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How much green for Green?

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r some in this town, the great debate in the summer of ‘08 has nothing to do with Barack Obama or John McCain. For Caps fans, it is how much money their team should be willing to give to restricted free agent Mike Green. Should the 22-year-old defenseman not sign a contract extension before the free agency season begins on July 1, there is a pretty real chance that one of the other 29 general managers is going to sign Green to an offer sheet.

The Caps will have the right to match, and GM George McPhee has said on multiple occasions they will do so. But is there a magic number that is too big? Is there a chance the Caps will say too much is too much and walk away with the draft picks (as many as four first-round picks if the average salary is upwards of $6.5 million and change)?

To say Green had a breakout season is an understatement. In fact, in the coming years don’t be surprised if some young defenseman’s campaign is referred to as a “Mike Green season.” He led all defensemen with 18 goals, finished eighth with 56 points and became a monster when it came to ice time right about the time Bruce Boudreau took over.

Green’s work in his own end needs some work, but it isn’t that bad right now. He can be a magician with the puck and that might make him more indispensable than anything. Braydon Coburn is great at making the breakout pass, Dion Phaneuf might be the best at being both physical and offensive-minded a la Chris Pronger, but no young defenseman - and to be honest, I’m not sure there are any veterans either - that can handle the puck like Green. His ability to lead an offensive rush can be breathtaking. When he’s on, he is a one-man trap-buster. And it is hard to imagine a defenseman fitting Boudreau’s system and aggressive philosophy better than Green.

With all of that in mind, here are some of the other top young defensemen in the league who are already locked into long-term contracts or awaiting one similar to what Green could get.

Mike Green, 22, 18 goals, 56 points, +6, 23:38 TOI

2007-08 salary: $833,333

2008-09 salary: RFA

 

Dion Phaneuf, 23, 17 goals, 60 points, +12, 26:25 TOI for Calgary

2008-09 cap hit: $6.5 million

 

Brent Seabrook, 23, 9 goals, 32 points, +13, 21:30 TOI for Chicago

2008-09 salary: $3.5 million

 

Tom Gilbert, 25, 13 goals, 33 points, -6, 22:12 TOI for Edmonton

2008-09 cap hit: $4 million

 

Jay Bouwmeester, 24, 15 goals, 37 points, -5, 27:28 TOI for Florida

2007-08 salary: $2.175 million

2008-09 salary: RFA

 

Brent Burns, 23, 15 goals, 43 points, +12, 23:06 TOI for Minnesota

2008-09 cap hit: $3.55 million

 

Shea Webber, 22, 6 goals, 20 points, -6, 19:30 TOI for Nashville

2008-09 salary: $4.5 million

 

Ryan Suter, 23, 7 goals, 31 points, +3, 20:35 TOI for Nashville

2008-09 salary: $3.5 million

 

Ryan Whitney, 25, 12 goals, 40 points, -2, 22:27 TOI for Pittsburgh

2008-09 cap hit: $4 million

 

Matt Carle, 23, 2 goals, 15 points, -8, 16:33 TOI for San Jose

2008-09 cap hit: $3.438 million

 

Kevin Bieksa, 27, 12 goals, 42 points, +1, 24:16 TOI for Vancouver (these are his 06-07 stats because he was hurt most of last season)

2008-09 cap hit: $3.75 million

So that is nine other elite young defensemen who have already signed their first big contracts and one guy who would also be a hot commodity in a couple of days should he still be available in Bouwmeester. What does all of that tell us? Well, other than Burns might wish he had waited a little longer and the Sharks might wish they had waited a little longer on Carle. Here is the big question: Is there anyone on that list besides Phaneuf you would rather have than Mike Green? I think the only two in the conversation are Bouwmeester and Burns, but my answer when factoring in the fit with Boudreau and how Green fits in the room with the other kids on the team is no. Yes, Bouwmeester has done it for longer in the NHL, but I think I’m willing to bet on Green being the better player three years from now and five years from now.

Also consider the term of the deal. If Green’s camp seeks a shorter deal like a four-year pact, how much will he be worth entering unrestricted free agency with a couple of trips to the All-Star game and a Norris Trophy finalist season or two on his resume? How much green is too much for Green? The answer is a lot higher than a lot of people think.

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