September 17, 2009
As a fan of "Cribs," MTV's chronicle of lifestyles of the gluttonous and varying-degrees-of-famous, Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green(notes) jumped at the chance to have his luxury condo documented on video -- even if he chose not to indulge in the show's legendary clichés.
Did he stock the fridge with bottles of Cristal? "No, no ... I was myself," he said.
Ah, but what about the ultimate accoutrement for young, male stars on the show through the years: The household stripper pole?
"Well, that was already in the plans long before 'Cribs,'" he said, deadpan.
Green had some editorial control over the MTV cameras, being careful with what they did or did not capture in his home. It was a welcome change from last season, when the media seemed to control Green.
He was anointed as a star in his fourth NHL season, a record-breaking campaign that saw him score 31 goals with 42 assists. His name wasn't just bandied about in Norris Trophy chatter; many were wondering if Green could become the first defenseman in League history to crack 50 goals. "It was a little much at times. I wasn't used to it," said Green.
Green carried the burden of those expectations, and mounting ailments, as the postseason arrived. He didn't look like the same player in 14 playoff games as he was in 68 regular-season games; a disappointing performance that culminated in a Game 7 benching against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He also didn't look like the same player off the ice, as the lapse in his conditioning during the season was evident.
What happened? "The way things went in the regular season versus the playoffs, I was asking myself the same question. But you live and you learn and you move on. As a player, as a person, you just make sure you don't make the same mistakes," said Green.
All indications are that he won't.
Green returned to Capitals training camp this month under 200 pounds and looking like a world-class athlete. It's part of a mandate from Coach Bruce Boudreau that the Capitals, to a man, improve their fitness for an arduous regular season and marathon playoff run.
"We're going to push them from day one of camp to be the best conditioned, hardest working team in the League," he said.
Boudreau is one of Green's staunchest defenders, believing that his defenseman was scrutinized to the point where his contributions weren't appreciated in last year's playoffs. Some saw Green struggle with outlet passes, make bad decisions and rarely look like the dynamo he was in the regular season; Boudreau thinks the bar was set too high.
"He had an average playoff, and everyone expected him to have a tremendous playoff. I think you guys built it way out of proportion. He still had nine points in 14 games. You prorate that to 82, and he probably led the League in scoring from a defensive standpoint. He had one real bad game, and that was in Game 7," said Boudreau.
As for Green's struggles with the external pressures, the coach was confident that it was part of the maturation process: "Last year was last year."
Listening to Green, one comes away believing he's a year older and wiser. He doesn't come out and discuss the specifics behind his postseason struggles -- although they clearly went beyond snapping his favorite sticks -- but he acknowledges that there were basic problems in his approach that he believes will be remedied.
"It's a long season, and you get beat up, and you gotta take care of your body," said Green. "This year, I'm well aware of what I need to do to make sure I'm the best I can be to help the team. I'm focused throughout the whole year. I think you'll see a big change."
There are reasons for Green to be more comfortable this season. He's the established player, rather than the flavor of the month. He's chasing the Norris rather than defending it. Perhaps most of all, Bob Woods, who like Boudreau coached Green with the AHL Hershey Bears, was added to the staff as an assistant coach in a move Green endorses.
Not that there isn't pressure. The Capitals are on a short list of Eastern Conference, and Stanley Cup, favorites after pushing the Penguins to seven games in last year's semifinals. Green has to meet the expectations of last year's numbers and convince his postseason critics that it was an aberration.
Then there's the Team Canada thing.
Green was invited and attended Olympic orientation camp last month, in competition for a 2010 Winter Games roster spot against peers like Jay Bouwmeester(notes) and Shea Weber(notes), as well as established stars like Scott Niedermayer(notes) and Chris Pronger(notes).
"Niedermayer was my favorite player growing up," said Green. "Pronger I don't like so much, because he hit me last year."
Although he says making the roster is "extremely important," Green isn't a lock. The first 20 games of the NHL season could be an essential audition for Team Canada brass; a fact he's doing his best to ignore. "I'm trying not to worry about it too much. If I do, it's going to affect my play. I'm worried about my team right now, and my team is what's most important," he said.
Last year, Green struggled with the expectations of others and the pressure to meet them. In talking to him, there's a sense he's come to terms with why he couldn't do that last season, and how he will this season.
Like his teammate Alexander Ovechkin(notes), Mike Green is taking that pressure in stride while at the same time achieving a level of sports celebrity status -- from the MTV shoot to the magazine coverage to his new (and, to some, unintentionally hilarious) Web site, GreenLife52.com. It's a place for Mike Green videos, Mike Green gear and, this season, a Mike Green blog.
"It's just a way to reach out to the fans. It's not really my No. 1 priority, but it's a great way to keep them informed," he said.
Blogger, huh? Doesn't he know they can't be trusted?
"Oh no [they can't]," he said, again deadpan. "Especially myself, actually."