The Capitals announced on Monday that they have signed defenseman Mike Green to a three-year, $18.25 million contract.
Green, 26, was a restricted free agent. He could have accepted Washington’s qualifying offer of one-year, $3.5 million this summer or signed an offer sheet with another NHL club. Instead, the July 15 deadline to do so passed and the two sides finalized a new deal.
The Caps keep one of their core pieces in place – albeit a player whose past two seasons have been decimated by injury. Green, a two-time Norris Trophy runner-up, established himself as the best offensive defenseman in the sport with 68 goals and 137 assists (205 points) in the three seasons played between 2007 and 2010.
But he had just 24 points in 2010-11 after a concussion cost him almost all of the final two months of that regular season. Green returned for eight of the team’s nine Stanley Cup playoff games that year. But he was kept out of the lineup for most of the 2011-12 season, too, thanks to a minor ankle injury and a groin tear that eventually led to sports hernia surgery. Green again returned for all 14 playoff games and performed well.
Green is the only active NHL defenseman with two 70-point NHL seasons under his belt. And in one of them he played in only 68 games, an astonishing 1.07 points-per game total from the blueline. Even given his health woes, Green likely would have attracted a number of suitors if he’d chosen to sign the qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Offensive defensemen are in short supply and the market has traditionally rewarded them heavily.
But there was risk on his side, too. Green doesn’t know what the new collective bargaining agreement will look like. The NHL’s owners and the Players’ Association are locked in a struggle to negotiate those terms now. Another injury-marred season could also cripple his negotiating power. Two is a problem. Three? Even desperate teams become skittish then. And Green was granted a small raise despite two rough years in a row. The qualifying offer of $3.5 million would have been a serious pay cut given the average annual value of $5.25 million in his previous four-year contract. Green actually earned $6 million in 2008-09 and then $5 million the last three seasons. This time he gets paid $6 million in 2012-13 and 2013-14 with a bump to $6.25 million in his final season. The salary-cap hit for Washington rises from $5.25 million to $6.083 million.
It’s a risk for the team because that’s still a lot of money for a player with a documented injury track record. Green has also had shoulder problems in the past, is often a target for opposing defenseman and hasn’t always shown the ability to avoid big hits. So why sign him? Because the Caps also know his offensive ceiling is among the highest in the sport – even if he can’t match those early 70-point seasons. In limited games, he’s become a better two-way player the past two seasons. And then there’s that pesky open market.
Green, when healthy, is a superior player to former teammate Dennis Wideman. Wideman, as a 29-year-old unrestricted free agent, just signed a five-year contract with Calgary that holds a cap hit of $5.25 million. Washington essentially gave Green a raise he probably didn’t deserve in return for buying out two of those expensive unrestricted free agent seasons and the promise of a better future. Green gets some security and, like Wideman, can still become an unrestricted free agent a few months shy of his 30th birthday.
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