The Underutilization of Mike Green

Mike Green

How the once-mighty Mike Green has fallen.

Only three seasons removed from a 76-point season, Green has scored only 11 goals and produced only 31 points in his last 81 games (over two seasons). There are many reasons why Green’s production as tumbled – injuries, Washington changing to more of a defensive system, and a lack of offensive opportunities, among other things.

With a fresh three-year contract extension in his back pocket, can Green regain his form as one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL? I think so.

Let’s take a look at the quantifiable, first. Green has never been one to face the top competition among Washington defensemen. With the emergence of John Carlson and Karl Alzner as the shutdown pairing, Green should be able to play pretty easy minutes on the second pairing.

Let’s take a look at the Corsi Relative Quality of Competition for Washington defensemen over the past five seasons. Corsi Rel QoC is the most accurate measure of quality of opponents out there. Corsi essentially measures puck possession:

Corsi is the difference between all shots directed at net for and against at even strength. That is (shots+blocked shots+goals+missed shots for MINUS SH+BLK+G+MS against). The purpose of the stat is to determine possession. It is, in fact, a proxy for “zone time”. A positive Corsi rate = more offensive zone time. Negative = more defensive zone time. “

Green was limited to less than 40 games this past season, and as you can see, he was pretty sheltered. Only three Caps defensemen had positive Corsi Rel QoC ratings – Wideman was out of his element playing a defensive role, and it showed.

Once again, Green saw the easiest minutes in terms of quality of opposition in 2010-11. Alzner and Carlson first emerged this season as the top pairing.

Again, Green’s minutes were pretty sheltered. It makes sense to get Green away from the top opposing forwards. He isn’t terrible defensively, but it doesn’t make sense to waste his offensive talents by putting him in a defensive role (although the same could be said for many of Washington’s star players).

Again, Green faced the easiest competition among all Washington defensemen. This was during his 76-point season.

Surprisingly, Green’s most difficult matchups were during his best season (30+ goals). He first emerged as a star defenseman in 2007-08.

Now let’s take a look at zone starts. Over the last four seasons, Green’s offensive opportunities have been declining. He started over 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone during his 76-point campaign (not a coincidence). Last season, he saw barely above 50% of his shifts in the offensive zone.

The Capitals need to get Green’s zone starts back up closer to 60. It doesn’t make sense to limit his offensive opportunities, especially with such a strong shutdown pairing in front of him. A few reasons contributed to the decline – the Caps became a more “defensive team” (in other words, their possession numbers dropped significantly), and Wideman was acquired. Wideman stole a lot of Green’s offensive opportunities.

This next chart shows Green’s power play goals for per 20 minutes of ice time. The dates are in the reverse order to the chart above, but the trend is the same. Ever since his 76-point season in 2008-09, his power play production has been in a sharp decline. Green is only going to return to the 60+ point mark if he can become a productive defenseman on the power play again.

Neil Greenberg from the Washington post analyzed Green’s power play production.

The good:

“In 2008-09, Green became just the seventh defenseman to ever score 30 goals in a season, the first to do it since Kevin Hatcher (1992-93) and the youngest since Paul Coffey (1983-84). In 2009-10 he hit the 70-point plateau again, this time scoring 19 goals and assisting on 57 others.”

The not so good:

“When Green tallied 73 points four years ago, more than half of those (38) came on the power play. The year after that, 35 of his 76 points came during the man advantage. Washington had 337 and 313 power-play opportunities during those years, respectively. This past season it had just 245. The league as a whole has seen power-play opportunities go from 5.8 per game in 2005-06 to a mere 3.3 this past season. For a power-play quarterback like Green, there just aren’t as many opportunities to produce points.

Green also won’t be as lucky on the power play as he was during the Norris years. In 2008-09, the team shot almost 17 percent during the man advantage in a league where the average is 13 percent. Same for the following year, where the Capitals converted their power-play shots at a 15 percent clip. Green also collected points on a vast majority of those goals scored and hasn’t been close since.”

Looking at Washington’s power play shooting percentage while Green was on the ice:

As Greenberg said, a 17% accuracy rating is unsustainable (unless your last name happens to be Bossy or Stamkos).

With all that being said, perhaps the biggest reason for decline has been Green’s role on the power play. This chart below shows his ice time breakdown for the 2007-08 season. As you can see, he was seeing a lot of power play time. Many nights he was playing upwards of 10—12 minutes on the power play alone.

Now looking at the same chart for 2011-12, and the differences are obvious. His overall ice time is a lot lower across the board, but most importantly, his power play minutes are not even close to where they used to be. This is due to a lack of power play opportunities across the league, as Greenberg wrote, and it is also due to Wideman playing significant player play minutes.

With Wideman now in Calgary, and Alzner-Carlson firmly established as Washington’s defensive pairing, everything is in place for Green to get back on track as Washington’s power play quarterback.

The Adam Oates hiring surely brought a smile to Green’s face. During his days as a player, Oates was one of the most creative forwards in the league. I’d expect him to give Green a very long leash in the offensive zone. A few different opinions on Green:

The good:

“Green’s mere presence in the lineup made the Caps a different team – with him dressed, they went 19-10-3; without him, 23-22-5. His maturation into a solid two-way defender continued, as he finished the season second among the team’s blueliners in relative Corsi at even-strength, posted the best on-ice goal differential per sixty and was relatively effective in limited penalty killing minutes.”:

The not so good:

“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.”

Green’s new contract ($6 million cap hit) is very comparable to his old one – in fact it represents a pay cut in terms of cap percentage. When Green signed his contract back in 2008-09, the salary cap was $57 million. His cap hit at the time was $5.25 million, or 9.3% of the cap.

With his new deal, a $6 million cap hit out of a $70 million salary cap his about 8.5%. Obviously the cap of $70 million is tentative, but the cap hit isn’t the important number – the % of the total cap is.

Do I think Green scores 30 goals again? Probably not. I don’t see him getting to 70 points, either. The NHL has relaxed the rules on obstruction, and the offense has correspondingly dried up across the league. If they get back on track and start rewarding power plays like they used to, Green will have a great chance to hit both numbers.

As for a tentative projection, look for Green to approach 15 goals and 45-50 points in 2012-13.

Note – the Corsi Rel QoC wasn’t meant to defend Green or exonerate him at all. On the contrary – it was meant to show that he has seen relatively easy competition for the last five years – something that hasn’t changed much. What has changed, however – zone starts, and power play time.