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Green not thinking about return to Capitals

Red Wings defenseman spent 10 seasons with Washington, could be traded by deadline

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- After the Detroit Red Wings 5-4 overtime win against the Washington Capitals on Sunday, defenseman Mike Green spent time catching up with some of his former Capitals teammates in the hallway between the two locker rooms.

Green spent 10 seasons with the Capitals from 2005-15, so returning to Capital One Arena remains special for him. 

"It always is," Green said after a postgame chat with Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. "Obviously, I have fond memories here, so it's good to come back. It's a good challenge. They're a great team."

Green said he hasn't considered whether he might end up back with the Capitals before the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 26 (3 p.m. ET). The Capitals could use some help on defense and Green, 32, is in the final year of a three-year contract he signed with Detroit as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2015.

"I haven't thought about it, to be honest," Green said. "If I have to make a decision, then I'll think about it."

But the reality is the Red Wings (22-23-9) will probably approach Green at some point in the next two weeks to talk to him about waiving the no-trade clause in his contract. Barring a dramatic rally in their final 28 games, the Red Wings will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight season following a remarkable run of qualifying in 25 consecutive seasons.

Video: DET@NYI: Green ties it late on redirection

Even after their win Sunday, they sit eight points behind the Carolina Hurricanes for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. So, they'll have to soon look to the future and see what assets they can get by trading Green.

"We'll see what happens," Green said. "Obviously, it's coming close. There might have to be some decisions made, but right now I'm not too worried about it."

The no-trade clause in Green's contract gives him some control over his situation, which he acknowledged makes it easier for him. 

"It definitely helps," Green said. 

It's hard to imagine Green, the Capitals' first-round pick in the 2004 NHL Draft (No. 29), wouldn't waive his no-trade clause to return to Washington. He still has a home and many friends in the area, including a sizeable group that attended the game Sunday.

The bigger question is how interested the Capitals would be in reacquiring Green. His familiarity with the team and many of its players would help his transition if they brought him back. And his experience and offensive skill, particularly on the power play, would be helpful.

Green totaled 360 points (113 goals, 247 assists) in 575 games with the Capitals. That included a career-high 31 goals (18 on the power play), and 73 points, all of which led the League for defensemen in 2008-09. He also ranked first among defensemen with 19 goals, 57 assists and 76 points when the Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy in 2009-10.

This season, he has 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) in 54 games. That includes 13 points (one goal, 12 assists) on the power play.

But, as nice as it sounds, bringing back Green would not be a perfect fit for the Capitals. He is right-handed and would not play ahead of the right-handed defensemen in their top two defense pair, Matt Niskanen and John Carlson.

An experienced left-handed defenseman who could play alongside Carlson in the second pair would be a much better fit. Rookie Christian Djoos has been playing in that spot for much of the past two months.

Djoos, 23, has great offensive potential, scoring 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 46 games, but his size (6-feet, 169 pounds), strength and inexperience make him a question mark heading into the playoffs.

There's no question Green would be an upgrade over rookie Madison Bowey, 22, a right-handed defenseman who has played most of the season on the Capitals third defense pair. But what price would the Capitals be willing to pay to upgrade?

Although the Capitals (32-17-6) are in first place in the Metropolitan Division with 70 points, they are not the powerhouse they were last season when they won their second consecutive Presidents' Trophy, which included going all-in and acquiring defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from the St. Louis Blues before the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline.

The Capitals acquired Shattenkirk, along with goaltender Pheonix Copley, in exchange for forwards Zach Sanford and Brad Malone, a first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and conditional draft picks. It was a steep cost for a rental defenseman who played on their third defense pair and on the power play - the same role Green would play.

The Shattenkirk trade made sense at the time, but didn't work out how the Capitals hoped. They lost in the playoffs to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round.

After giving up a first-round pick for Shattenkirk, would the Capitals do it again - or give up similar - to trade for Green? That seems unlikely.

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan has been happy with how Djoos and Bowey have developed this season and is wary of making a move that would slow their development by cutting their ice time.

"I'm fairly happy with the way we're evolving," MacLellan said Saturday. "The team changes, you know? The young guys are improving. There's maybe a little inconsistency there, but I think it's for us to balance between continuing to develop our young guys and winning. That's the trick for us."

So, maybe it makes more sense for the Capitals to make a lesser deal for a depth defenseman. And maybe Green's future doesn't include a return to Washington.

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