Monday, June 28, 2010

Mike Green Needs a Mentor

Brad Park. Ray Bourque. Rod Langway. Scott Stevens. Scott Niedermayer. Brian Rafalski. Sergei Zubov. Chris Pronger. Nicklas Lidstrom

What do these defensemen have in common?

Yes, they were all terrific defensemen for a long time (three still are). But they also all had great "mentors."

Park had the best defenseman ever, Bobby Orr. Bourque had Park, who later was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (HOF). Langway had one of the most prolific scoring defenseman and HOFer Larry Robinson. Stevens had Langway, a HOFer too and also well known as one of the best defensive players ever, if not the best. Niedermayer had Stevens, who later went to the HOF, not to mention Ken Daneyko. Rafalski had both Stevens and Niedermayer, and Niedermayer will be inducted into the HHOF in three years for sure. Zubov could make the HOF and had HOFer Brian Leetch. Pronger had HOFer Al MacInnis. Lidstrom had Igor Larionov Konstantinov, one of the best Russian defensemen ever and also a HOFer. Heck, Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom briefly have had Chris Chelios, a lock three years from when he retires.

Notice a pattern?

Not to say that the Capitals must pick up a HOF caliber defenseman but it seems like having a guy who was himself a great defenseman helps move along younger defensemen. Obviously, guys with tons of two-way talent already don't need a mentor as much--I don't see Drew Doughty or Duncan Keith with a bona-fide mentor, though Doughty has flourished playing with Rob Scuderi. But guys with holes in their games--like Green with his positioning, decision making, and relationship with the media--look like they need such a player. Lidstrom, Rafalski, and Niedermayer all weren't exactly defensive studs early--Lidstrom also didn't have great playoff stats his first three playoff years, all short runs for the Red Wings--but they improved as someone who had "been there, done that" helped them improve.

From the list above, it's preferable that the mentor play the same style as the mentee--of the players on that list, it seems only on the Langway/Robinson and Niedermayer/Stevens pairs do the mentor and mentee play drastically different styles. It seems clear that Scott Niedermayer is the best choice for Green--the comparisons have been made between young Niedermayer and Green, they both like to jump into the rush and "rove" in the offensive zone, have good offensive instincts, and are prone to getting beaten when forced to play positional defense. Unfortunately though, it's highly unlikely Niedermayer comes out of retirement. He's won all there is to win and doesn't seem like the Brett Favre type.

So who else could we look at? I bolded the names I think are actually worth seriously looking in to possibly signing or acquiring.

Nicklas Lidstrom ^ (Detroit Red Wings)
Lidstrom is the second best defenseman ever. But considering he's already won a Cup with Detroit and mentored a young defenseman in Nicklas Kronwall, he will retire having played his entire NHL career in Detroit or go play in Sweden where his son is signed up to play hockey.

Brian Campbell*^ (Chicago Blackhawks)
Campbell is a smooth skating defenseman of not great build but solid all-around play. He's made the Conference Finals twice with Buffalo and twice with Chicago, advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals this year. He is also massively overpaid, taking over $7 million per season for the next half dozen years or so.

Mattias Ohlund^ (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Ohlund is a smooth skating Swede who is good all-around. He battled similar troubles with public perception during his time in Vancouver, though obviously not to the degree Green has had to. Unfortunately, Ohlund too is on an expensive contract and was himself signed to mentor young Victor Hedman.

Paul Martin^ (New Jersey Devils; UFA)

He's really good all around and the premier defenseman on the free agent market this season. He probably though is looking for a longer type deal, which will not suit the Caps unless they're willing to sacrifice a defenseman later (Green, Schultz, Alzner, Carlson) or some significant pieces up front (Fehr, Fleischmann, Semin, second line center, Laich). He could fit the bill though.

Wade Redden*^ (New York Rangers; UFA)
Redden is the perfect mentor for Green. He will show him how to earn a big contract and fail to live up to it while at the same time forgetting how to play hockey. Quite a juggling act indeed.
Redden is the example of what not to be, and I don't think Green needs to play with Redden, as he can watch TV.

Kimmo Timonen^ (Philadelphia Flyers)

Timonen is a top-15 defenseman in the world at the moment, but is too expensive for the Caps at this point in time.

Marek Zidlicky (Minnesota Wild)

Zidlicky is a bit of an unknown at this point, as he racked up almost all his goals this past season, if not all, on the power play, where he did most of his damage. Can he still play at even strength? Is he strong defensively? Probably not all that great. From Behind the Net the Wild were better with Zidlicky off ice, so there goes that.

Dan Boyle^ (San Jose Sharks)

The most common adjective used to describe Boyle outside of San Jose is "a-hole." Umm, no thanks. Plus, Green is better than him in all facets of the game, except slew-footing.

Adam Foote (Colorado Avalanche)

Foote is an intriguing proposition. Colorado, starting hot last season, made it into the playoffs as the eight seed and gave San Jose some trouble (though a cursory glance at shot totals plus other advanced measures shows Colorado was territorially dominanted, just shot well and got great goaltending from Craig Anderson). They could be looking to take the next step with a similar team, but they also could look to remove a veteran and add a younger player in the back end (for some reason Denis Grebeshkov came to my mind quickly). Foote played easy competition with weak teammates and still the Avs were better with Foote off ice than on ice, according to Behind the Net. I'm not sure how good he'll be for Washington, but a third pairing D partner for Tom Poti or John Carlson sounds good. He does have a no-trade clause, but I don't doubt he'd waive it to go to Washington.

Chris Philips^ (Ottawa Senators)

Philips is one of the best defensemen in the league, capable of playing against tough competition (better than Anton Volchenkov even) and also putting up solid offensive number. Ottawa unfortunately will not let him go unless they get Green or Carlson in return, though, I'd guess.

Tomas Kaberle*^ (Toronto Maple Leafs)

You'd like the veteran to be better than Green in the first place. Not the case here. Plus, Kaberle is completely redundant in this role.

Stephane Robidas^ (Dallas Stars)

Dallas is only shortly removed from being a conference finalist, but they're now in rebuilding mode. They traded for a new goalie in Kari Lehtonen and look to the future with James Neal, Fabian Brunnstrom, Mike Ribeiro, Brendan Morrow, and Jamie Benn leading the charge from the front. Robidas, now Dallas' best defenseman, could be expendable if Dallas gets the right parts, but likely those parts will need to be high quality and plentiful.

Sergei Gonchar (Pittsburgh Penguins; UFA)

Word has it that Gonchar and the Penguins are far away on talks, which is good for the Caps. Surely, Gonchar, though regressing, is not as poor a defenseman as he looked down the stretch this season, as just the season before he was very solid. He, like Green, garnered the reputation of a one-way offensive defenseman in Washington, before his defensive game became strong under Michel Therrien in Pittsburgh. While he may come expensive, the Caps can afford him on a short deal, and moreover he just might get the trust of Bruce Boudreau to part-time quarterback the power play and play at even strength, thus reducing Green's minutes and keeping him fresher for the playoffs.

Mark Streit^ (New York Islanders)

No chance New York moves one of the best defensemen in the world unless they extract a king's ransom, which McPhee wouldn't give them. That being said Streit, while offensively dissimilar to Green (Streit plays more traditionally, not like a hybrid forward-defenseman), is also a smooth skater who quarterbacks a power play and is solid defensively.

*Just kidding.
^Highly unlikely in the near future or otherwise


  1. Ok, so in short, there's no good options.

  2. Larionov was a center, not a defenseman. You might be thinking of Vladimir Konstantinov.

  3. just go tel Ray Bourque that his son can play on the 3rd/4th line ever night if he wants to coach in DC.

  4. I enjoyed the thoughtful analysis. Good stuff for one who never played hockey but has been following the Caps for 26 years. Thanks!

  5. @Anonymous #2: Thank you! I always remember Fedorov was up front with Kozlov, but I always mix up Larionov, Konstantinov, and Fetisov.