The headline was meant to grab your attention, but really, this isn't about Mike Green, so much as it is considering the possibilities of adding a top-4 defenseman to a team that really needs a talent upgrade, considering they're losing 2 (Martin/Ehrhoff) and 2 more (Maatta/Letang) have injury questions.
A lot of focus this off-season is on the forward group for the Pittsburgh Penguins, if one turns an eye to the defense a big problem stands out.
As we said above, Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff are free agents and both expected to leave the team. A look at the remaining "top 4" defensemen is troubling, because it doesn't add up to 4, and because of injuries. Kris Letang was having a Norris Trophy caliber season before suffering another serious concussion in March, and 20-year old Olli Maatta underwent a second major reconstructive shoulder surgery in less than a year in January.
That's probably the team's best two defensemen left, each with major question marks. Moving on, the Pens have Derrick Pouliot ready to contribute and grow but wasn't without his rookie struggles. Ian Cole who was impressive in a bigger than expected role, but his knock in St. Louis was inconsistency and Ben Lovejoy, who while not the asset he was traded for, still should be able to contribute to the team in a more limited role. There's also Rob Scuderi, if the team elects not to buy him out.
The Pens will also have to consider Brian Dumoulin - who struggled in the NHL during the regular season but was better (in a highly sheltered and low TOI role) in the playoffs. Dumoulin will require waivers next season, so he should pencil in at least as the #7 guy, if not the #6. Scott Harrington also is in the mix, now entering his 3rd professional season, though his NHL game was really rocky in 2013-14.
That's 8 names, and due to injury, youth or inconsistency, there's a lot of question marks. Under "best case scenarios" I see 3 good top-4 options (Letang, Maatta, Pouliot) and the rest of the 5 looking best served for 3rd pair options.
Salary cap situation
In a perfect world, the Pens would probably add a top-4 defensemen. But it's a salary cap world, so should they devote the resources to do so?
The answer might depend on what you think about Dumoulin and Harrington. If you are bullish on one or both of them being difference making NHL players, it's probably best to dump all the available money into forwards. However, both have shown lengthy developmental curves, and at this point, it's valid to not want to bet a large portion of the future (especially the immediate future) that one or either will be able to give the output that an NHL team would need if they aspire to go deep into the playoffs.
Based on this post earlier in the month we laid out the following framework for a team, with a couple of new modifications. (So don't get too caught up in exact line combinations or anything)
David Perron - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - Beau Bennett
?????????? - Brandon Sutter - Kasperi Kapanen
Scott Wilson - Oskar Sundqvist - Bryan Rust
???? - 13th forward
Olli Maatta - Kris Letang
Ian Cole - ??????
Derrick Pouliot - Ben Lovejoy
This lineup, with 3 spots needed to fill (3W, extra forward, T4D) would result in a total cap hit of $61.15 million This projection includes a dead amount of a $1.29 million cap hit penalty in 2015-16 for a Scuderi buyout. We've also subtracted Nick Spaling and his $2.2 million cap hit, writing him off to be traded for draft picks/prospects. We are conservatively going with salaries of: Bennett at $1.1 million, Cole $1.5 million and Dumoulin $775k, which are all subject to fluctuate based on their RFA deals, though they seem reasonable.
This projection also includes Pascal Dupuis and his $3.75 million cap hit, but we didn't pencil him into a line, since it remains unknown if he'll be able to continue his playing career. That's playing with house money, though, if Dupuis can play it would be great, he immediately fills a top-9 role for essentially free. If he is forced into murky status or a possible end of career, the team could sign/trade to exceed the salary cap by Dupuis' $3.75 million hit and write him off for long-term injury reserve and they would have that much more cap money to work with.
The most recent projection from Gary Bettman was $71.5 million which would leave about $10.35 million for the Penguins to add 1 or 2 bottom six forwards (depending on Dupuis) and one top 4 defenseman if the math above holds, which again, it could vary depending on if they do make all those moves (buying out Scuderi and trading Spaling being the biggest assumptions made).
There's no doubt that's not the way it will go down. Maybe the team elects to trade Sutter/Bennett for a new top 6 forward name like we mentioned earlier. Maybe they don't want Kapanen for a 3rd line role and start him in the minors. There's any number of moving pieces that could be slid into pace.
So, if you assume the Pens move guys like Scuderi/Spaling, they probably *could* be able to afford the salary that adding a top defenseman would require on the UFA market.
Now, the question shifts to should Green be a candidate?
Green in a nutshell
Mike Green ranks 19th for all defensemen in 5v5 points in the past 4 years and it improves to 10th in 5v4 PP points. (For the record, Letang was better with 4th and 6th, respectively, in each situation). However, by pure numbers consider that Green is a career 575 games, 113 goals, 247 assists, 360 point player. Letang is lesser at 491 gp/66g/219a/340p Green has excelled at creating offense from the defense, especially on the power play, scoring 163 total points, compared to Letang's 115 (and lest you think that's all passes to Alex Ovechkin, Green has a sizable PP goal edge on Letang 52-24).
Green would really be Letang insurance, being as both players are very similar in terms of attributes. Right-handed, well above average skating defensemen with potential knocks on durability and defensive zone coverage. Letang has exceeded Green in recent years there, and probably would/should take the heavier minutes and assignments if on the same team.
Assignment hockey might well have revitalized Mike Green's career. Green was very effective when paired correctly (from our friends at Japers Rink), and certainly was freed up last season by Orpik-Carlson and Alzner-Niskanen taking the top 2 pairings. Even though, as you'll see below, Green still performs exceedingly well offensively even when getting 1st pair minutes over the past 3 seasons.
Green probably feels like has a lot to prove. At 29 years old, he's far from finished and could take a slightly bigger 2nd pair ES role, while adding to a power play. As a puck-mover (and puck-skater) he has great instincts to lead a breakout with his feet too. For him, joining an offensive minded Pittsburgh team that is a perennial playoff team with high skill linemates and a solid system like Mike Johnston's would have to be an appealing landing spot.
A potential top 4 for the near future of Letang, Maatta, Green and Pouliot would give the Penguins a solid glut of puck moving, above average skating defensemen that would fit Johnston's system beautifully.
There's no doubt looking at nothing but the positives, adding Mike Green to the Penguins would probably be a positive thing for a Mike Johnston coached team that needs a top-4 defensemen who can skate well, create breakouts and move the puck with authority.
But would Green be worth it? That is a much hazier question. Considering Brooks Orpik , starting his age 34 season, scummed a 5 year deal out of Washington, and other 20-something defensmen (like Niskanen) getting even longer term, the market for Green might prove far too ineffective for the Pens.
If he would consider a 5 year deal, or even less, things could change. That sounds far-fetched, but no one thought the Pens would sign Ehrhoff to a 1 year deal before it happened. Ehrhoff had a Buffalo buyout and other factors to consider, that Green doesn't, but the draw of a Pittsburgh team that needs a top-4 shouldn't be discounted either.
The Pens might (and I would argue probably should) target a more defensively solid UFA like Francois Beauchemin or Johnny Oduya this summer. But both of those players are significantly older, and worse skaters than Green. It would be foolish to buyout Scuderi and take his cap hit for the next 4 years, only to sign the next mid-30's declining defenseman for the next few years.
A plan to add Mike Green is probably just a little too aggressive and a little too unrealistic for the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, the upside could be adding a player of need, which would make players like Pouliot, Cole, Dumoulin and Lovejoy look better by having lesser roles. And it gives more skilled depth if Letang or Maatta misses more time next season.
The Penguins need more top players, no matter how they can find them in trades or free agency this summer. Ideally, they probably should try to bring in a top-4 defenseman. Green might not be that answer, but depending on his free agency desires (for a good team) and demands (for role, salary and term) it should be one to at least look into and consider.
The financial fit isn't perfect, but the need is there. Whether the best option is Green or not, remains to be seen. Having flexibility is the key to be able to consider such a move, and with Pittsburgh's outlook, they probably are close to that. The rest all comes down to how team's management wants to slide which pieces into which roles for the goal of building the best possible team.