Mike Green has played in only 10 Capitals games this season with what was thought to be a groin injury, and Monday, the Capitals announced that Green would be missing even more time. He was scheduled for abdominal surgery Tuesday. Already placed on long-term injured reserve last week (with a first possible activation date of Feb. 1), Green is to miss at least four to six weeks following surgery.
General manager George McPhee clarified Green's surgery to the media Tuesday morning. "It's basically a sports hernia, but there are a couple parts to it," McPhee said. "One was a tendon issue, one was a little tear in the stomach (lining). The tendon healed just fine, but the hole didn't close up. We just need to close that thing up. It just never really healed to the point he can play with it effectively."
The Capitals had initially taken the conservative approach, treating Green's injury like a groin injury. But after re-injury on Jan. 7, the team decided to dig deeper into the real problem and discovered the stomach lining tear.
Green's absence is sorely missed on the Capitals' blueline. Because of various injuries that have kept him sidelined, he has only played in 12 of the Capitals' last 72 games. But when he is in the lineup, he makes an impact. Of the 10 games Green has played in this season, the Capitals have won nine.
But the fact that the Capitals win when Green is in the lineup should not come as a surprise. He played close to full seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10, and put up over 70 points both seasons, prompting Norris Trophy nominations. Last season, his performance finally gained attention, and he was honored with an NHL All-Star Game appearance, serving as an alternate captain for Team Staal.
For the Capitals, his most significant contribution typically comes on the power play. In 2008-09, Green tallied 38 power play points; 35 in 2009-10. In both of those seasons, Green scored more power play goals than even strength goals, and in that two-year span, he averaged 1.04 points per game.
With his powerful slap shot, Green's impact on the Capitals' power play is huge. In the 10 games he's played this season, Green scored three power play goals, two of those coming in one game against Detroit on Oct. 22. From 2008-2010, largely due to Green's power play performance, the Capitals' power play finished second in the NHL (25.2%) in 2009 and first (25.2%) in 2010.
This year, through the first eight games of the season -- with Green playing -- the Capitals' power play was at a staggering 29.6% success rate. Green accounted for three of the eight power play goals scored during that span. Since then, without Green, the Capitals have dropped to fifth place in the NHL, with a 19.7% conversion rate.
Green is also one of the Capitals' go-to guys in one-goal situations. His clutch third period game-winning and overtime goals have earned him the nickname "Game Over Green." He has 14 game-winning goals over six NHL seasons. Though Green has received some negative attention for his play in the playoffs, the numbers speak for themselves: in 36 playoff games with the Capitals, he has 25 points.
Green is no doubt talented, and brings speed and offensive finesse from the back end, while eating up the biggest minutes on the team (over 25 minutes per game when healthy). Few defensemen in the NHL have the same skill set and abilities as Green.
Teammates agree, pointing to Green as one of the most important elements on the team. "He brings, in my opinion, every element to the game -- offense and defense," defenseman Karl Alzner said.
"It's not a secret he's one of the best 'D' in the league. He can carry the puck, he can change the game so quick," says captain Alex Ovechkin.
Fellow Capitals and management hope this surgery, fairly common in the hockey world, will return him to his prior form. If not, the Capitals and Green, 26, may be at a crossroads.
Green is at the end of a four-year, $21 million contract, and becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the season. If Green returns healthy and better than ever after his recovery, and helps the Capitals to a deep playoff run, he should expect a good return when it comes to a contract offer at the end of the year. But if Green can't stay healthy, the Capitals may be tempted to let him walk in order to sign someone less injury-prone.
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