Mike Green sounded like someone who didn’t want his time in Washington to end, but had come to the realization it has.
Talking with the media on Friday at the Capitals’ annual breakup day, Green said he’d like to re-sign with the Caps as an unrestricted free agent but wondered if they will be able to afford to keep him as a third-pair defenseman who likely will command more than $6 million a year.
“Ten years now I’ve been with the organization and it’s hard to think of the uncertainty of this summer and what might happen,” Green said. “It’s probably a little scary at times for myself to think that anything could happen. But I’ve got to thank Washington for everything up to this point. It’s been quite the journey and we’ll see what happens.”
With long-term commitments to defensemen Matt Niskanen [6 more years, $5.75 million cap hit], Brooks Orpik [4 years, $5.5 million], John Carlson [3 years, $3.966 million] and Karl Alzner [2 years, $2.8 million], the Capitals are more likely to take Green’s current $6.083 million and put it toward resigning restricted free agents Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson.
“That’s the thing,” Green said. “They’ve got their challenges with what their vision is for their team and how certain players fit in or don’t fit in. At the end of the day they want to make their team the best they possibly can and for myself I want to be in a position to play on a competitive team and put myself in a position to win a Cup, too. There are a lot of factors that come into play that aren’t always made public, but the underlying thing is winning and that’s the bottom line, really.”
Green said he would consider taking less money to remain in Washington and plans to have an active role in negotiations with the Capitals and, if necessary, other NHL teams that may be interested if a deal with the caps cannot be made.
“I want to play a significant role,” said Green, whose average ice time dropped from 22:43 last season to 19:06 this season. “I feel like I can play top two for sure. This year I was paired on the third line and I took pride in every time I went on the ice to do my best and contribute to the team just like every other player did in the dressing room.”
In 10 seasons with the Capitals, Green has recorded 113 goals and 237 assists in 575 games and another nine goals and 26 assists in 71 playoff games. But, just like Alex Ovechkin, he has never played beyond the second round of the post-season.
Like many of the Capitals who spoke yesterday, he thought this would be the year.
“This was probably one of the most fun years I’ve had playing here,” Green said. “The things we were able to do this year and how far we came was incredible. It’s obviously unfortunate we’re not still playing.
“That’s the hardest part because we grew so much and we felt we could win. The bond we had this year was probably the strongest bond we’ve had. It’s sad to go away from it now, with the season ending. Everybody is sort of parting their own ways. That’s the tough part, and not being able to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish as far as winning a Cup. This organization is going to win a Cup, I believe it.”
Green took a pair of penalties in the second period of the Caps’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Rangers in Game 7 on Wednesday night, with the second, a cross-checking penalty against Dan Girardi, leading to Kevin Hayes’ game-tying power-play goal.
“I thought the calls were a little soft,” Green said. “My opinion doesn’t really matter, to be honest.”
Green credited the Capitals’ coaching staff, notably Todd Reirden, for helping him becoming a more well-rounded defenseman and turning a minus-16 last season into a plus-15 this season.
“I thought this year was one of the most instrumental years for me developing as a player,” he said. “I’ve played 10 years now and it’s taken that to understand mentally and physically to get your game at a high level. I feel like my best years of hockey are ahead of me.”
In his 10 years in Washington, Green has developed strong friendships on the team, none stronger than the one he has with Nicklas Backstrom, who called him his closest friend on the team. Orpik, whose locker stall is beside Green’s, said he also developed a good relationship with the 29-year-old defenseman.
“I had a different perception of him than what he’s actually like,” Orpik said. “I look at him more as a person than as a hockey player. He’s just a really good guy to be around. His role probably shifted around a little bit as the season went on but he had a great attitude all year long. I don’t know if he knows it, but I probably learned a lot from him.”
Alzner said he’d like Green to return to the Caps, but if he doesn’t he wants him to find a place where he’s happy.
“Hopefully, it’s with us,” Alzner said. “He’s that good. Even though he was playing less minutes he means a lot to the team. Hopefully, it works out in our favor but at the same time I want all the players to be in the right spot for them and their families and get what they deserve.”
Green said his final decision on where he plays next season will not be based solely on money.
“Obviously, it’s nice and you want to be valued properly, but it’s not just about that for me,” he said. “It’s about putting myself in a position to win. We’ll see what happens. They’ve got a lot of work they’ve got to do this summer.”
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