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Mike Green: A Red Jersey on the Blue Line

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An up-top look at one of the most impressive careers of any man to don the red sweater.

Clyde Caplan / clydeorama.com

If not for sharing a locker room with Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green would arguably be the most polarizing figure of the last decade for the Washington Capitals.

In his 10 seasons with the Caps, Green has earned a reputation for big-time offensive chops, a power-play mastermind and an absolute terror with the puck on his stick. He's also— deservedly or not— been criticized for ghastly turnovers, for an inability to absorb a hit, and for being a defensive liability when the ice is tilted unfavorably (which, to be fair, it rarely has been when Green is skating).

Regardless of how heavy either side of Mike Green's scales of merit weigh, however, his contributions to the growth of the organization can hardly be questioned.

Green has played 575 games with Washington over 10 seasons, scoring 113 goals (52 of them coming on the power play) and adding 247 assists. He's the only defenseman since the 2004-05 lockout to score 30 goals in a season, and one of only three defenseman in that same span to notch 75 points. In fact, since Green became an everyday player in 2007, only Shea Weber and Dustin Byfuglien have scored more goals among blueliners. The only NHL defenseman to have more assists than Mike Green in a shorter span of games is a familiar name and a surefire Hall of Famer, Nicklas Lidstrom.

[Green's] contributions to the growth of the organization can hardly be questioned


Narrowing the scope to the Washington Capitals, Green's massive presence in a red sweater over the years is reinforced by his numbers. Since 2007, no Caps blueliner has played more games,spent more total time on ice (or power play or 5v5 TOI). No Caps blueliner has shot with more efficiency or produced points at a greater rate. No Caps blueliner has had a hand in a greater percentage of points scored while they were on the ice.

He's also one of just three Washington blueliners since 2007 to have skated more than 500 minutes, and to have seen more shots directed at the opponents net than the Caps' net. The other two, Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz,  benefit from smaller sample sizes... and from the luck of being out of town before the Adam Oates possession black hole wheeled into town.

While Green's scoring touch has made him one of the more formidable offensive-minded defensemen in the League, his defensive responsibility has not escaped criticism. Those criticisms, however, are not so much measurable as they are the ugly offspring from Green's recurring relationship with The Big Mistake.

Using the same qualifier for sample size as before, only Jeff Schultz has seen a greater percentage of Capitals' goals scored at five-on-five than Mike Green. No, Green is not a "shutdown defenseman", or a "stay-at-home" defenseman, or whatever other monikers are out there for blueliners more in the mold of, say, a Karl Alzner - and that's probably what has contributed to the notion that Green is a greater liability and a bigger risk-taker than he actually is.

The "risk" associated with Green's game may exist at times, but the fact is that it's often balanced out by a much higher reward. Mike's magic comes to the fore when the puck is on his stick. The puck is on his stick more often than most blueliners, and he has the ability to make plays at both ends of the ice, so he's a more visible player (and consequently a lightning rod for criticism and praise alike). But here's what it boils down to:

No matter how he does it, and no matter what it looks like to the naked eye, for his entire career, putting Mike Green on the ice has been a good-bet for tilting the ice. Or, in simpler terms, winning.

It's something his coaches have, for the most part, understood about Green - any sense of him being a "liability" hasn't played much of a role in how they've used him over the years, and it's paid off.

It's been awhile since Mike Green has done any sort of meaningful penalty killing; after all, it's tough to rationalize asking a weapon with an injury history like Green to spend four minutes a game laying down in front of one-timers from the game's best shooters. But when he was taking on those duties, he was also performing those with great results. So great, in fact, that no defenseman who's spent more than 100 minutes on the penalty-kill since 2007 has a better goals-allowed rate.

Mike Green's exit from penalty kill duties coincided with coaches recognizing his skill set at the NHL level. But as Green's game continued to develop, change of a different sort became a common theme in his career. Below is a visualization of the history of his deployment through the years, data courtesy of war-on-ice.

Screen_Shot_2015-04-12_at_4.03.31_PM.0.png

Before a deeper dive, take a moment to recognize the incredible amount of changeover represented here. Mike Green's game has been overseen by five very different head coaches: Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter, Adam Oates, and Barry Trotz (to say nothing of their five defensive assistants in Jay Leach, Bob Woods, Jim Johnson, Calle Johansson, and Todd Reirdren).

That's an awful lot of turnover before your 30th birthday.

On the front end of Green's career, Boudreau tried to maximize the firepower from his blueliner by giving Green a tremendous percentage of offensive zone draws. Each year thereafter, until 2013-14, Green's percentage of defensive draws increased, but the quality of his competition declined steadily. His skillset— and resultant role of quarterbacking the Caps' potent power play— has always characterized him as an "offensive defenseman" (and likely will continue to do so). His deployment, however, spoke to a systematic increase in defensive responsibility, with the coaching staff hedging their bets a little bit in terms of who Green would be facing on the ice.

Screen_Shot_2015-04-12_at_4.21.27_PM.0.png

And in 2014-15, with the two most recent additions to the stable of Washington blueliners in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, Mike Green found himself deployed in a manner very similar to what he saw from 2008 to 2010 under Boudreau, though facing easier competition than he's used to, and also receiving less ice time than he ever has since becoming a mainstay. Say one thing for Mike Green: the man's adaptable.

He's also been able to accomplish everything he's done in his career without, for the most part, having a regular partner in crime on the blue line. Below is a list of all the teammates he's skated with over the years, sorted top to bottom by TOI. This data, courtesy of Hockey Analysis, is aggregate from 2007 through 2014.

Player

TOI Together

CF% w/ Green

CF% w/o Green

CF Delta

SCHULTZ, JEFF

1788:06

53.8

50.1

2.9

MORRISONN, SHAONE

1693:37

55.1

50.9

5.8

ALZNER, KARL

891:30

49.3

49.3

0.8

ORLOV, DMITRY

606:05

54.5

48.5

5.2

ERSKINE, JOHN

502:41

52.9

49.3

0.3

POTI, TOM

413:29

60

52.6

11

HAMRLIK, ROMAN

285:49

49.9

49

1.6

SCHMIDT, NATE

232:20

53.7

48.3

7.9

HANNAN, SCOTT

182:19

56.6

45.8

10.4

HILLEN, JACK

167:04

45

46.2

-2.8

SLOAN, TYLER

101:53

53.3

47.8

4

CARLSON, JOHN

68:44

54.2

49.3

9.2

URBOM, ALEXANDER

46:05

53.8

45

3.3

JURCINA, MILAN

27:15

61

50.5

9.6

POTHIER, BRIAN

24:19

51.6

51.4

1.1

WIDEMAN, DENNIS

12:50

63.3

50.5

21.9

BROUILLETTE, JULIEN

12:13

14.3

41.4

-32.6

EMINGER, STEVE

4:45

58.3

46.9

5.8

LEPISTO, SAMI

3:53

71.4

52.5

19

CORVO, JOE

3:23

83.3

52.4

32.4

KRONWALL, STAFFAN

3:14

70

50.9

21.1

OLEKSY, STEVE

2:59

54.5

48.9

19.9

SCHILLING, CAMERON

2:30

37.5

34.6

-6.5

CARRICK, CONNOR

1:47

75

44

28.9

WEY, PATRICK

0:47

100

46.1

54.1

KUNDRATEK, TOMAS

0:45

0

45.9

-53.2

HELMER, BRYAN

0:31

100

53.2

100


And here's how Green's blueline partners have matched up so far under coaches Barry Trotz and Todd Reirden.

SCHMIDT, NATE

317:49

55.1

52.9

2.2

HILLEN, JACK

281:25

45.8

50.9

-5.1

GLEASON, TIM

208:29

50

49.2

0.80

ORPIK, BROOKS

79:21

54.1

48.7

5.4

ALZNER, KARL

51:55

41.4

51.4

-10

CARLSON, JOHN

47:25

64

50.7

13.3

NISKANEN, MATT

26:45

59.2

49.4

9.8

This is pretty amazing. Noting that if the 2014-15 data was included in the first table above (Karl Alzner would still cumulatively benefit from a partnership with Green), Jack Hillen is the only one who has played with Green since 2007 for more than 12 minutes and whose possession has suffered for it. Mike Green almost invariably drives his partnerships.

Mike Green is many things. He's a great defenseman, and one of the long-standing faces of the franchise— a big-time player in the organizational rebrand and arrival of hockey fever in the Nation's Capital. He's been front and center for some enormous moments in the Rock the Red years, and these years have been enormous moments in the scope of the growth of the franchise.

And his future is up in the air. With his contract expiring in just a few days, and with the organization also needing to address the contracts of other integral lineup pieces such as Braden Holtby and Marcus Johansson, and with the market demand for a puck-moving right-handed defenseman, Green's career is set for relocation after one final playoff run with a squad he recently called "the best team I've played on, overall, in my ten years here".

The organization has recognized Mike Green as one of the 40 greatest players in the history of the franchise. And when you pay attention to the collective contents of Green's story, it is easy to see that it's an honor deserved without inquisition.