- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

One season ago, Mike Green was a breakout star in the NHL - a defenseman who evoked comparisons to legends Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr for his ability to skate with the puck and his offensive acumen.

It wasn’t easy for his coach to convince him, but Green has curtailed his wild end-to-end forays this season. In the process, the Washington Capitals defenseman is having perhaps the best offensive campaign by a defenseman since relaxed officiating standards and the rise of the neutral-zone trap drastically reduced scoring in the mid-1990s.

“It has taken a lot of talking and a lot of reminding, but his success tells the story,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “When he is not leading the rush, he is a better player because he can come from behind and go to those open holes. When he leads the rush, he is so excited, but people check him and he gives the puck off - and usually that person isn’t as dangerous as the guy coming from behind and taking the pass.”

Green’s 18 goals last season led NHL defensemen, but that was only an appetizer for what he is achieving this year. Despite missing 14 games because of injury or illness, Green has 30 goals and 70 points - tops among defensemen.

He is the first defenseman since 1992-93 to net 30 goals in a season, and no one had scored more than 26 since the New Jersey Devils popularized the defense-first trap in the 1994-95 season. Green also has set a franchise record for power-play goals by a defenseman with 18, and he is one shy of the league mark set by Sheldon Souray three years ago.

“It is a pretty special thing to do it in the new NHL,” veteran defenseman Tom Poti said. “I think back in the day you would have seen it more often because it was a more wide-open game. But now with the trap and teams playing such tight defense, I think it that makes it even more special.”

Added Green: “Now I feel like I kind of have pressure that I need to and it is my job now as a player to produce, and there is no reason why I shouldn’t. Like I’ve said, I play with a lot of great players, and there are a lot of times where I am just putting pucks in empty nets.”

A defender reaching 70 points in a season has only happened 12 times since 1994-95 by seven different players. Green averages 1.11 points a game, second most in the past 13 seasons to Paul Coffey’s 1.29 in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 campaign.

Coffey was on pace for outstanding numbers that season, and Green’s would look even better if not for his missed time. Green’s age is also noteworthy; at 23, he is the youngest defenseman to score 30 goals since Coffey had 37 in 1984-85. Coffey set the record for defensemen with 48 the next season, and 26-year-old Bobby Orr had 46 in 1974-75.

Can Green challenge those legendary totals in the coming seasons?

“If he hadn’t been injured, he might be close to 40 now,” general manager George McPhee said. “I don’t know [about 50], but if anyone could do it, it would be him because he’s just got such a great release and he’s an exceptionally talented player. He’ll keep improving.”

Green’s offensive production is likely to be too impressive to overlook when the ballots are cast for the Norris Trophy, awarded each year to the league’s top defenseman. He might not be a lock to win, but he likely will earn a trip to Las Vegas for the NHL awards show as one of the three finalists.

Still, those who don’t vote for Green are likely to rationalize with an argument against his work on defense.

“I don’t see him getting beat,” Boudreau said. “When people talk about the Norris, they say, ‘Oh, [Boston’s Zdeno] Chara is a better defensive defenseman and plays against all the top lines, and this guy is that or that guy is that.’ I’ve seen Mike playing 26 minutes a night and against the other team’s top lines - penalty killing, power play, last minute of the periods.

“I think just because a guy is a very gifted offensive player, they have to find a fault with him. Defensively, he is fine. He hits like a Mack truck when he decides to hit you. … I’ve got to believe when somebody accomplishes this, they’ve got to be at the forefront of the award givings.”

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