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Washington Capitals and their Mike Green conundrum (UPDATE)

Greg Wyshynski
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UPDATE: We have our answer -- the Capitals announced they've re-signed Green to a 3-year, $18.25 million contract extension, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. Green will earn $6 million in 2012-13 and 2013-14 and $6.25 million in 2014-15.

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What kind of contract would you give a defenseman who scored 149 points in 143 games over two seasons, with a plus/minus of plus-63?

Now, what kind of contract would you give a defenseman who scored 31 points in 81 games over two injury-plagued seasons, with a plus/minus of plus-11?

Herein lies the problem for the Washington Capitals and Mike Green, who rejected a 1-year, $5-million qualifying offer on Sunday in favor of further negotiations on a long-term deal.

(UPDATE: Rand Simon of Newport Sports informs us that the qualifying offer was actually $3.5 million. Green's base salary is $3.5 million, but his signing bonus brought the value of the contract up to a $5.25 million AAV.)

He's an above-average defenseman, and an elite puck-mover. But he signed his 4-year, $21 million contract back when he was the first example above, and at 26 years old he's now Exhibit B.

So what do you do with Mike Green if you're GM George McPhee?

Here are two postseason evaluations of Green, first from Harry Hawkings of Rock The Red:

Green has struggled with injuries, yes.  He is still a supremely talented defenseman who has proved himself at the NHL level and is not "done" at the age of 27.

What's more, if Green were to leave, the only two offensive defensemen left on the Washington's roster (providing Dennis Wideman leaves, a very likely and good scenario) would be Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson.  Are you comfortable with leaving all of the puck pushing minutes to a third-year player and a second-year player for a team with Cup aspirations?  I didn't think so.

And from Japers' Rink, from their "the bad" section of his postseason report card:

The offensive numbers were eye-poppingly bad for a player who just two seasons prior led all defensemen in scoring and averaged more than a point per game, the 30-game goal-less drought almost inconceivable for a man who three years earlier set an NHL mark for blueliners by scoring a goal in eight-straight games. Green - who led all defensemen in even-strength goals over the three-year span ending in 2009-10 - didn't have a single one in 32 games in 2011-12, and in 87 minutes of power-play ice time, he managed just a single assist. At even-strength, Mike Green was outscored, per minute, by Karl Alzner. Yeah, it was that bad.

And while Green's defensive numbers, at least, looked good, they came against relatively soft competition at five-on-five, and those penalty-kill numbers were aided by other-worldly goaltending/puck luck (ditto his five-on-five numbers in the playoffs). Mike Green is a better defender than he was years ago, and better than his reputation in some circles... but let's not get carried away.

Of course, the elephant in the room is durability, and Green hasn't been able to demonstrate any in years - he's missed more than half of the Caps' regular season games over the past two seasons, and nearly one-third over the past four. His ability to stay healthy went first, but Green's production wasn't far behind.

The future of the Capitals' blue line is at stake in their negotiations with both Green and John Carlson. Roman Hamrlik, Tom Poti and John Erskine are all UFAs next summer. Karl Alzner, as valuable a D-man as the Capitals have, goes RFA and one assumes Carlson's next contract will greatly influence his. Orlov will seen increased minutes next season.

McPhee said the talks with Green and Carlson have been "healthy" and that the end result will be "deals that we can live with and they can live with." But the X-factors in Green's case are complicated, because of their uncertainty.

The first is his health, as he's missed 81 games in the last two seasons due to everything from concussions to a wonky groin. How long-term do you go with an oft-injured player?

The second is his coach. Adam Oates, in his first NHL head coaching gig with the Capitals, likes Green. Via the Washington Times:

"I used Mike's footage the last couple years in New Jersey showing the D how to corral the puck, move a puck and have the poise back there."

He's also expected to juice the Capitals' power play, which is the former star center's expertise as an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils. Like Alex Ovechkin, Green's power-play numbers have cratered in the last two seasons — going from 0.467 power-play points per game in 2008-09 to four in 32 games last season.

So what happens if Green commands a revitalized power play, and the points start piling up? Suddenly, $5 million per season and a long-term commitment looks reasonable -- so long as he's healthy.

Green remains a popular player in DC, and a player fans want to see succeed. The Capitals' defensive depth has allowed them to weather his absences a bit better, but his presence as a consistent, effective player is still vital — especially in what could be a year of offensive transition.

How much and how long for Mike Green?

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