Red Wings Trade Rumors: Mike Green is an Attractive, Expensive Risk

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Probably trying not to fall too far behind Helene St. James in the "Diggers trying to stir shit up" category, Ansar Khan of MLive had the brilliant idea that the Red Wings should trade for Washington's Mike Green because, as Ansar sees it, the signings of Brooks Oprik and Matt Niskanen leave Green the odd-man out on their blue line and the Wings are still kicking tires.

They've inquired about Buffalo's Tyler Myers, Edmonton's Jeff Petry, Toronto's Cody Franson and others, but Green makes the most sense. The Capitals don't need him, and because he's entering the final year of his contract (at slightly more than $6 million), the cost of acquiring him shouldn't be as steep as it would be with the others.

Ok, makes sense. I can buy that.

If the Red Wings are reluctant to part with the likes of Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar or Anthony Mantha (whom they consider untouchable) for someone like Myers, they're not going to relinquish that much for Green, who might amount to a one-year rental.

Neat! So they're not going to have to spend as much to get a guy who checks off a lot of those pesky issues they're looking to improve on from the back end. He's a right-handed shot on a short deal and can definitely quarterback a power play.

On the downside, He's got just one year left on his deal, is much-maligned defensively, and has a long injury history. Green has played 80 or more games just once in his career and has had his offensive production fall off a cliff thanks to injuries and to the slow decline of the once high-flying Washington Capitals.

But Not So Fast

Khan seems to think that Green being traded is a foregone conclusion. He argues that the addition of Niskanen pushes him out of his job and that the 8 defensemen on their roster to only 12 forwards with $1.1M in cap space means that this is the move which will be made for the Caps to end up with the 14/7/2 roster setup that most teams go with.

It's not a stupid conclusion to draw by any means, but it certainly isn't foregone. Looking closer at the Caps' lineup, one of those 8 defensemen is the 28-year old journeyman Jack Hillen making $700K for one more year. That's a completely buryable cap hit on an eminently waivable player. Eliminate Hillen, and the Caps have $1.8M to play with for 2 forwards. That's not a lot, but these are forwards #13 and 14 we're talking about. It's not difficult to find two forwards for less than $1.8M.

I don't really find the argument that Washington now has too many puck-moving power play QB defensemen that compelling either. If Niskanen truly displaces Green on the top power play unit, then the overall effect is that Washington has a player capable of being a top unit guy on both units. That's not something you necessarily throw away just because you're close to the cap.

So How Cheap Will Green Be Again?

So let's pretend for a second that the Caps aren't being completely honest when they say that Green isn't on the block and that head coach Barry Trotz is looking forward to working with him (a stretch, I know...)

We've already deduced that they don't have to move him just to save space because there are worse defensemen they could get off their roster to save space for filler forwards. We've also figured that they don't have to move him on the "too many good puck movers" logic because it's stupid to assume a team has a limit of how many good offensive defensemen they want. You can see from Washington's roster that they do have certain needs in other positions though, so it does make it realistic that he could be moved.

That's not what Khan was saying though. The idea that Mike Green will definitely be moved and it should be for cheap doesn't make sense from the Capitals' perspective. They'll move him if he can return value to fill a spot they'd like (an NHL ready forward or a highly-touted prospect) but the Caps aren't rebuilding like the Sabres are. They could just as easily hold onto Green through his last year with them in an attempt to make it back into the playoffs to see what a reloading run could do for them.

If you'll notice, going back to the idea of what he can be had for, the return comes back, as always, to the young forwards that Detroit apparently doesn't want to let go. When this becomes the demand and the alternative is something Washington is capable of accepting going into the season with (i.e. not trading Green), then a trade that moves Green to Detroit still involves moving one of the young forwards. Khan calls Nyquist, Mantha, and Tatar "untouchable" while Helene's take on the situation throws Tatar into the trade-bait mix. In fact, Helene thinks Tatar is even more likely to be a part of that trade than Tomas Jurco.

Bottom line is that it's possible Green becomes a trade target at some point and if he does, it's likely that Detroit would make a good spot for him, but I don't see a reason for the Capitals to give a discount on a player they don't have to dump. Washington is in a position to demand franchise-reload prices for a would-be rental contract.

Is Green Bad Though?

The thing we haven't tackled yet is the question of whether Mike Green is even good. Seems silly to bury this consideration so deep, but just like every defenseman who is rumored to be available, one has to question how good he is. After all, if Green rules, then the idea that Washington won't give a discount on him doesn't matter so much (as you should spend it). If he's bad, the idea that you could get him cheap would be just as moot.

Offensively, Green was the highest-scoring defenseman on the league's 12th-highest scoring team (Detroit was 17th). He put up 11 points fewer than Kronwall in 9 fewer games, pacing just behind Detroit's top defenseman in scoring both at even strength and on the power play. He had the highest Corsi rating on the entire team and the 2nd-highest Corsi rel (measure of how much better the team does with him on the ice compared to how they do without him skating). His nine goals was higher than Kronwall's output and the 172 shots on net put the Detroit defense to shame (Kronner was the highest, shooting 110 times)

Usage-wise, Green played 2nd-pair level competition with sheltered zone starts and succeeded at it. Essentially, if the club is looking for Matt Niskanen on a shorter deal, Green fits the bill very well.

Defensively, Green has been criticized as being little more than a 4th forward on the ice when he plays. If we want to pretend that a defenseman has any control over the quality of shots against his team when he's on the ice, only John Erskine saw his goalies save a lower percentage of shots while on the ice at 5-on-5. Green also took 27 minor penalties this season, which was highest on the Capitals among defensemen (Brendan Smith had 29 and Kyle Quincey 33, for reference).

For additional info on the guy, I turned to our SBN Capitals blog Japers' Rink. (@Japersrink on Twitter) J.P. himself had this to say in response to the one question I asked.

Is Mike Green bad at defense?

What I'd say is "it depends." If you're asking about a traditional definition of defending, then Green's not really your guy. He's made strides there, but he's not necessarily the situational D you'd want to deploy for a faceoff in your own zone with a one-goal lead and 30 ticks left on the clock.

But if you're going with a Darryl Sutter definition (quotes at the bottom), yes, Green can defend - he's consistently out-possessed his teammates, even against top competition.

He won't appease the "Coffey sucked" crowd and can be maddeningly frustrating at times, but he's a hell of a hockey player and a very valuable one for teams that value things like "outscoring opponents" and "winning."

***

Sutter says the Kings' seemingly defend-first game is a "misconception The big thing in today's game is you have to be able forecheck and backcheck, and you have to have the puck. You can't give the puck up. We don't play in our zone, so there's not much defending."

"I've coached in three decades now and this stuff where they said Marian had to play in Jacques's system is a bunch of bull-crap. The game's changed. They think there's defending in today's game. Nah, it's how much you have the puck. Teams that play around in their own zone they they're defending but they're generally getting scored on or taking face-offs and they need a goalie to stand on his head if that's the way they play," said Sutter.

Here's Becca H from Japers' Rink as well (@BeccaH_JR on Twitter):

No, I don't think he is bad at defense... at least not from a pure skill perspective. I think he has all of the tools that make a truly great defenseman, especially in today's game - he has phenomenal skating ability, he's a great passer, he's able to move the puck out of the zone and up the ice quickly and efficiently, etc.

The weaknesses in his game lie in his occasional mental mistakes and physical durability. He will either not be thinking enough or be thinking too much - and because of the style of game he plays, and because of his ability and desire to chip in offensively, those mental mistakes can stick out more than one made by a defenseman who has more stay-at-home tendencies. We saw a lot of that this past season when he played the majority of his time under a system that tried to force him out of his strengths and comfort zone, and it wasn't pretty.

The physical element comes into play when he puts himself in situations where he's going to get hit, which he does a lot - and there's definitely a book out on him, because other teams have really started to hone in on that and use it to their advantage. Not only does that result in turnovers or bad penalties, but it's also cost him a number of games to injuries over the years (although last season was a bit better).

That said, what he brings on the ice (when healthy) often far outweighs the weaknesses. He's a high-risk, high-reward type of player, which means he's fighting off the same narrative that a lot of offensive-minded defensemen have faced - this notion that just putting up a lot of points doesn't make someone a good defenseman (or that it actually makes them a bad one). Like the PK Subbans and Erik Karlssons, people see high point totals and the occasional high-profile mistake and assume that Green is incapable of holding things down in his own end, which is simply not the case.

He actually led the Caps' D in ES CF%, SF% and FF% last season - in part because he was keeping opponents from scoring, and in part because he was doing the scoring himself, as he has done in pretty much every one of his seasons in the NHL. The fact is that while Green may make a mistake in his own end now and then, you notice it more because he's not actually in his own end all that often. When he's on the ice, he tends to have the puck, and when he has the puck, he tends to score or help create a goal. And as we all know, the best defense is a good offense.

- - -

So the bottom line seems to come down to the undeniable fact that the Capitals have consistently been better with Green on the ice than without. The traditional defensive role question and the injury history continue to be valid criticisms. When it all comes down to it, the question is simply about whether the risks are worth the potential rewards. I believe the Wings have enough defensemen on their roster right now who they can trust well enough to be on the ice for a defensive zone faceoff late in the game defending a lead. Green should be able to make sure they have more of those to defend in the future. It all comes down to cost.

Additional reading on Mike Green from Japers' Rink:

Mike Green Hits the Century Mark - A look at where Green stands all-time as a D-man with 100 career goals.

Two Dudes: The Grass is Always Greener? - A good point/counterpoint post discussing whether the Caps should trade Green.

2013-14 Rink Wrap: Mike Green - All the advanced stats/analysis you could want on how Green played this season and a look back at prior seasons for comparison. Great read.

Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov: A Potent Pair - A look at how being paired with Orlov helped a lot. Perhaps he wouldn't necessarily have to be paired with a stay-at-home guy. Perhaps Green and Smith could work well together?

A Blueline That's Hard to Defend - A look at the Caps' overall defensive performance, including Green's contributions.

Japers' Rink Mailbag: Turning the Tide on Possession and Mike Green at Fives - Mailbag post that takes an objective look at Green's even strength play during a time when the fans were frustrated with him. (scroll down to question 2).

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