Coming off Wednesday’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals where the Washington Capitals were eliminated after holding a three to one series lead against the New York Rangers, Washington has an important decision to make about defenseman Mike Green. In Game 7, Green played almost 19 minutes of even strength ice time, posting a negative Corsi rating (48.6% CF% and only 1 individual shot attempt) but a positive scoring change rating (60% SC% with 1 individual scoring chance). Green had two penalties within a two minute thirty-nine second span in the second period. The second penalty ended up being very costly for Washington as Kevin Hayes scored to tie up the game for New York.
Green is on his way to becoming an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) on July 1st if Washington doesn’t resign him beforehand. Green will be the first former Norris Trophy nominee to hit the open free agent market since the 2005 lockout (Shea Weber became a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) after his 2011 Norris nomination).
Green isn’t the player that he was five years ago, but is still a good defenseman. The big question remains unanswered however: how good is he actually? I’ll break down his statistics and team impact to try and determine his overall wealth on the open market.
I’ll be mainly focusing on Green’s statistics over the past three seasons as this includes a larger sample size (he spent a lot of time the prior two seasons out of the lineup injured) and more consistent teammates so it’ll provide a better image of the defenseman he is right now.
Green was once considered one of the top defensemen in the league putting up offensive numbers at over a point per game rate from 2008 to 2010 on an offensively stacked Washington team that finished 3rd and 1st in the league in goals for over those two seasons. The second closest defenseman during that period was Andrei Markov who scored at .80 points per game.
Since his back-to-back Norris Trophy nominations in 2009 and 2010, his offensive production has fallen off significantly. This is partially due to injuries in which Green has skated in more than 50 regular season games in a season just twice since 2010 (70 in 2013-2014 and 72 in 2014-2015). He’s had two straight healthy seasons but the long term concern for Green, who will turn 30 early next season, is still there.
Over the past three seasons where he’s only missed about a dozen games per season due to nagging groin injuries, Green’s offensive numbers have started to rebound. He isn’t scoring anywhere near the rate that he was before, but this production is closer to his former self. His current level of production is in the company of Shea Weber, Keith Yandle, and Kevin Shattennkirk.
Looking at Green’s HERO Chart (includes statistics from 2012 through 2015), he plays at a level that is mostly above his playing time at even strength. The one category where he plays below his playing time is the team’s generating shots and unblocked shots levels. One might find this a little concerning that these numbers are below his playing time as he’s known as an offensive defenseman and needs to be generating shots to have success, but his individual scoring and SOG rates are off the chart. It is clear that Washington’s game plan is to get Green involved in the offense by setting him up for shots.
For a majority of Green’s career, he’s made a positive impact on the Capitals’ Corsi. Green hasn’t reached a 40 game average of 55% since 2010, but had a huge impact on Washington’s success during the second half of Washington’s 2013-2014 season when Washington’s Corsi while Green was off the ice was down to a stingy 44%. Washington’s play increased in 2014-2015 while Green slumped, dipping below the average of 50% before returning to above average for the last stretch of the regular season where Washington made a strong push claiming the second seed in the Metropolitan Division.
Green’s production compared to his ice time has been impressive over the past three seasons (including defenseman that have played 1000+ minutes). Green ranks 5th in the league in goals per 60 minutes (.42) and 10th in points per 60 minutes (1.10). These performances are comparable to John Klingberg (.42 G/60), Torey Krug (.41 G/60), Dustin Byfuglien (1.13 Pts/60), Duncan Keith (1.11 Pts/60), and Alex Pietrangelo (1.09 Pts/60).
Most of the defensemen Green has partnered with over the past three seasons have had a significant higher Crosi rating while playing with Green compared to playing without him. Though Green has played with Karl Alzner the most, both players have had more success playing on different pairings and were separated early this season. This past season, Green spent a majority of his even strength minutes alongside Nate Schmidt and they’ve posted strong possession numbers together. 2014 free agent signee Matt Niskanen has had the most success with Green with a CF% of 60.2% but they’ve only played 49 even strength minutes together. Niskanen actually replaced Green on Alzner’s second pairing.
All of Washington’s top 12 forwards are on the ice for a higher percent of offensive zone faceoffs while with Green than without him. It is possible that Green is put out in more offensive situations than other Capitals defensemen, but looking at Green’s individual faceoff statistics, only 35.4% of Green’s total faceoffs are in the offensive zone. For an offensive defenseman, this percentage isn’t unordinary. Being in the offensive zone for more faceoffs not only impacts individual statistics, but has a large effect on the team’s success. There is a much higher chance of Washington scoring a goal compared to giving one up when the faceoff is in their opponent’s zone. Overall, Washington has posted a positive Goals For percentage (51%) over the past three seasons.
Looking at War on Ice’s Hextally graphs, Green has a profound impact on shot differentials compared to the league averages. The slot has the highest league-wide success rate at 9.3%. At even strength, Green has allowed 1.35 shots less per 60 minutes taken from the slot. At 3,000 even strength minutes over the past three seasons, this is 67.5 less shots that Green has given up averaging to about 6.2 less goals scored against Washington. Compare this to this year’s Norris Trophy nominees P.K Subban, Drew Doughty, and Erik Karlsson who in the same three year time period have given up .802, .52, and .284 less shots respectively from the slot. Looking at his coverage in the entire defensive zone, Green gives up a total of three less shots than the league average per 60 minutes. Of the three comparable defensemen, only Subban gives up even less shots per 60 minutes than Green (-4.07 shots/60) while they all substantially provide more shots on the opponents net compared to Green (8.55 for Karlsson, 7.91 for Subban, and 3.23 for Doughty to Green’s 1.00).
Looking at Washington’s shot rates on the opponent’s net with and without Green on the ice, you can clearly see that he has a stronger impact away from the crease. Washington has much higher shot rates from the points and high slot areas while Green is on the ice. Green has a weaker connotation in the slot. This can be explained because a majority of Green’s shots are from further out and aren’t leading to rebound opportunities for the forwards down low. There are no statistics to prove or disprove this, but you can assume Green shoots high and the goalie catches the puck and holds on to force a whistle and faceoff.
In the defensive end, Washington allows less shots from all three major locations (slot, high slot area, and points). The highest impact here is directly in the crease which goes along with Green’s relative shot differential that was prior compared to the league average.
Beyond having a large impact at even strength, Green has a tremendous effect on the power play. Green averages exactly three power play minutes on the league’s top power play over the past three seasons (1st in the league in 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 and 2nd in the league in 2013-2014). He often double shifts playing the point on both of Washington’s power play units. 42% of Green’s total points (46 of 109 points) over the past three seasons have come on the power play. While on the power play, Green is very efficient, ranking 7th in the league with a 5.28 points per 60 minutes of ice time.
Mike Green may not be the defenseman he once was or Washington’s top defenseman right now, but he plays a very strong role on the team. If Washington loses him to free agency, expect them to regress next season unless they can find a way to replace both his offensive production and strong play in the defensive zone.
Looking back to last season, the Canadiens’ Andrei Markov is one direct comparison to Green. Markov, 35 years old, is reliable defensively but mainly known for his offensive contributions. Markov was heading towards the unrestricted free agent market, but signed a three year, $17.25M ($5.75M AAV) extension to remain in Montreal a week before the 2014 free agent signing period. Markov’s compensation of $5.75M a year equals the yearly salary of his two prior contracts dating back to 2010.
In comparison Green, currently signed at a cap hit of about $6.1M, is likely in the same price range that Markov signed for last season. Many factors even lead to Green getting a more lucrative contract than Markov:
- Green is only 29 years old, 6 years younger than Markov. Many GMs are wary of giving out large contracts to aging defensemen that are past their prime. Signing Green to a five or six year contract won’t put Green into his 40’s for the last few seasons of the contract. Health will be a big factor, but it is very possible for Green to continue producing into his mid 30’s.
- Green is on the open market. There will likely be a bidding war between multiple teams (including Washington unless they decide not to pursue him) for Green’s services. The past few seasons have set the precedent of an expensive market for aging defensemen who don’t have a major impact on a team’s success. Potential suitors will be paying for Green’s name and his past accolades as a Norris Trophy nominee. The perfect example of this is Washington signing Brooks Orpik to a five year, $27.5M ($5.50M AAV) contract last summer. This plays into Green’s hands perfectly.
- There isn’t a large market for top end defensemen available as free agents this summer. A majority of the small crop of top defensemen including Paul Martin, Sergei Gonchar, Marek Zidlicky, Zbynek Michalek, and Chriastian Ehrhoff who are all much older than Green. Only the group of Jeff Petry, Andrej Sekera, and Cody Franson are younger than Green.
General Managers make more mistakes on July 1st than any other day on the calendar overpaying for players. There is no doubt in my mind some team will overpay for Green, but he will still provide a positive impact to whatever team he is suiting up for next season.
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