On Defense: Mike Green


    The most important person involved in the Mike Green snub from the Canadian Olympic team is perhaps the defenseman himself.

    Reasoning used by the Canadian contingent isn’t likely similar to that of the general public, although the overwhelming sentiment of a lack of defensive game (often incorrectly portrayed as ‘liability’ in some circles) seems to be mostly prevalent.

    And it’s a falsity.

    While most ascribe to the notion that defensive imperfections limited his chances at the Olympic squad, it’s the early 2009-10 focus on the defensive game that I feel was the reason for Green watching from the sidelines.

    However, this lack of defensive ability has been inappropriately etched into public perception. There are two reasons for this; 1) general fan’s lack of viewings for Green during the season, with the only exposure limited to playoffs 2009; 2) perpetuation of this lack by members of the media who, without fail, also fall into the first category. Fewer views provide less exposure and incorrect analysis.

    Green’s defensive slide in the playoffs coincided with a shoulder injury that hindered him offensively as well during the Capitals postseason run. He wasn’t able to shoot properly or make the crisp passes he was known for, while hurting defensively, ranging from the extreme of limited physical contact to even something as simple as stick extension to take away space from onrushing forwards.

    In the public eye, the injury was less important than the ‘defensive liability’ perpetuated further through the media, who in their limited viewings during the season conjured up the conclusion of a weak defensive game, constructing an inappropriate categorization of the 24-year-old as hampered defensively.

    They were wrong.

    The breakout year, established in 2008-09, had more to do with an offensively aggressive, rover style. He led offensive rushes, often getting down deep in the zone and then scrambling back into defensive posture with lessened pressure. Add some weak side presence and glove hand high wristers and the result was the first 30-goal season by a defenseman since Kevin Hatcher, over a decade ago, and 73 points.

    Sure, there were brain cramps along the way, but not to the degree of the public display in the playoffs.

    I don’t feel the Calgary native’s snub was directly related to his lack of defensive game. Along with an overlap of specific skills already prevalent with some veteran defenseman for Canada, more specifically, Dan Boyle, there was another reason.

    And this is where Green’s defensive game didn’t do him in, instead the focus defensively and getting away from the player he was early on in October and November. He was auditioning his weakness, not his strengths.

    At season’s onset, when he should have just played his game that led to the breakout campaign, as a rover and premier defensemen in the NHL – perhaps world-class as well – he instead focused on the defensive side.

    He didn’t wander as much offensively with the same regularity. His rover style came in glimpses, and he wasn’t scoring as much. In October and November he scored three goals; (26-3-22-25), plus-7, 1 PPG, 25 minutes TOI average.

    When he finally discovered that his offensive game coupled with responsible yet still maturing defense was the way to go his offensive numbers exploded but by that time he was already on the consideration list for the Olympics. In December until the Olympic break, his numbers were different, including a return to goal scoring; (31-11-24-35), plus-21, 6 PPG, 25 minutes TOI average. Vowing to make the members regret their decision, he’s scored eight goals from Dec 23, 2009.

    There is contrast.

    Scott Niedermayer hasn’t been the same defenseman this season, getting caught standing still, forcing too much as the senior member of the Ducks. The returning veteran, one willing to put in his blood, sweat and tears for Canada in the past earned his spot more so from reputation, rather than performance. In a 5-1 win over the Ducks, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin caught the elder Niedermayer flatfooted on almost every occasion they were on the ice together, a public display of what that match up looked like, with the potential of what it could be like should Canada and Russia meet head-to-head.

    The same barometer of performance that I feel left Mike Green off the Canadian Olympic team wasn’t used in the same instance in the case of Niedermayer. His inclusion was automatic. Niedermayer’s drop on the defensive side isn’t as relevant. And they even named him captain. In a comparative sense, a case could also be made that Green is more rounded than super sophomore, Drew Doughty, who has excelled offensively, while still struggling at times in his own zone. The struggling is similar to Green’s cramps last season. But the numbers on the offensive side don’t lie for the young Kings defender.

    While Team Canada officials may differ in opinions to keep Green off the Olympic team, in the end, the defenseman himself, focusing on auditioning for a role with the club by focusing on the weaker sides of his game may have been the ultimate downfall.

    Enjoy the Olympics hockey.