By signing Green to a three-year deal worth $18.25 million Monday, though, the Capitals made clear they still see Green as a key part of the organization’s foundation and they believe he can re-establish himself as one of the league’s premier offensive defensemen.
“I think they know what I’m capable of,” Green, 26, said on a conference call. “It was unfortunate the last couple years that I’ve suffered from injuries. But I believe that I’m over them now. I think I got them all out of my system. I think that as happy as I am, that they’re happy and they know that I’m committed to the hockey team and doing the right things to be the best that I can. It’s win-win for everybody.”
A two-time Norris Trophy finalist and the NHL’s only active defenseman with two 70-point seasons, Green established himself as an elite scoring presence as he recorded 68 goals and 205 points in three seasons combined beginning in 2007-08.
At his best, Green played more than 25 minutes per game, helped jump-start the offense and added layers to the Capitals’ attack. But the Calgary native hasn’t fulfilled that role since the 2009-10 season, when Washington was at the height of its high-flying, run-and-gun style under former coach Bruce Boudreau.
In 2010-11, concussions limited Green to 49 games and 24 points. Last season he missed 50 games because of an ankle injury and then a lingering groin strain that eventually required sports hernia surgery. In his 32 regular season games, Green recorded seven points.
Green insists he is healthy, and he expressed unwavering confidence that he can be a 70-point scorer again.
“One hundred percent and it will be next year,” said Green, who was asked again if he believed he could surpass that point plateau a third time. “Absolutely, there’s no question about it. I feel like I’m just getting into my prime.”
The same sentiment was expressed by General Manager George McPhee in a news release: “Mike is one of the best young defensemen in the National Hockey League. . . . He will continue to be a key part of our team moving forward.”
Green said the negotiations for this deal, which includes a raise from his $5 million salary of the past three years, began last season but were tabled after his injuries and pushed back into the offseason. He will make $6 million the next two years and $6.25 million in 2014-15. His salary cap hit, $6.083 million, ranks 11th among NHL defensemen under contract for next season.
Green said he originally sought a two-year deal but that the Capitals offered a three-year term.
“I wanted to see if they wanted me there still,” Green said. “And they did, which was very nice and very comforting.”
As he seeks to regain his previous form, Green will be playing for his fourth NHL coach and the third in the past year. Boudreau loosened the reins on Green initially and allowed him to become a prolific offensive contributor from the blue line. When he returned from surgery under Dale Hunter, Green was expected to shift to a strict, grinding defensive game.
Recently hired Adam Oates has described the style of play he will bring to Washington as a middle ground that promotes sound defensive play while encouraging an aggressive attacking stance. That could play into Green’s strengths, as well as his desire to become a better two-way player. Not to mention that Oates is already a fan of Green’s.
“I used Mike’s footage the last couple years in New Jersey showing the D how to corral the puck, move a puck and have the poise back there,” Oates said Saturday.
Whether Green can recapture his offensive brilliance is uncertain, but with a new contract in place, he has received a vote of confidence from Capitals management.
“I don’t think I’ve got to prove anything,” Green said. “I think that personally and for my own mental state that I get back to that and I almost prove to myself that I can do it. I know that I’m able to do it, and it’s just a matter of me staying healthy and going and doing it.”
Capitals note: The team announced it will not hold a convention this fall as it has for the previous three years because of the uncertainty surrounding the NHL labor negotiations.