The Washington Capitals announced they have re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Mike Green to a 3-year, $18.25 million contract. He will earn $6 million over each of the next two seasons and $6.25 million in the final year of the deal. This contract represents a raise over his previous contract, a 4-year deal worth $21 million ($6 million in 2008-09 and $5 million in each of the last three years). Green had recently rejected the Capitals' one-year qualifying offer of $5 million, a deal that would have made him an unrestricted free agent after next season. This may seem like a lot of money for a player with just 31 points in 81 games over the past two seasons, but it is a good reflection of Green's true value to the team.
When healthy, Mike Green has been the league's premier offensive defenseman. He led all full-time NHL defensemen in goals for three straight seasons from 2007-08 to 2009-10 (18, 31, 19). He was a First-Team NHL All-Star and Norris Trophy runner-up as best defenseman in 2008-09 and 2009-10, when he led league defensemen in overall scoring and became the first defenseman since Brian Leetch in 1995-96 to record over a point per game, which he did twice (73 points in 68 games and 76 points in 75 games). Green's best overall season came in 2009-10 when he led defensemen in goals, assists (57), points, powerplay goals (10), powerplay assists (25), powerplay points (35), was second in +/- to defense partner Jeff Schultz (+39), 6th in shots (211), 9th in average time-on-ice (25:28), and 14th in takeaways (44). In 2008-09, Mike Green's 31 goal season was the first 30+ goal season by a defenseman since Kevin Hatcher in 1992-93, just the 17th such season ever, and Green became just the 8th defenseman ever to accomplish the feat. Green's league-leading 18 powerplay goals fell just 1 short of the league record but broke the Capitals' team record of 16. Green also posted a record-setting 8-game goal scoring streak during that season.
Impressive numbers aside, Green is a one-man breakout when he gets the puck in the defensive zone. He has exceptional passing ability to made a smart pass out of the zone or hit a long pass to a fast-moving forward for a breakaway. He also has exceptional speed, agility, and puck-handling ability to control the puck and skate it out of danger in his own end. Once he returned to the Capitals' lineup in mid-February after long stretches of injuries, the effect on the Capitals' defensive zone was immediately apparent as the Capitals were no longer trapped in their own zone for such long stretches, which leads to goals against. Green's offensive numbers did not return, but as he grew more comfortable within Dale Hunter's system, he began making his presence felt on the powerplay and at even strength. Green's ability to control the puck, get shots through to net, and his awareness and mobility in the offensive zone will give new Capitals Head Coach Adam Oates the powerplay quarterback to make the Capitals the premier special teams unit in the league again.
If Mike Green can stay healthy after the rash of injuries that have limited him over the past two seasons, this contract is very close to his market value. Any player who plays a free-wheeling style for 25 minutes per game will have some bumps and bruises, but considering the plays Green got hurt on would have hurt anyone, 3 years is a safe investment for such a good player with his rare abilities.
Follow Andy Green on Twitter here.