Should Washington Capitals Consider Making Mike Green a Healthy Scratch?

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Should Washington Capitals Consider Making Mike Green a Healthy Scratch?
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals making defenseman Mike Green a healthy scratch is an unimaginable scenario for both the Capitals and their fans. 

After all, the 29th overall pick in the first round of the 2004 NHL draft has never been a healthy scratch during his nine-year career totaling 464 games. 

Plus, the 28-year-old Green is already fifth on the Capitals' franchise list for goals scored by a defenseman. He is the only member of the top five on that list to have played fewer than 600 career games in a Capitals sweater.  

But Green has never had a season like this before. 

Here is a look at Green's basic statistics for this season through Dec. 16, with a projection over the entire season and a comparison with his 82-game averages: 

Mike Green's Actual/Projected 2013-14 Stats vs. 82-Game Averages
G A P PIM
2013-14 ACTUAL 2 14 16 46
2013-14 PROJECTED 5 38 43 125
82-GAME AVERAGES 17 35 52 65

Hockey-Reference.com

As this table shows, Green will set career lows in goals, assists and points along with a career high in penalty minutes if he continues at this pace. 

But there is more to Green's struggles than simply offensive production, or lack thereof. 

A ranking of Green among 12 Capitals defensemen and 268 NHL defensemen in several major statistical categories reveals specific areas where Green has both excelled and struggled during the 2013-14 season: 

Mike Green's 2013-14 Statistics and Team/NHL Ranks
CATEGORY STAT TEAM NHL
Games Played 31 3rd 107th
Goals 2 2nd 62nd
Assists 14 1st 18th
Points 16 1st 24th
Plus/Minus Rating -9 12th 247th
Penalty Minutes 46 2nd 7th
Minor Penalties 18 1st 3rd
Shots 83 2nd 8th
Shooting Percentage 2.4% 7th 150th
Time On Ice Per Game 23:30 2nd 33rd
Power Play Time On Ice Per Game 3:25 1st 18th
Short-Handed Time On Ice Per Game 0:24 11th 213th
Hits 29 4th 125th
Blocked Shots 50 3rd 71st
Giveaways 34 1st 11th
Takeaways 20 2nd 14th

NHL.com

Green is clearly struggling is some rather important areas. The plus/minus rating, minor penalties and giveaways are especially egregious. And Green's usually prolific goal scoring is not there to cover up his defensive deficiencies. 

There has got to be something Adam Oates can do to snap Green out of this funk, short of making him a healthy scratch. 

Well, Oates has already tried benching Green and his $6.08 million contract, according to CapGeek.com

On Oct. 22, during a close game against the Jets in Winnipeg that the Caps would eventually win 5-4 in a shootout, Oates benched Green for the final portion of the game after a myriad of blunders, as detailed by Katie Carrera of The Washington Post

Green was on the ice for two of the Jets’ four goals, both tallies by Bryan Little. On the first, he turned over the puck in the neutral zone sparking the 2-on-1 that led to Little’s shorthanded tally in the second period. Then in the third, he was caught in no-man’s land in what was a haphazard shift in Washington’s own end by all involved that led to Winnipeg’s fourth tally. Those two shifts along with the failed clearing attempts, misplayed passes and bad pinches piled up to result in Green not skating a single shift past 9:25 remaining in the third period. His 18:13 total ice time is the first time this season he hasn’t eclipsed the 20 minute mark.

That was two months ago. Green has played 22 games since then, scoring two goals with nine assists over that span. However, he also compiled a minus-three rating with 40 penalty minutes over the same period. 

Maybe the benching didn't work. 

Neither did a demotion from the first power-play unit. 

This move by Oates was a surprising development, considering that 49 of Green's 96 career goals have come on the power play. Peter Hassett of RussianMachineNeverBreaks.com further supported Green's place on the top unit when he explored the possibility of this move, back on Nov. 19: 

The PP unit’s de facto quarterback has always been Mike Green, at least when he’s healthy. Green has played 79.5% of the Caps’ power play time, second only to Alex Ovechkin. Green had recorded 7 points, all assists, all primary, on the power play before suffering a lower-body injury in the overtime win over the Blue Jackets on November 12th. In Green’s absence, the position of PPQB1 has fallen to John Carlson. 

Green returned to the lineup on Nov. 22, which was 12 games ago, and has played every game since. Sure enough, he lost the top spot on the No. 1 power-play unit.

In a 10-game period from Nov. 23 through Dec. 15, Carlson was the lone defenseman on the Capitals power-play unit 65.66 percent of the time while Green received that honor only 27.39 percent of the time over that same period, according to LeftWingLock.com

Should the Capitals make Mike Green a healthy scratch?

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The change is not yet reflected in the ice-time numbers, as Green still leads Washington's blueliners in power-play time on ice per game. But that could change in the not-too-distant future. Carlson is second behind Green at 2:35 and still has three power-play goals to Green's one. Green's dethroning as the Capitals' primary defenseman on the power play can still be considered temporary for now, but it may become permanent. 

In that same 10-game period from Nov. 23 though Dec. 15 in which Carlson occupied the top power-play spot, Green scored two goals, including—you guessed it—a power-play goal. He added three helpers. 

But Green also compiled a minus-two rating and racked up 26 penalty minutes in that same 10 games. So it's fair to say the power-play demotion also had little effect. 

Oates is running out of options. Perhaps he should call out Green through the media, hoping that embarrassment will shock Green into performing. 

The Capitals bench boss tried that, too.

Following the Capitals' 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 3, a game in which Green finally scored his first goal of the season, the Calgary native told Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com what was lacking in the Capitals' performance:

I think we could have put a little more pucks on net or maybe somebody get in a fight or throw a big check that maybe would have turned the momentum around. You can always say it afterward, but until you do it during the game and understand how the momentum shifts work … As soon as they got that second goal we kind of deflated and we never got our energy back up from there.

Oates' response? 

From Chuck Gormley

Then why didn’t he do it? Talk’s cheap. You’re talking to a guy who could not say that. In 1,500 games I could never say that because I was not the guy who could go out and [fight], so I would never say it. 

To his point, Oates and Green each have only two NHL regular-season fights to their names, according to HockeyFights.com. 

Maybe the Capitals coach is right. Maybe Green should keep his mouth shut and worry about his own game. 

Green clearly did not get that memo, either. 

A week later, Green attempted to reenact a scene from the first 45 minutes of The Mighty Ducks with his first-period display against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec. 10 at Verizon Center. Brian Stubits of Eye On Hockey for CBSSports.com had the blow-by-blow: 

Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green had one of the roughest periods you can imagine on Tuesday night in a game against the Lightning. In less than 12 minutes of play he racked up 18 minutes in penalties. No, he didn't drop his gloves to go for a fight either. In his opening six shifts Green drew a double-minor for high-sticking, took a minor for tripping and then another minor for once again high-sticking. To top it all off he earned a 10-minute misconduct for his response after the third called penalty. Oh, and let's not forget that two of the power plays for the Lightning resulted in goals, he was credited with a giveaway and Green was on the ice for a third Tampa Bay goal. Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

As if that weren't bad enough, Katie Carrera of The Washington Post added on Dec. 16 that "in games against the Florida Panthers and the Philadelphia Flyers this past weekend, Green’s turnovers in the defensive zone led directly to two more goals against." 

So that's it, then. Green has officially run out of options. 

Adam Oates needs to make Mike Green a healthy scratch. 

The Capitals must have Green playing at his best. Everything else Oates has tried to achieve that goal this season has failed. He needs to consider this option. 

For starters, Washington has younger, hungrier defensemen who would love to take Green's place, and some have performed well when given the chance. 

Case in point: There are six Capitals defenders who have played at least 20 games. Of the five that rank ahead of Green in terms of plus/minus rating, one is a second-year player (Steve Oleksy at plus-four) and two are rookies (Alexander Urbom at plus-one, Nate Schmidt at plus-four).

Oleksy has been healthy scratched at times this season. Urbom was healthy scratched on Dec. 18, and the last entry in his game log occurred on Nov. 29. Schmidt is currently playing with the Hershey Bears of the AHL

Any one of these three players could take Green's place in the lineup and fill in almost seamlessly. Schmidt is, in fact, the best candidate. The 22-year-old has had surprising success for Washington in 2013-14, registering two goals and four assists in 28 games. 

Making this move would give another Capitals defenseman a chance to play and continue to make progress in his development.

More importantly, this tactic can also serve to motivate Green, spurring him to improve on his weaknesses for when he returns to the lineup. And Green would return to the lineup in short order, as this proposal should be viewed as a one-game experiment for now. 

Of course, it could backfire. 

After all, Capitals fans know all too well what happens when a veteran on this team is made a healthy scratch for the first time in his NHL career. Just ask Martin Erat, who asked for a trade shortly after becoming a healthy scratch for the first time, according to The Washington Post

But JJ Regan of Yahoo! Sports thinks that in Mike Green's case, a trade is not out of the question. In fact, he wrote on Dec. 13 that "at this point, Green's trade value is higher than his on ice production and the Capitals should take advantage of that." 

Before you start posting your angry comments, let me say this: I didn't write this column to alienate Capitals fans by igniting Mike Green trade speculation. 

I'll burn that bridge when I come to it. 

But I did write this column to encourage Adam Oates and the Capitals to make Mike Green a healthy scratch.

Nothing else is working. 

The Washington Capitals—and their fans—expect Mike Green to play like a two-time Norris Trophy finalist, not like a member of the Mighty DucksIf you can think of a better way to encourage Green to stop playing like the latter and start playing like the former, I'm all ears. 

And tell Adam Oates while you're at it. 

 

Note: All statistics updated through Dec. 17 courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise. 

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