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Mike Green: Like Sandis Ozolinsh, But Good at Defense

When it comes to Mike Green's 2008-09 season the question is no longer whether or not the young blueliner is having a great season, but rather just how great a season he's having. In terms of offensive production Green is head and shoulder above his peers in goal scoring and point production, and is a major reason the Capitals powerplay is the league's second best. Green's contributions to the Capitals success goes beyond his point production; his speed and puck-moving skills make him the team's most effective blueliner when it comes to starting the breakout and transitioning from defense into offense.  The fact that Green can do it while leading the team in ice time means he also helps the team by lightening the load on the rest of the defense corps.

For all his successes Green still takes his fair share criticism for his defensive play, both from Capitals fans and around the league in general.  So, just how good (or bad) of a defensive player is Green?  Here's how he stacks up in what are generally considered to be defensive statistics:

[Ed note: The cutoff for the purposes of this comparison is 40 games.  The Capitals have six qualifying defensemen and the league as a whole has 183.]

Total Rank (Capitals) Rank (NHL)
Games 60 3rd t-112th
ATOI 25:45 1st 6th
Plus-Minus 23 1st 10th
BTN Rating* 1.32 1st 6th
+- ON/60** 1.43 1st 1st
Blocked Shots
92 t-2nd 79th
Hits 75 4th 81st
Corsi** 17.4 1st 3rd
GAON/60** 2.02 3rd 35th
GFON/60** 3.45 1st 3rd
4-on-5 GA/60***
2.48 1st 3rd
Penalties Taken/60** 1.4 t-2nd t-151st
Penalties Drawn/60** 0.8 1st t-12th
Penalty Diff./60** 0.6 t-4th t-108th
Takeaways 46 1st 5th
Giveaways 88 6th 182nd
Qual. Comp.**
0.02 t-2nd t-58th
Qual Team.** 0.10 2nd t-27th

*BTN Rating is Behind the Net rating, a statistic that compares plus-minus while accounting for team quality. **Data for these statistics is only available for 5-on-5 situations.  ***Statistic is only for players who have played at least 40 games and average two minutes or more on 4-on-5 time per game; there are 110 qualifying players for this statistic.

Of course, all hockey statistics ought to be taken a grain of salt, and defensive statistics with a bigger grain than most.  For example, Green has the league's best even strength goal differential in large part because he has the third highest GFON/60 score in the league, which is in part because he plays on such an offensively gifted team, and has so many takeaways because the Verizon Center is notoriously generous when it comes to crediting them.  But while the numbers might not tell the whole truth, or may even mislead, they don't lie - the Verizon's Center's liberal giveaway and takeaway policy means that that Green gets credited with an awful lot of giveaways as well (his adjusted giveaway number is in the low 50's), and Green is in the top quintile when it comes to GAON/60, so not all of the goal differential comes from offensive production.  As for the penalties...well, there's not much to say about the penalties.  Green simply takes too many.

But then no one ever said Green was an elite defensive defenseman, and despite all his talents - the speed, the quickness, the agility, the puck-handling skills, the anticipation - Green is still a twenty-three year old learning how to play defense in the National Hockey League.  But even given the occasional bad decision or misplayed puck, it's awfully hard to argue that a guy who's in the top twenty percent of the league in plus-minus, BTN rating, Cosri, goals for per sixty, goals against per sixty, goal differential per sixty, and takeaways isn't pulling his weight defensively.  So, while Green's offense will probably always outshine his defense, try taking a closer look at what he's doing in his own end.  You might end up being pleasantly surprised.