A banner screen-printed with Mike Green’s likeness hangs outside two of the uppermost levels of a parking garage underneath the Washington Capitals’ practice facility. Alongside it are similar tributes to Rod Langway, the Hall of Famer and face of the franchise in the 1980s, and Alex Ovechkin, the team’s current star.
It’s unquestioned that Green has done his part to revitalize hockey in Washington, playing at a high level for the better part of his 10 seasons with the Capitals. He was twice a finalist for the Norris Trophy, given to the league’s best all-around defenseman, and experienced a renaissance this season, benefiting from the least time on ice in the previous seven years.
Yet like everything else about Green’s tenure with the Capitals, how long that banner remains splayed out over the concrete this summer is anyone’s guess.
An unrestricted free agent come July, Green’s departure from the only NHL team he has ever known seems all but certain. He had been relegated to a role as a third-pair defenseman before this season and lost his perch on the top power-play unit midway through it, making it unfathomable that the Capitals would come anywhere near matching his $6.25 million salary for a player with his responsibilities.
Green, though, is aware there are plenty of moving parts when it comes to contract negotiations, and on Friday, as he packed his belongings and left the building, he expressed hope that there would be some way he could return to the team next season.
“I mean, they’ve got their challenges and whatnot with what their vision is for their team and how certain players fit in or they don’t fit in,” Green said. “At the end of the day, it’s what they want to make their team the best they possibly can. For myself, I want to be in a position to play on a competitive team and put myself in a position to win a [Stanley] Cup, too.”
For the Capitals, there’s the matter of the salary cap, which, because of the declining value of the Canadian dollar, is only projected to increase marginally next season. They will need to offer raises to three players — Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby — that will not come cheap. They also could look to retain centers Jay Beagle and Eric Fehr, whose contracts are also expiring.
But for Green, there are a multitude of scenarios to ponder, many of which straddle a fine line. He wants to win a championship, acknowledging that in his first 10 seasons, he’s made enough money to want to pursue happiness. He believes he could again be a top-two defenseman, but knows first-year coach Barry Trotz’s system, which knocked his ice time from an average of 25 minutes over the last seven seasons to just 19:06 this last one, was a large factor in his health and success.
He played in 72 games, his most since 2009-10, and had 45 points off 10 goals and 35 assists. His 53.0 even-strength shot attempt percentage, a rough measure of the Capitals’ puck possession when Green is on the ice, was his highest in four seasons.
“It was actually a good way that we did it with Mike,” Trotz said. “It allowed him to be fresher. He played a full season, for the most part. He wasn’t as banged up as he was in the past. We could move him up in terms of minutes when we were down in games, and we did that. I think it just brought freshness to his game.”
Paired with Nate Schmidt, then Jack Hillen, and after the trade deadline, with Tim Gleason, Green was given the go-ahead to creep up into the play more frequently this season under Trotz and defensive assistant Todd Reirden. It accentuated an offensive side of his game that helped him score 31 goals in 2008-09, still the most by a defenseman in the last 20 years.
“I think we knew what each other was going to bring,” Gleason said. “I think we did it on a consistent basis. He’s a hell of a player, especially on the offensive side of things. Sometimes I wish I had a pair of mitts like that guy. He’s confident, he’s patient and he’s obviously a well-rounded player.”
Green said this season was “probably one of the most fun” he’s had in Washington, making the potential of a departure sting that much more. While most players prefer to defer to their agents, he said he would like to be active in contract negotiations this summer, perhaps so he could more accurately understand where he fits.
“You know, 10 years now with the organization, and it’s hard to think [about] the uncertainty of the summer and what might happen,” Green said. “It’s probably a little scary at times for myself to think, but anything can happen. But I’ve got to thank Washington for everything up until this point. It’s been quite the journey, and we’ll see what happens.”