WASHINGTON – The Washington Capitals are keeping the dynamic young star with the sparkling end-to-end moves but not the goaltender whose outstanding play helped lead the late surge to the playoffs.
The guy with the moves? No, not Alex Ovechkin. He’s already under contract. It was Mike Green’s day Tuesday as the NHL’s top scoring defenceman was rewarded with a four-year, US$21-million contract.
Washington also added free-agent Jose Theodore, signing the former Montreal and Colorado goalie to a two-year, $9-million contract. Theodore, the 2002 NHL MVP, was courted after the Capitals were unable to reach a deal with Cristobal Huet, who signed instead with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Green scored 18 goals last season at the age of 22, becoming the youngest player to lead defencemen in goals since Paul Coffey in 1981-’82. He especially flourished after he was reunited early in the season with coach Bruce Boudreau, whose attacking style is a perfect fit for Green’s talent.
“Yeah, me and Bruce have been through quite a bit in the last three years,” said Green, who had played for Boudreau with the Capitals’ AHL Hershey affiliate. “He wins coach of the year this season and he’s only there for three-quarters of the season.
“It goes to show how good of a coach he is. I didn’t want to leave Bruce.”
League MVP Ovechkin, meanwhile, led the NHL this season with 65 goals. He and Green – both chosen in the first round of the 2004 draft – became the first teammates to lead the NHL in goals and goals by a defenceman since Mario Lemieux and Coffey in 1988-’89.
Green, in his second full NHL season, was also one of four Capitals to play in every game. He led the team in ice time with 23:38 minutes per game, and his 56 points ranked seventh in the NHL among defencemen. He had eight power-play goals, four game-winning goals and three overtime goals.
“Mike has developed into an impact defenceman in the short time since we drafted him, and he will be a key part of our team moving forward,” general manager George McPhee said.
Green’s deal was announced on the morning of the first day of free agency and accomplished one of Washington’s top off-season goals. Another was the re-signing of Huet, who went 11-2 in the regular season after he was acquired from Montreal at the trade deadline. Huet won 10 straight games during the push that put the Capitals into the postseason for the first time since 2003.
Instead, the Capitals settled on Theodore, the 31-year-old goaltender who spent the last two seasons with Colorado. He went 28-21-3 last season with the Avalanche, including three shutouts, a 2.44 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.
Theodore previously spent parts of 10 seasons with Montreal and won both the Hart Trophy for MVP and the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender in 2002. He also made his first of two all-star game appearances that season.
The Capitals’ starting goalie at the beginning of last season, Olie Kolzig, agreed to a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
Green struggled early last season under defensive-minded coach Glen Hanlon, who was fired Nov. 22 and replaced by Boudreau. Green had 15 goals and 49 points in 61 games after Boudreau was hired.
“He just let me play my game,” Green said. “And I think as a player that’s the most important thing, is not putting limitations on certain players and whatnot and letting guys play within the system he promotes.
“He definitely was a big part of giving me an opportunity to do what I can do.”
The Capitals were 11-4 in games in which Green scored a goal. He also had three goals and seven points in the seven-game series loss to Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs.
Green knows he’ll be expected to do even more now that he’s signed his first big-money contract.
“Maybe there is a little bit of pressure,” Green said. “But it think also it takes a lot of pressure off to know you’re with a team and where you want to be.”