Mike Green was sent home early from the Washington Capitals west coast road trip, along with concussed center Nicklas Backstrom. It’s a development that, while not unexpected, is extremely troubling for all concerned. Backstrom being out of the lineup presents all sorts of problems for the current Capitals team, and if his injury requires him to miss a significant amount of time, it puts a legitimate dent in the Caps hopes of resurrecting their season.
But Backstrom is signed to a long-term deal, so his long-term health needs to be taken into consideration before he attempts to play again.
Green doesn’t have that luxury.
The impending free agent has missed all but nine games this season, and was forced from Saturday night’s game in the second period after taking a punishing blow from a San Jose forward. He skated just 7:11 in the contest. His latest comeback lasted four and a half periods.
Green has played in just 57 games — regular and post-season — since the start of the 2010-11 season, missing the rest with various ailments, including concussion symptoms, ankle and groin injuries.
Head coach Dale Hunter remarked after the game that Green was taken out as a precautionary measure, but the true seriousness of the situation came to light today when Green was sent home. The Capitals are extremely guarded with information about injuries to players, and Green’s case is no different. Absent of concrete evidence, we’re forced to speculate about Green’s condition based on the actions of the team.
Their actions of sending the player home are clear, though: he’s not ready to play NHL hockey. And he probably never was. In this recent short stint, Green has looked tentative, cautious, slow. He avoided contact and did not play with his usual confidence as a singularly talented player on the blue line. Even in interviews, the normally playful Green was reticent, questioning his health, fitness and ability.
“I don’t think I’ll be 100 percent for a long time,” Green said after practicing with the team last week. “I’ve just got to get to that stage where I can play.”
Did he come back to soon on his own, only to jeopardize his health and rest of his season? Did the team push him back on the ice, desperate for his ability on the blue line? Do these questions even matter? Maybe it’s immaterial. Maybe Green was going to hurt himself regardless. Maybe, as he indicated in his quotes on Dec. 27, this is something he’s going to have to pay attention to the rest of his career.
That last thought makes looking at the big picture more cloudy. How can the Capitals possibly re-sign Green to a costly multi-year deal with his injury history? Regardless of his incredible talent on the back-end, how can the Caps — or any other team, for that matter — commit so much money to a player that can’t stay on the ice?
Green knows that he needs to get healthy, get back on the ice, and stay there throughout the rest of the season and the playoffs, should the Caps find themselves in that position, in order to garner that large contract that should be coming to him, either from the Caps or elsewhere.
The positives in Mike Green’s game are evident and age-wise he is in the prime of his career. He should be due for a huge pay raise when the Caps’ season ends. If he can’t stay on the ice, none of it matters.