The celebration and euphoria over the Washington Capitals’ impressive second-round exit against the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup playoffs came to a halt on Wednesday with the news that defenseman Mike Green left town for a three-year, $18 million deal with the Detroit Red Wings.
Green’s departure means that with Alexander Semin, who left in 2012, the Capitals have now lost two of the four “Young Guns” — the core group of young players the Capitals marketed seven years ago.
His departure is also another reminder of the failure of this franchise to fulfill the expectations of that “Young Guns” marketing campaign — to bring a Stanley Cup to Washington.
Now, only Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom remain, and their presence, as much as the departure of Green, is also a reminder of lost opportunities. The franchise was reduced to celebrating the individual career milestones of the two stars this year instead of their collective playoff success — if you measure that success by, at the very least, the core group of Capitals the team marketed fulfilling the promise of a Stanley Cup.
At least now Green will be able to wear a T-shirt that can lay claim to 11 Stanley Cup titles, even though he had nothing to do with any of them.
Green, 29, who called his decision to sign with Detroit “a pretty easy one,” acknowledged the championship tradition of the Red Wings in a conference call with reporters. “The Detroit Red Wings’ history and team is top notch,” he said.
He is leaving behind the team he grew up with as a player over 10 seasons, so you would think it would be a difficult departure. But it was if Green himself recognized the failed expectations here and the weight that gets heavier with each passing year as time slips away.
Or maybe it was the $18 million the Red Wings were willing to pay.
“The style of play was a huge a factor in the decision,” Green said “Especially for myself, I enjoy jumping up in the play, moving the puck and creating offense from the back end. I know Detroit’s a puck-moving team … [that’s] how I enjoy playing. I’m really looking forward to the system that they play and trying to fit in as best as I can.
“Obviously a lot of memories in Washington and some memories that I definitely won’t forget,” Green said. “But it sort of slapped me in the face now that it’s time to move. I’m extremely excited to get started with the Red Wings, and I’m looking forward to moving forward, to be honest. The past is the past now, so just got to look forward.”
It sounds like Green grew tired of the burden of the past, and the failures, one postseason after another — failures that he contributed to as much as anyone.
He understood the expectations nearly four years ago, when he told The Washington Post, “It’s time that we stepped up, grew up and became, or at least try harder to become, the leaders of this team in everything we do. The time is now. It has to be. At the end of the day, we play the game to win a Stanley Cup, not for anything else. We’ve wasted enough time.”
If that was the case, they wasted four more years, and don’t appear any closer to a Stanley Cup than when Green declared “the time is now.”
A move to Detroit changes the narrative for Mike Green’s career. The story remains the same in Washington.
He will be missed.
Green was a source of frustration for Capitals fans for his inability to stay healthy, but he was perhaps the best offensive defenseman this franchise ever had. He was a good guy, like much of the Capitals’ roster, and my image of him will always be him riding his Vespa while wearing slippers in HBO’s “24/7: Road to the Winter Classic” in 2010.
The Capitals issued a statement thanking Green for the 10 years he spent here. “Mike was an ultimate professional in his long tenure with our organization and had a huge impact on our community,” it read in part. “We wish Mike all the best with the Detroit Red Wings organization.”
Green will return to Verizon Center on Dec. 8, dressing in the visitors’ locker room. The absence of Stanley Cups in the building will no longer be the weight he carries when he puts on his skates.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.