Until the 2010-11 campaign, Mike Green had never experienced a year of his professional career so wrecked and ravaged by injury.
First it was his shoulder, his knee and a pair of concussions that limited him to only 49 regular season games. When he finally returned in the playoffs, a hip-flexor injury forced him out again. The Washington Capitals’ flashy defenseman, fresh off two consecutive Norris Trophy nominations, hardly had a chance to develop any kind of rhythm.
“It was just a frustrating season,” Green said. “I’ve never been in that position before when I’ve been out so many games, in and out of the lineup. It was hard to get a flow throughout the season, I’m used to playing every game and having that flow and being productive. I just lost that time.”
Green, 25, returned to Washington before the start of training camp looking leaner and more chiseled. He took a month off after the playoffs ended to fully recover from the many injuries that plagued his season before he dedicated himself to offseason training.
Now, Green assures, he is truly healthy for the upcoming season, which looms large for the Calgary native. It provides the opportunity for a bounce-back year on all fronts entering the final season of the four-year, $21 million contract Green earned for his potential as a 22-year-old.
In each of the past four seasons, Green has led the Capitals in ice time per game and played no less than an average of 23 minutes 37 seconds. Even last year, not including three games he left because of injury, Green never played fewer than 20 minutes in a single contest. This season, though, the Capitals have a defense teeming with experience and blue-liners accustomed to heavy workloads and responsibility.
“We’ve got a lot of guys used to a lot of minutes,” said Coach Bruce Boudreau, who along with General Manager George McPhee has hinted strongly that Green could be paired with offseason acquisition Roman Hamrlik. “It’s going to be a little bit of a challenge, but a real good challenge to have. I think all of the people we have on the team are all about winning, and if it means you play a little bit less or a little bit more and we’re being successful, then they’re fine with that.”
Regardless of precisely how much ice time Green gets, the defenseman has arrived back in Washington looking, as Boudreau said, a little more “serious” and with a “businesslike” approach.
Green, who struggled earlier in his career with training techniques and nutrition routines, renewed his focus on taking better care of himself this offseason, whether in terms of diet or the amount of sleep he had each night.
“We’re not young anymore,” Green said of himself and fellow “Young Guns” Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. “Things that you thought were important in the past really aren’t. You find what’s important, what means the most to you in terms of goals and what you need to do to be there. . . . It’s just a matter of us committing and preparing ourselves for the important part of the season. We need to do it as a group, and I believe we have the right guys here. We just have to go out and do it.”
It’s a common theme among the Capitals at the start of training camp this weekend, as the team continues to stress accountability. As Green approaches his 26th birthday on Oct. 12, he hopes the group of players he grew up with can help guide some of their younger teammates.
“We can help them through it, help them understand that the lifestyle isn’t everything right now,” Green said. “There are more important goals…We had to learn the hard way.”
Capitals note: Hamrlik participated in practice Sunday with no ill effects despite leaving the conditioning test on Saturday with tightness in his groin.