Since the Washington Capitals were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in May, most of the trade buzz surrounding the team has been regarding enigmatic Russian sniper Alexander Semin.
However, the franchise has another big decision to make with regards to a key player before the summer of 2012, as Mike Green will be up for restricted free agency on July 1st.
Green, a two-time first-team All-Star, is widely considered one of the best offensive defensemen in the game, but his play has been wildly inconsistent since not being named to Team Canada for the 2010 Olympics, especially during the Postseason.
Once considered the team's franchise defenseman, Green finished the 2011 NHL campaign playing on the Capitals' second defensive pairing, so it's unclear what the team will choose to do with the 25-year-old.
With the team locked into a number of long-term contracts as things stand today, here are five reasons why the Capitals should deal Mike Green before his contract expires in 2012.
When the Capitals negotiated Mike Green's contract extension after the 2007-08 Season, the young blueliner was coming off a breakout campaign that saw him tally 18 goals and 56 points, so the team rewarded him with a four-year deal worth $21 million.
As things stand today, the Capitals would be ill-advised to give Green another contract with a cap hit of $5 million a season, largely because he doesn't play as big a role in the team's success as he did at that time.
The team's No. 1 defenseman, John Carlson, will also be a pending RFA, and inking him to an extension will be the Caps' top priority, so Green may have to wait to see how much money is left for him when Carlson is taken care of.
If Carlson commands anything close to what Green did after his breakout season, Washington will be hard-pressed to keep Green, Dennis Wideman and Alexander Semin in the fold, so the team will be faced with a tough decision.
Green will surely command interest from other teams, especially those in need of a game breaker on the back end, so General Manager George McPhee should test the market and see what he can obtain in return for the dynamic defenseman.
Though Mike Green's effort level during the 2011 Postseason shouldn't be questioned, he wasn't as effective as the Capitals would have hoped during the team's second-round loss to the Lightning.
A large factor in his struggles were injuries, but Green has a tendency to become intimidated when teams up the physical play on him, especially because he's undersized for an NHL defenseman.
Prior to 2011, Green has been inconsistent during the playoffs, as he was sub par in both 2009 and 2010, tallying just one goal in 21 games during that span. For a defenseman who is expected to lead the charge offensively, Green simply has to be better at converting on his opportunities, or the team's offense stalls.
If Green can't stay healthy in 2011-12, or lacks confidence heading into the 2012 trade deadline, the Capitals should look for a more battle-tested alternative, as this will likely be Washington's best chance for a Stanley Cup in the near future.
Since the 2009-10 Regular Season came to a close, Mike Green hasn't been the same player he was prior to that time.
Though he played in just 49 games last season, his effectiveness offensively tailed considerably even when he was healthy, as he managed just eight goals and 24 points, a far cry from his usual offensive production rate.
While Green has long been a fan favorite in Washington, he has also become a poster boy for the Capitals' postseason struggles, and he appears to feel the pressure from the fanbase and critics around the hockey world.
After a couple of inconsistent seasons, Green would probably benefit from a change in scenery, and a fresh start is likely the best solution for both the team and the player.
If he continues to struggle in 2011-12, McPhee should be entertaining trade offers, as somebody will be willing to offer up an enticing package for the two-time Norris Trophy finalist.
The time is now for the Washington Capitals, as they're loaded at every position and appear more prepared than ever to take a run at the franchise's first Stanley Cup.
With that in mind, there'd be no better way for the team's management to show the players that their previous postseason efforts haven't been anywhere close to good enough, and that underperforming on the game's biggest stage simply isn't an option going forward.
Mike Green and Alexander Semin have both been panned by hockey analysts for their lackluster efforts during the Caps' last three playoff appearances, so unless Semin is dealt, Washington could use Green to convey a message to the squad.
Green isn't as untouchable of a trade asset that he was two years ago, so if McPhee can acquire important parts for the future in return for the inconsistent yet wildly talented rearguard, he could do so knowing he'll send a clear message to his players.
The 2010-11 NHL Season served as a coming-out party of sorts for two blue-chip defensive prospects in the Capitals' system, as Karl Alzner and John Carlson emerged as unquestionably the team's top defensive pairing.
Seeing as Alzner and Carlson are each younger than Green by at least three years, it appears that they are now the cornerstones of Washington's blue line for years to come, which makes Green a very expensive No. 3 defenseman.
Unless Green is willing to take a steep pay cut to remain a Capital beyond this season, it doesn't make sense for Washington to hang onto three young defensemen, especially considering Carlson and Alzner will each be in need of new deals within the next two years.
If Green's play improves drastically early on in 2011-12, and he regains his position as the team's top dog on the back end, McPhee will likely be forced to go with more affordable options to play behind Alzner and Carlson.