.
“I want to play a significant role, and whatever that is, I take pride in whatever my role is on the team,” Green said. “I feel I can play top-two [pair] for sure. This year I was paired on the third line and I took pride in every time I went on the ice, to do my best and contribute to the team, just like every other player did in the dressing room. Yeah, I think that could come into play, and we’ll see what happens.”
The reduced ice time, he admitted, would be a chicken-or-egg conundrum moving forward. Averaging fewer minutes than he had since his rookie season in 2006-07, handed lighter defensive assignments and more offensive-zone starts, Green posted his best even-strength points-per-60 total since 2009-10 and his highest even-strength unblocked shot attempt rate since 2008-09.
He wasn’t the 30-goal, 70-point machine of seven years ago, the one who teammate Karl Alzner said “set the standard for offensive defensemen in the league.” But he was a valuable puck-moving asset who zipped around opposing third and fourth lines, stayed healthy to play 72 games and recorded more points (45) than he had since 2009-10.
“It was a good way that we did it with Mike, it allowed him to be fresher,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He played a full season for the most part. He wasn’t as banged up as he was in the past. We could move him up in terms of minutes when we’re down in games, and we did that. I think it brought freshness to his game.
“His ability to defend with some of his technique and his gap control and his detail, the way he practiced and also with his stick in defending and breaking up plays were so much better than they were in the past. And it started with the player.”
And now it will end with him, choosing his next destination and possibly bidding farewell to the Capitals. Free agency doesn’t open until July 1, and the window for talking with other clubs begins only shortly before that. So for now, Green could only balance the bittersweet emotions Friday left him, after another second-round exit in Washington, at the start of this hazy future.
“It’s about winning a [Stanley] Cup for me now,” he said. “It’s not just about the money. Obviously it’s nice and you want to be valued properly, but it’s not about that for me. It’s about putting myself in a position to win.
“We’ll see what happens. They’ve got a lot of work they’ve got to do this summer too. The business side of it, we’ll see if everything works out.”