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Capitals' Green enters offseason with uncertain future

by Katie Brown /

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green said he thinks the best years of his NHL career are ahead of him.

Green, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, will have to make some tough decisions about his future this summer. They could involve saying farewell to the place he's spent his entire NHL career.

"I just want to play on a competitive team that wants to win," Green said Friday before leaving for the offseason. "That's really the ultimate factor that comes into play for me, and I know that Washington's a competitive organization. It's hard to think of the uncertainty of this summer and what might happen. It's probably a little scary at times for myself to think that anything could happen."

One of the top right-handed defensemen who could be on the free-agent market, along with Cody Franson of the Nashville Predators and the Montreal Canadiens' Jeff Petry, Green is expected to garner a significant amount of interest. As much as he'd like to stay with Capitals, he will have to decide whether it is worth taking a lesser contract and playing a smaller role.

"I want to play a significant role, whatever that is," said Green, who will turn 30 in October. "I take pride in whatever my role is on the team. I feel like I can play top-two [pairing] for sure."

His role with the Capitals this season was a departure from the past. Formerly a top-pair defenseman, Green was moved to the third pairing with Tim Gleason and played an average of 19:06 per game, his lowest average time on ice since 2006-07, his first full NHL season.

The signings of defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik last summer necessitated the change. Karl Alzner and John Carlson were moved into the top two pairings, so having a player of Green's caliber as the fifth defenseman was a luxury.

"His natural ability on the ice is incredible," Capitals forward Brooks Laich said. "The way he skates and shoots, he makes the game look so easy sometimes."

A two-time Norris Trophy finalist, Green has been a top puck-moving defenseman since leading the NHL at his position with 31 goals in 2008-09. No defenseman has scored more than 23 goals in a season since.

"He set the standard for offensive defensemen in the League," Alzner said. "Whatever happens with [Green], he's a guy that you don't really want to play against. He's that good of a player. I think he'll be a guy that gets remembered in Washington forever."

Playing fewer minutes allowed Green to stay healthier throughout the season and enabled him to step in when other defensemen needed a rest and to provide a boost offensively. Green had 45 points in 72 games, the most points he's had since a career-high 76 in 2009-10, and the most games he's played in since that season (75).

Washington general manager Brian MacLellan said putting a dollar amount on Green's role on the Capitals depends on how things shake out with the NHL salary cap and if the parties can reach an agreement.

"He's been a good fit for us," MacLellan said Monday. "It's going to come down to if he's comfortable with that role and what do you pay for that role going forward? It's probably going to be a little complicated. There's a lot of moving parts around that and the best thing we can do is keep in communication."

Green wants to make sure he has the best chance to succeed no matter where he ends up. Part of the core assembled in Washington during the past 10 years, Green hasn't tasted the success that seemed so close even a week ago, when Washington was one game away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1998. The Capitals were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Second Round.

"And the regrets of not being able to accomplish that I think is tough, especially with the group of guys here in Washington," Green said. "For myself, I want to be in a position to play on a competitive team and put myself in a position to win a Cup too. There are a lot of factors that come into play that aren't always made public. But the underlying thing is winning, and that's the bottom line."

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