With a new three-year contract in hand, a new face behind the bench and a return to good health, Mike Green is eager to get back to being one of the NHL's elite defensemen.
Despite a pair of injury-plagued seasons that followed back-to-back 70-point performances, the Washington Capitals re-signed Green to a three-year contract worth $18.25 million Monday. He'll make $6 million in each of the next two seasons and $6.25 million in 2014-15.
The deal came just a couple of days after Green had turned down the team's qualifying offer, but he didn't feel there was doubt that he'd be back in Washington this winter.
"It was a long process," Green said during a media conference call Monday afternoon, a few hours after coming to terms. "Negotiations started early in the year, but with the setback of the injury we were going to wait.
"Things got pushed back. I obviously wanted to be in Washington and they wanted me back, so there was time to wait. But I'm glad it's done now."
Green played just 81 games in the past two seasons due to injury -- groin and concussion problems limited him to 32 games in 2011-12, during which he managed just three goals and seven points. But he skated in all 14 of Washington's playoff games and said he's ready to go back to being the player who piled up 149 points in 143 games in 2008-09 and '09-10.
"I think they know what I'm capable of. It's unfortunate that the last couple of years I've suffered from injuries, but I believe I'm over them -- I think I've got them all out of my system," he said. "I think they're happy that I'm committed to the hockey team and doing the things I have to do to be the best I can. It's a win-win for everyone."
Green returned to the lineup late in the regular season but said it took a while before he felt he was approaching his top form.
"I really didn't feel I was back to [being] myself until the middle of the playoffs. Not the mental game but my injury from surgery -- not that it was bothering me to the extent that I couldn’t play my game, but physically it just took that long for my injury to heal," he said. "I was able to play my game again, but it was a little too late. The season was a little too short for us. I feel 100 percent now and I'm ready for next season."
When Green and the Caps report for training camp, there will be a new man behind the bench. Defense-oriented Dale Hunter, who took over as interim coach when Bruce Boudreau was fired at the end of November, opted not to return after the Caps lost their second-round playoff series to the New York Rangers in seven games. In his place is former Washington center Adam Oates, whose slick passing skills have earned him a berth in the Hockey Hall of Fame -- an honor he received on the same day he was named coach last month.
Green wouldn't disparage Hunter, but he did say Oates' more offensive-oriented style might be a better fit with a roster that includes players like himself, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
"I played a lot more of a defensive game -- what Dale expected was a grinder, chip-in, chip-out kind of game. I respect him as a coach and I played that way and played hard for him," Green said. "But at the same time, I'm excited that Adam is here. From what I've heard, the way he likes to coach fits my style of play and also a lot of the other guys. We'll figure a balance between Bruce Boudreau and Dale. I think Adam's the guy."
Asked if he could put up those numbers again under Oates, he quickly replied, "Absolutely. There's no question about it. I feel I'm just getting into my prime."
Green said he hadn't talked with Oates yet but that "I'm excited that he's here. I can't wait to meet him."
He also said that while the three-year term wasn't his first choice, he was pleased because it showed that the franchise has confidence in him despite the injuries of the past two seasons.
"I was more looking for two [years]. But three made sense for us," he said. "I wanted to be in Washington, and I had no problem staying another year because I love it there. I wanted to see what would happen -- if they were confident in me, and they were. It's just the way the negotiations went. I wanted to make sure I was healthy and in a good state to play in Washington. It's a very energetic team and I wanted to see if they wanted me there still, and they did. It's very nice and very comforting."
Green, a Calgary native, scored 31 goals and had 73 points in 2008-09. He added 19 goals and 76 points the following season before the injuries hit. Since 2007-08, Green ranks fourth among NHL defensemen in points (236), second in goals (79) and first in points per game (0.77). He's a two-time First Team All-Star and is a two-time Norris Trophy finalist.
"I don't think I have to prove anything," he said of demonstrating that he's overcome the injuries that have marred the past two seasons. "I think that personally for my own mental state that I get back to that and almost prove to myself that I can do it. I know I'm able to do it; it's just a matter of me going out and doing it."