The Red Wings have been desperately searching for an offensive defenseman to man the backline since, well, Nicklas Lidstrom.
The Red Wings haven’t had a blue liner break the 50-point plateau since Lidstrom’s 62-point season in the 2010-11 campaign.
They may have found that 50-point defenseman in Mike Green.
Green is one of just two active defensemen with two 70-point seasons in their career (Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators is the other), and he is widely known as one of the better offensive defensemen in the league.
But, Green hasn’t had a 70-point season since the 2009-10 season, when he was a part of the high-flying Washington Capitals offense. In that 2009-10 season, Green managed to record 19 goals and 57 assists for 76 points in 75 games. The year prior to that season, Green scored 31 goals, recorded 42 assists for 73 points in just 68 games.
Those days of Green are more than likely long-gone, as he hasn’t come close to that rate in some time. But Green actually showed signs last year with the Capitals that he is heading in the right direction towards reviving his offensive game.
Green hasn’t even come close to a 70 points 2009-10. In fact, between the 2010-11 season and the 2011-12 season, Green played in just 81 regular season games, consistently missing time with a slew of injuries. Last season was the first time Green has scored more than 40 points, when he had 45 in 72 games.
That is a really impressive point total for Green. Here’s why.
Last season, Green was a third-pairing defenseman for the Capitals, playing on the right side of the ice. John Carlson emerged as an elite top pairing defenseman, and new free agent arrival Matt Niskanen bumped Green down to the third pair. As a result, Green’s ice time went down. In fact, Green had the least amount of even strength five on five ice time in his career since his first full season at the age of 20, recording just 14.8 minutes per game, according to War On Ice.
Green not only slid right down the depth chart at even strength, but he slid off the power play unit for Washington almost entirely. He was replaced on the top unit by Carlson, and Niskanen was generally used on the second unit. Green’s 2.8 minutes per game of power play time was the third-lowest amount of time since his first full season in the league.
So, what does that mean? It means the vast majority of Green’s offensive production was coming at even strength five on five play last season. In fact, just one of his 10 goals last year came from the power play, as well as 16 of his 35 assists.
Take a look at this graph. We can visualize how much Green has produced on the power play over the course of his career. The x-axis shows his total assists on the power play, the y-axis shows the amount of goals he scored on the power play, and the size of the circle shows how much time on ice he got on the power play per game (don’t worry about the color of the circle).
We see that, despite seeing a little amount of time on the power play, Green was producing a decent amount of assists (that’s the benefit of teeing up Alex Ovechkin for his patented one-timer). But what should be much more clear is Green’s production during the 2008-09 season and 2009-10 season. His numbers were heavily influenced by his power play production.
So what does that mean? It means Green was producing the vast majority of his offense at even strength. Green scored nine of his total goals last season at even strength five on five play. That ties a career high, set in, yup, you guessed it, the 2008-09 season. Seeing Green produce offensive numbers at even strength is a good sign for the Red Wings.
Just to visualize his even strength production, let’s look at that graph again, with the exact same parameters, but this time we’ll look at his production at even strength five on five.
We can see that Green’s season last year was almost right on par with his 73-point season at even strength.
But, remember, Green was utilized as a bottom-pairing defenseman. He wasn’t a bottom pairing defenseman during those 70-point seasons. When you’re a top-pairing defenseman, you generally play with highly skilled players. When you’re a bottom-pairing defenseman, you generally aren’t paired with high-quality players. Makes sense, right? According to Hockey Analysis, Green’s primary defensive partners last year at even strength five on five were Nate Schmidt, Jack Hillen and Tim Gleason. Schmidt is a bit of an up and comer, but Hillen and Gleason aren’t known as the best defensemen in the league.
We can again visualize this. This time, we’ll look at Green’s points per 60 minutes of even strength five on five play versus his quality of team mates (measured through puck possession stats). The x-axis measures the fraction of Green’s offensive zone starts (the total percentage of his shifts that start off in the offensive zone), the y-axis measures his quality of team mates. The size of the circle represents his time on ice per game, and this time the color represents his points per 60 minutes of play at even strength five on five (the darker the blue, the better. The darker the red, the worse). Let’s take a look.
Green’s quality of line mates was the lowest in his career, yet he was still producing a decent amount of points per game at even strength five on five play.
If Green is given more ice time, a better defensive partner like Danny DeKeyser or Niklas Kronwall, is given time on the first power play unit and picks off right where he left off with the Capitals last season, Green is entirely capable of chipping in a significant amount of offense for the Detroit Red Wings.