Mike Green has transformed himself from his free-wheelin’ ways, but the tattoos that have some asking if he’s in a gang keep coming. But where he gets more ink, and plays his hockey, is all up in the air.
Mike Green’s shock of dark hair – which has ranged from a Mohawk to a mop that pointed in all directions – has given way to a clean, stylized look. He’s moved from a two-story urban bachelor pad with a hot tub on the balcony to a spacious suburban home. His numerous tattoos run down his arms and onto his fingers, but since last summer, one of those fingers now wears a wedding ring. And he’s no longer the run-and-gun, gambling defenseman labelled “mistake prone” in his own zone. If maturity has transformed the Capitals two-time all-star, a bigger change could come this summer. Unless his Newport Sports representatives and Washington GM Brian MacLellan hammer out a new contract, Green will become the biggest name on the free agent market and perhaps pull another team’s jersey over his head. The Capitals are the only NHL team Green, who turns 30 in October, has played for. He has literally grown into manhood in the D.C. area, even marrying a local girl, photographer Courtney Parrie, last summer, breaking hearts among those who swooned over his boyish good looks. He’s been a fan favorite since blossoming into a dynamic offensive force in 2007-08, his third NHL season, when Capitals TV voice Joe Beninati gave him the nickname ‘Game Over Green’ after a string of late game-winning tallies.
The city is now his home, and the prospect of taking his No. 52 elsewhere is difficult. Green admitted it did enter his mind at times during the regular season. But once the playoffs began, he set aside thoughts of moving on. “My heart is in Washington,” he said. “I love the guys in the dressing room and we’ve been together a long time. It’s something that after the playoffs, I’ll have to think about a lot more.” Green was one of Washington’s young guns, along with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, who transformed the Capitals into the NHL’s most exciting attraction 10 years ago. They took advantage of the rule changes that opened up the game after the 2004-05 lockout and their flashy offensive displays resulted in big numbers and league-wide attention. Green, with his superb skating, blazing shot and pinpoint passing, compiled quite a resume during those racehorse years. He fashioned a 30-goal season in 2008-09, including goals in eight straight games (an NHL mark for D-men) and had consecutive 70-point campaigns, a feat only 12 blueliners had previously accomplished. This past season, he was named one of the top 40 Capitals players in the franchise’s 40-year history. With a more defense-oriented coach in Barry Trotz, Green was slotted behind Matt Niskanen and John Carlson on the right side of the D-corps. He averaged 19 minutes a game, which is in stark contrast to the 25-plus he played when he was runner-up for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best D-man in 2009 and 2010. Moving down the depth chart matched him up more often against bottom-six opposition forwards and allowed him to gain confidence in his own end. The playoffs highlighted his improved defending. “The game has changed, and as a professional athlete, you have to adjust,” Green said. “It doesn’t mean you still can’t be offensive minded and get up in the play, but as you get older, you pick your spots a little better. A wise man – (Hall of Fame defenseman) Al MacInnis – once said he didn’t start playing his best hockey until he was 29 or 30 years old. So that’s where I’m at in my career.” After going through a three-season injury-prone stretch – missing 96 of 212 games – Green has been healthier the past two, in part because of improved conditioning. He once carried the reputation of being out of shape. Now, as Capitals TV analyst and ex-NHLer Craig Laughlin observes, “He trains like an animal.” With free agency looming, Green couldn’t have picked a better time to round out his game. The Capitals may want to keep him, but they are facing a salary cap crunch. Besides Green, they have seven other UFAs, including right winger Joel Ward and center Jay Beagle, as well as four RFAs, including young left winger Marcus Johansson, center Evgeny Kuznetsov and goalie Braden Holtby. Over the next few seasons, other key players, defensemen Carlson and Karl Alzner, will also be up for new contracts. “If he becomes a free agent, I think he’s going to get seven or eight offers right away on July 1 that he’s going to have to review,” Laughlin said. “The Capitals are going to be in the talking, but it’s going to come down to how much term and how much money they have available.” Off the ice, the rough and rugged Mike Green hasn’t completely disappeared. He loves remodelling motorcycles and old cars, and he learned welding so he could turn his visions into reality. He’s been working with his father on restoring a 1951 Ford F-100, which should be done this summer. Over the past five years, Green has continued to get all tatted up. He enjoys the aesthetic of tattoos, becoming good friends with Omaha-based artist Devin Ferguson, who has inked all of Green’s markings. “Every tattoo means something to me,” he said. “People might look at me and think, ‘He’s in a motorcycle gang.’ But if you look around, pretty much every guy in the NHL has a tattoo, whether it’s just one or two or three. I just have more.” Green’s gotten into fashion, too, and is in awe of Courtney’s photography. “She has her own dark room – it’s really a lost art,” he said. “I actually took one photography course when I was coming out of high school, playing junior hockey in Saskatoon. I enjoyed it. It’s where we have a connection, but I would never pick up a camera in competition with her.” More typically, Green is also involved in various children’s charities, which he partially attributes to recalling how he felt as a kid when he encountered players such as future Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer. Green’s always been a high-character person, going back to his junior career. He played on a poor Saskatoon Blades team, but his work habits and leadership impressed Washington. “Mike Green never asked for a trade, and his team was probably one of the worst teams in junior hockey,” said Ross Mahoney, who scouted Green in the WHL and is now the Caps assistant GM. “Mike was a good team player for them. He never complained, he came to the rink every day and worked hard.” That hasn’t changed. Green is as much a team guy as he is a talent. But which team will employ his talents next season?
This story appeared in June 22 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get features like this one, and much more, delivered to your door all year long by subscribing now.