It wasn’t long ago that Mike Green was a first-team All-NHL defenseman. Sure, he made the All-Star Game last season, but his best years were 2008-09 and 2009-10 when he was considered one of the best two defensemen in the league.
The concussion he suffered last year derailed his season, but even before then his point production – along with the other Young Guns – fell off. Meanwhile, groin problems continued to bother Tom Poti.
But the Capitals didn’t skip a beat because Karl Alzner and John Carlson developed into the top defensive pairing.
“They obviously played together in Hershey and have come up together and are very comfortable with each other,” Green said. “I think they’re two great, young players and they’ve been able to soak up a lot of minutes that maybe have been taken off my back – which is good, and then I can concentrate on my game and not having to focus so much on everything.”
They’ve also pushed Green into a bit of a reduced role. In addition to taking the 25-to-30-minute games away from Green, the young duo has pushed the Young Gun into a spot as the unofficial No. 3 defenseman.
And yet, Alzner didn’t mince words when expressing the impact Green can have on the Caps.
“Tremendous. He’s one of the best defensemen in the game,” Alzner said. “So if you can have the best defenseman in the game on your team, it’s going to make you a lot better.”
If Green can again become one of the game’s best, there could be little doubt that Washington’s blue line is the deepest in hockey. But Green bristled when asked about his reduced role thanks to Alzner and Carlson.
“We all have a role on the team, and everybody’s is different,” he said. “I’m here for my reasons; they’re here for theirs, and we’re not competing.”
So who is Green competing with? How about Dennis Wideman, another offensive-minded defenseman who can move the puck well and help on the power play.
It’s hard to picture Wideman and Green paired together, but it would necessitate a style change.
“If we’re on the ice together, it’ll be me making the pass, but I wouldn’t be jumping up in the play as much because he’s just better at it than I am and faster than me,” Wideman said. “He’s going to beat me up there every time, so if I get out there with him, I’ll have to bring it back a little bit.”
Instead, Green is expected to at least start out paired with Roman Hamrlik. Green has experienced success with Jeff Schultz during his career, so the combinations could change early and often.
But George McPhee envisioned a Green-Hamrlik pairing as far back as July 1.
“We’ll see where that goes,” Green said. “Obviously we’re going to be juggling around a bit, but it’s not up to me – it’s up to the coaching staff.”