WASHINGTON DC - DECEMBER 09: Mike Green #52 of the Washington Capitals shoots the puck down the ice against the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on December 9 2010 in Washington DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Valuation of a hockey player is a funny thing. It's arguably the single most important facet when it comes to building a team, yet no one knows exactly how to do it. Of course, you can make the obvious calls - Alex Ovechkin is better than Boyd Gordon, John Carlson is better than John Erskine, that kind of thing - but exactly how much one should weigh intangibles, how to divorce perferences from production, the impact of your team's system versus another team's system, how to project player ability and performance, and, finally, how you put a numerical value on a player given the inherent uncertaintly of a moving salary cap, future injuries, and prospect development is an imperfect science.
Happiness is also a funny thing. While it seems like the basic tenets should be fairly simple, having them in abundance doesn't necessarily correlate with a higher level, and even as people advance in their careers, earn more money, and start families, happiness is far from assured. In some circles it's thought that this is due to happiness not being a solely a function of someone's stock in life, but how that stock relates to their expectations. That is, a person who expected to make $30,000 a year and finds themselves making $35,000 may be happier with his salary than his neighbor who makes $50,000 but expects to be making $60,000.
When I hear people talk about trading Mike Green, I can't help but wonder if the same thing is happening; if the historically great three-season stretch of offense he put up from 2007 to 2010 has raised people's expectations to the point they can't see just how productive the 25-year-old blueline was, even this past season.
It's not that I don't understand or share the desire to shake this team up, because I do. It's also not that I think Mike Green is untouchable, because I don't. It's that when I try and take the emotional aspect out, I find it difficult to believe the Washington Capitals will be a better hockey team without Mike Green because I don't see a realistic way to replace his on-ice production.
Make no mistake about it, replacement - and in Green's case that means about 25 minutes a night, including four or five minutes of powerplay time - is the key issue. Some of that could go to John Carlson and Karl Alzner, but with each having only one full NHL season under their respective belts, counting on them to take on even more responsibility is a gamble.
Green's absence would also mean larger roles for Jeff Schultz and John Erskine, and while both can be productive players, both are also best utilized when their minutes are limited and their opposition is controlled. They're also both slow skaters lacking agility. Skating ability is already arguably a weakness on Washington's back end, and giving more minutes to slower guys and simultaneously moving the team's best-skating blueliner is only going to exacerbate that.
The farm system could provide some relief, most likely via Dmitri Orlov, but just as it's difficult to fully trust Carlson and Alzner given their relative lack of inexperience at the NHL level, it's difficult to know exactly what to expect out of Orlov. Even if the 19-year-old Russian is NHL ready right now, he's not going to replace Green's puck-moving skill or shot. After all, while overall ability is the key factor, specialization in terms of skills is far from unimportant.
In short, the Capitals would almost certainly find themselves weaker on the blue line if they move Green, save for a situation where there return nets them more utility - but, of course, at that point it becomes "make a trade to better your team" rather than "make a trade to get rid of Mike Green".
If the team can make a trade to make themselves better, I'm all for it. But again I come back to the issue of how realistic such a move would be. For all Green has done, and all his ability, he is also coming off his worst regular season since establishing himself in the NHL, and suffered at least one concussion. Add that to the serious shoulder injury earlier in his career and his less than stellar playoff reputation, and you're looking at pennies on the dollar. Other teams will see the upside, but they won't pay for it, meaning there's virtually no chance the Capitals would receive a value that's reflective of his potential. Move him, maybe you get a solid player or two; keep him and the upside is the best offensive defenseman in the NHL, and that a deal I take any day.
Of course, a trade's not the only way to acquire an additional player, and if a guy isn't worth his salary, as Russian Machine Never Breaks' Neil Greenberg argues is the case with Green, there's a case to be made for moving the player, shedding the contract, and getting more efficient. But even if, for the sake of discussion, we accept GVT as a reliable, informative statistic and agree that Green's headed for a GVT of about 10 next year, and agree that that generally translates to a value of roughly four million dollars, I still have my doubts the team would be better off moving Green.
Unrestricted free agency isn't generally fertile ground for bargain hunting, simply by the nature of the way the draft, long-term contracts, and restricted free agency alter the market for NHL players. Just take a look at the guys who were in Green's range in GVT per game - they're not the type of player you'll find for $5.25 million, especially not without a multi-year commitment. The same can be said of forwards, and even if you found a guy, he'd be gone at the end of the year, while Green will still be restricted free agent, and thus an asset for the Capitals. Given that fact, moving Green hurts the team, even if he is "worth less" than what he makes. Four million dollars worth of production for $5.25 million is better than zero production for zero dollars if you're not going to be able to do anything with the money you've saved.
All that's really left for a trade rationale is the desire to "shake things up" with the team, the necessity of which is difficult to evaluate unless you're a member of the Capitals or their front office. It's possible such a move could be enough to make the team better as a whole, but it'd have to be a hell of a culture change considering how much ability and production would be walking out the door.
The simple, succinct reality is this: Mike Green, in a vacuum, as a member of the Capitals, and in comparison with other NHL defensemen is a productive player, and not one easily replaced, even if he isn't as productive as he has been in the past. Perhaps it's the case that Green will never be best utilized as a 27-minute-a-night, first-choice-in-all-situations player and will never again be a Norris Trophy Finalist. Perhaps his role is as a guy who can play solid even strength minutes, lead the breakout, create offense, and make his biggest contribution on the powerplay. And that's okay, because those guys still have a ton of value.