Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports
The free-agent pool for 2015 lacks a complete defenseman but does offer a substantial offensive player in Mike Green. The Washington Capitals blue liner has majestic career stats that tower over most of the free agents available and he is one of the 10 best offensive producers from the 2004 entry draft. He turns 30 in October, is close to 600 NHL games in his career, and posted 45 points in 2014-15 for the Caps. What is Mike Green’s actual value, and how far is that number from what he’ll get? The mind boggles.
Green’s timing is very good entering free agency, his boxcar numbers (72GP, 10-35-45) were the best since the 2009-10 season. He’s also a very famous player, so his arrival in free agency is notable because Washington hasn’t signed a big piece of their history. How big? A good way to look at Green in franchise perspective is his ranking among Capitals defensemen all-time in the points category:
- Calle Johansson 983GP, 113-361-474
- Scott Stevens 601GP, 98-331-429
- Kevin Hatcher 685GP, 149-277-426
- Sergei Gonchar 654GP, 144-272-416
- Mike Green 575GP, 113-247-360
That’s some very nice company and if we factor in changes in offensive levels over these many years, Green’s overall offensive value has been impressive since his arrival. The Washington Capitals may be allowing Green to test free agency, but his Washington years were extremely productive.
Green’s usage has changed over the last few seasons, due to coaching changes and deployment. Let’s start with time-on-ice, and a total last year that was his lowest since age 21:
- 2013-14: 22:43 per game. That ranked No. 2 among Washington defenders, behind only John Carlson. Green again had 2:45 a night PP, trailing Carlson in the category as well.
2014-15: 19:06 per game. That ranks No.5 among Washington
defenders, behind Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Karl
Alzner. The only discipline Green ranked inside Washington’s top 4D:
Power play, where he was No. 1 at 2:45 per night. By usage, he was third
pairing at Evens.
The big difference year over year? In 2013-14, Green led the team in even-strength TOI, falling to third pairing under button down coach Barry Trotz. This isn’t to imply Green isn’t a useful player—he clearly is—but the veteran Trotz found a different way to use him and that may be a reason we’re seeing Green heading to free agency. Adam Oates ran Green heavily in 2013-14—Trotz had Matt Niskanen for cover and used him effectively.
Let’s have a look at Green in his Adam Oates season (2013-14) and then we’ll look at him last year with Trotz:
VOLLMAN USAGE CHART, 2013-14
Rob Vollman’s Usage Charts are here. Adam Oates deployed Green in a ‘two-way’ role, giving the veteran a zone-start push and keeping him away from the very toughest moments of the game (Alzner—Carlson). Green did well in this situation, posting a possession number above 50% (via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com) and scoring 5-16-21 at 5×5.
VOLLMAN USAGE CHART, 2014-15
As you can see, Trotz was even more aggressive, stretching out the zone-start push to ultimate and pushing Green even farther from the tough minutes of the game. Green’s production: Even better than the previous season. His possession number jumped to over 52% and he posted 9-15-24 at 5×5 (again via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com).
A big selling point for Green as an NHL player is his production on the power play. Here are five prominent free-agent defensemen and their numbers in various categories—sorted by 5×4 points-per-60:
Green is a very effective power-play defenseman and that’s one of the main reasons he’s going to get paid. Green consistently produces PP points, as reflected by the last three seasons:
- 2012-13: 35GP, 4-10-14
- 2013-14: 70GP, 3-12-15
- 2014-15: 72GP, 1-16-17
Green helps the power play—not like he did in 2009-10 when he posted 35 power-play points—and that has value in today’s NHL.
Here we arrive at the crux of the issue for a team pondering Mike Green as an option. There’s a lot of miles on the player and he’s entering a period where erosion typically sets in. He’ll be 30 in October and has played 575 games over 10 seasons, along with 71 more in the playoffs. Add to that his workload (well over 20 minutes a night for most of his career) and we’re looking at a defenseman with (probably) more productive miles behind him than in front—but an NHL team is going to future pay for his past record (more on that later).
I would suggest most fans like Mike Green a lot. He’s a tough defender, will hit and take a hit, has impressive boxcar numbers and even 10 years in the man can skate pretty well. He’s famous, for all kinds of things, including scoring 31 goals in a single season—a monster number in the modern game.
Five years ago (2010-11 season) the NHL employed 16 defensemen who were 30 years old (born 1980). Here are those defensemen, the NHL GP totals since the end of 2010-11 and their TOI/game from 2014-15 (if applicable):
- Brooks Orpik 269 games (21:48)
- Francois Beauchemin 264 games (22:45)
- Brad Stuart 255 games (20:21)
- Robyn Regehr 253 games (20:20)
- Bryan Allen 202 games (15:43)
- Jordan Leopold 188 games (14:55)
- Douglas Murray 156 games
- Greg Zanon 100 games
- John Erskine 95 games
- Steve Montador 52 games
- Mike Commodore 30 games
- Jim Vandermeer 25 games
- Doug Janik 9 games
- Matt Walker 4 games
- Garrett Stafford 0
- Andrew Hutchinson 0
The maximum number of games played for this four-year period (294) means Orpik played 91% of his team’s games. Green played 209 games during this period—71% of the overall total—and had significant injuries, including groin issues in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
There were times during this five-year look where things looked bleak in terms of health, but recent seasons have seen improvement. Green’s injury history at this age suggests a team should factor in significant time on IR for the length of what is likely to be a long deal.
Mike Green is going to get paid, the only question is how much. Christian Ehrhoff signed for $4 million last season but most everyone agreed that was a crazy value for Pittsburgh and the Ehrhoff had left money on the table. Washington signed Matt Niskanen after he scored 46 points in 2013-14 and gave him a deal worth $5.75M a season—and he had less of a track record than Green.
I believe in the case of Mike Green it comes down to a combination of fame, established performance and reputation. He is absolute gold for NHL organizations trying to send a message to fans or change a downward conversation. Often we talk about value but I don’t think the Mike Green contract to come will be about value—in fact, I’m calling it now, the contract signed will be a significant overpay.
How much? ? Unless Mike Green pulls a Christian Ehrhoff, we’d be well advised to take that $5.75M Niskanen deal and use it as a guide. I suspect he’ll get more if two teams have targeted him in free agency. It will be one of the biggest stories of the summer and that’s partly what an NHL team will no doubt be paying for when they get him.