NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
One could argue that no member of the Washington Capitals personifies the fluctuations of the franchise as much as defenseman Mike Green.
As Washington captivated the NHL several seasons ago with its freewheeling attack, so did Green, whose breathtaking, end-to-end rushes often resulted in dazzling goals.
Yet as the Capitals collectively struggled to reinvent themselves following disheartening eliminations in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Green no longer garnered attention for record-breaking scoring performances. Instead, he took heat for glaring defensive miscues when he was not out because of an injury.
Even last season, when Green appeared in 70 games and led all Capitals defensemen with 38 points, tentative play and Washington's failure to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs overshadowed those totals.
Green's hesitancy was partially a result of former coach Adam Oates' restrictive rules regarding breakouts. However, he emerged from meetings with new coach Barry Trotz feeling refreshed knowing that Trotz intends to embrace the 28-year-old's smooth-skating ability and deft puckhandling skills.
"[Trotz wants me] to get definitely up the ice. He's encouraged that so far and that excites me," Green said. "[My goals are] to have an absolutely great season, to get back to getting up in the play and producing like I used to and playing solid defense."
The Capitals need a rejuvenated Green, one who closely resembles his Norris Trophy-finalist days, if they're going to return to contender status.
Trotz is eager to help make that happen.
"We're going to work with Mike," Trotz said. "He's such a dynamic player. I'm actually quite excited to work with Mike. I think what we're going to do as a team will be right up his alley, right for his skill set, all the areas of handling pucks and moving pucks and getting up on the play and being active and being a part of the attack, that will all be a part of what we do.
"The areas he needs to work hard, around the cage, some of the boxing out, some of those areas around the net where he can get better. He does that. His skillset when he skates and with his hands are phenomenal."
Trotz will urge his entire stable of puck-moving defensemen, which also includes John Carlson and offseason free-agent signing Matt Niskanen, to carry the puck and provide offensive support from the back end.
Defense - WSH
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 29 | PTS: 38
SOG: 172 | +/-: -16
The Capitals, cognizant of having allowed too many clean and controlled zone entries last season, plan to restructure their neutral-zone coverage; this should help Green and others in retrieving the puck. If executed properly, the Capitals, who often had difficulty exiting the defensive zone last season, should quickly reverse the flow up ice led by their mobile defensive unit.
"The way we're going to defend while we're in the defensive zone and the plan that we're going to have going back for pucks to come out of the zone as clean as possible, all of those things will allow him less time playing in the defensive zone and more time adding to the offense," assistant coach Todd Reirden said.
"Whether that's in terms of supporting the rush and adding a second wave or standing on the blue line after long shifts of offensive-zone play where he's able to create shot lanes and get pucks to the net, which is one of the skills that put him among the elite players in the League."
Perhaps most importantly, Green now has the aid of a strengthened defensive corps with the additions of Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. The Capitals believe that he, and in turn the team, will benefit from the assistance.
"There will be less pressure on him to put up points, there will be less pressure on him to carry the load for our team," new general manager Brian MacLellan said. "That's going to free Mike up to play the way he wants to play.
"Hopefully, it's loose. Hopefully, it's fun to watch. He moves the puck, he shoots it well, jumps in the play well. All those things we're looking for Mike for this year."