Welcome back to "Capital Letters," a sporadic feature where I answer any and all questions relating to the local professional hockey team.
No catchy lead-in this time. Let us get right to the questions.
Seemingly within seconds of the Capitals' announcement that they had signed defenseman Matt Niskanen to a seven-year, $40.25 million contract two weeks ago, retrospectives of Mike Green's nearly decade-long tenure in Washington were being set to Sarah McLachlan.
With eight defensemen under contract for a whopping $28,762,500, it seemed like a trade was inevitable and the most frequently mentioned destination was Detroit, where the Red Wings missed on every notable right-handed defenseman available in free agency (Niskanen, Dan Boyle, Anton Stralman).
Why does being right-handed matter? Because the Red Wings deployed a defensive corps that was exclusively left-handed last season. That detail combined with his offensive inclinations and an expiring contract made Green very enticing to the Red Wings. Or at least to those who report on them, who have been pushing for his acquisition to the point that Green is "destined to be traded."
I personally do not believe there is much to the "Green-to-Detroit" rumors, if anything at all. And If I am being asked to place a percentage on Green being traded at all this summer, then I am going to start at 30 percent.
"We have not had any communication with Washington’s administration concerning Mike’s status," agent Don Meehan said in a July 3 email.
General manager Brian MacLellan and coach Barry Trotz have each insisted that the 28-year-old is in Washington's immediate plans (at least outwardly). He helps the team more than he hurts it, and it would be foolhardy for the Capitals to send him away before they have an opportunity to see how their bolstered defense works with him as a cog.
Okay, so for the purpose of this exercise, I want you to forget everything I just said above. That should not be that difficult.
Let us indulge Andrés for a moment (and I want to preface this by saying that is completely speculative). There is one player that comes to mind that potentially fits the second-line center mold that could be pried away for the right price, which could include Green: Ryan O'Reilly.
The Colorado Avalanche center and Lady Byng Trophy winner is headed for an arbitration hearing later this month. Contract negotiations and O'Reilly do not seem to go together very well, considering the offer sheet fiasco with the Calgary Flames and his prior history of holdouts. Such a contentious relationship may require a change of scenery.
He is an effective player, leading Colorado with 28 goals last season, no small feat on a team laden with offensive talent. He struggled to push possession on a team that struggled to push possession (which since-departed center Mikhail Grabovski did better than any Capitals forward last season), but he would arguably be an upgrade over Evgeny Kuznetsov, Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson as in-house second-line center candidates.
O'Reilly is a responsible two-way player who committed one penalty in 80 games last season (and drew 16). In theory, he sounds like someone who would thrive under the tutelage of Trotz. Again, this is completely speculative, but intriguing nonetheless.
To start, we can probably cut out any defensemen because that position is pretty much filled on the big club. The only player that I envision having a chance to challenge for a roster spot on opening night is forward Andre Burakovsky (which you can read more about by clicking this link to my NHL.com feature on the subject).
Burakovsky had an impressive development camp last week, though one would hope that a player who scored 87 points in the Ontario Hockey League would impress playing against late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents. Of note, the 19-year-old winger lined up at center, an organizational directive that seemed to suit his style of play in the scrimmages.
“He’s played center when he was younger, but on the national teams,” assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said last week following the second scrimmage. “With the men, he played wing. You’re always trying to experiment and find out what the best position is for the players. Andre has obviously shown here in these two scrimmages that he’s able to play, not just the wing, but center with his intelligence and vision on the ice.”
Burakovsky is likely ticketed for the American Hockey League to start the season, but a spirited preseason performance could delay his arrival in Hershey, even if just for a few games.
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