There’s no question that the weakest link on the Detroit Red Wings is their defense corps. Two years ago, badly in need of a right-handed puck moving defenseman, the team inked Mike Green to an $18-million contract with an average annual value of $6-million. At the time, Green was coming off of a 45 point season and a 2nd round playoff exit with the Washington Capitals.
Now, entering the third and final year of his contract, it’s widely believed that Green will be traded as a rental at the trade deadline if the team believes itself to be out of the playoff picture. This would be a good move as the two parties will likely part ways at the end of this season anyways, with Green wanting to take a run at a Cup and the Wings having already replaced him with another veteran defenseman contract (and needing the cap space to re-sign their young core).
Waiting until the deadline to trade him is a risky move on several fronts, though. First, he might get injured, which would make him untradeable. At 31-years-old, Green has put his body through many years of professional hockey. Things like ankles, knees, and backs start to weaken and tire as the years of intense physical labour catch up to them. And it’s not like Green has a completely clean history of injury. Through the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, Green played a total of 67 games for the Capitals as he fell victim to various injuries including a groin tear in 2012 that required surgery. Since then, Green has never played a full 82-game season, though he has consistently played 70+ games.
Even if Green makes it to the trade deadline completely unharmed, there is still the chance that he has a terrible season. Green has been a consistent point-getter throughout his career, putting up a career 1.59 P/60. Last season, he led all Wings defensemen in all offensive categories by a large margin. He was top-50 in points among league defensemen. But he’s at the point of his career where there is only one way to go and it’s down. It’s only a matter of time until his production starts to taper off and he loses his edge against speedy oncoming forwards. While I think this is one of the weaker arguments for trading him now, selling Green when his value is at its highest is key. With the kind of season the Red Wings are likely going to suffer through, it wouldn’t surprise me if Green’s value decreases on their way to the trade deadline.
Even if his offense started to taper off, Green would add a lot to the Red Wings blue line. But there is such a backlog of NHL-ready defensemen on this team in guys like Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul who are either going to meet the waiver wire or sit in the press box for the majority of the season if Green is on the ice. They’ll draw into the lineup occasionally, when Kronwall needs a rest, but they won’t be granted the confidence that comes with being a regular NHL defenseman. Beyond Sproul and XO, there are Griffins pushing to play more for the Red Wings, too. Robbie Russo played 19 games for the team last year and Dan Renouf was called up for one game. Adding some youth into the mix wouldn’t be the worst thing for a team whose average age on the blueline is 32-years-old.
Finally, and most urgently, the team needs the cap space that trading Green now would provide. The Athanasiou saga continues as Holland tries to get him to sign for as little as possible, but even if AA signs at $1.9-million AAV, he’ll will be forced to make a move. Sure, Kronwall and Sproul can flirt with the LTIR, but the status of their health is largely out of Holland’s hands. It’s not something he can control and is therefore unpredictable. Everyone agrees at this point that it’s time for this Athanasiou drama to end. Get him signed and figure out your cap trouble. Trading Green now goes a very long way in helping with that.
Mike Green has been a serviceable defenseman for the last two years and he certainly makes this team better, but the Red Wings need to adapt a rebuild mentality. That means unloading players of value for assets and doing it when their value is highest. Going forward, Green’s value is only going to decrease and he could be cursed by injury or a bad season in his contract year. Trading him now also frees up a roster spot for a young defenseman and the cap space to sign Athanasiou. Of course, the Red Wings are far from having a rebuilding mentality. If they are anywhere near the playoffs come the trade deadline, they likely won’t even trade Green. But hey, at least they didn’t sign Thomas Vanek.