Many NHL defensemen are striving to get back to top form this season, but perhaps no player has as far to travel as Mike Green.
From 2008-10, Green scored 50 goals and racked up 149 points for the Washington Capitals. But then multiple injuries and the decline of the Capitals power play rendered him a shell of his former self.
Last season he scored just seven points in 32 games – and four of those points came in one game. Now Green is back to full speed after recovering from groin muscle surgery a laser procedure to improve his eyesight.
He used his down time during the NHL lockout to finally get healthy. “No more pain; my mobility was good again,” Green told the Washington Times. “And I had that hop in my step that I didn't have before.”
Green should also benefit from the appointment of coach Adam Oates, one of the league’s all-time great playmakers. Oates hopes recharge Washington’s power play. The return of top center Nicklas Backstrom to full health and the addition of center Mike Ribeiro will also help.
Four years ago, Green got 38 of his 73 points on the power play. Three years ago he produced 35 of his 76 points with the man advantage.
Not only have the Capitals slipped on the power play since then, they, like most teams, are getting fewer chances. The crackdown on interference helped generate a league-wide average of 5.8 power plays per game in 2005-06; last season teams averaged just 3.3 opportunities per game.
So 45 to 50 points would be a fair target for Green instead of the 70 to 75 from the good old days.
Here are some other defensemen hoping regain their top form:
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings: Back in 2009-10 he produced 59 points (16 goals, 43 assists) with a plus-20 rating. He suffered a 19-point drop the next season and scored just six points in his first 25 games last season.
He finally woke up when Darryl Sutter replaced Terry Murray as coach. One of Sutter’s first moves was to pair Doughty with defensive-minded Rob Scuderi. “They put me back with Scuds, who I've been comfortable with for a few years now,” Doughty told the Los Angeles Times. “I think when that happened, my season started to turn around and I started to play like I know I can.”
He carried his late-season surge into the playoffs, where he scored four goals, dished 12 assists and earned a plus-11 rating to lead his team to the Stanley Cup.
Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres: His production has plunged from 48 points to 37 and 23 the last two seasons. Injuries were a mitigating circumstance last season and he got better down the stretch, scoring 13 points in his last 25 games.
Christian Ehrhoff, Buffalo Sabres: He put 209 shots on goal for the Canucks in 2010-11 and scored 50 points. He struggled to 32 points in 66 games last season and spent most of January on the injured list. The Sabres finished strong last season, though, and refreshed their roster before this season. This season he should live up to his gigantic contract.
Ryan Whitney, Edmonton Oilers: He has struggled since tearing an ankle tendon back in December of 2010. He had 27 points in 35 games at the time. Since then he has rarely been at full strength. Last season he finished with just 20 points and a minus-16 rating in 51 games.
He is another player who used the lockout to get back to full strength. “I feel very good,” he told the Edmonton Journal. “I did so much skating and worked really hard with my trainer. I got to do sprints, things I couldn’t do for a while.”
Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames: After scoring 30 and 43 points, he slid to 27 points in 62 games while battling assorted injuries last season. He scored just 10 power-play points after scoring 25 the year before. But he finished with 11 points in his last 16 games and he could benefit from the addition of puck-rushing defenseman Dennis Wideman.
James Wisniewski, Columbus Blue Jackets: He started last season with a league suspension, then missed time with ankle, groin and head injuries. So after scoring 51 points two seasons back, he struggled to 27 points in 48 games last season. He is minus-32 over the past three seasons. It will be interesting to see how he fits into the new Columbus chemistry.
Andre Markov, Montreal Canadiens: He played only 13 games last season, scoring three points and earning a minus-4 rating. This continued his years-long struggle with leg injuries. Once upon a time he scored 64 points in just 73 games. In 45 games in 2009-10, he scored 34 points and plus-11 rating. He played in Russia during the lockout and managed to get home in one piece.
Joni Pitkanen, D, Carolina Hurricanes: He scored 81 points in 2009-11, then he scored 17 points in 30 games last season as a concussion and a knee injury derailed him. He needed to scrape off rust after sitting for 44 games with those injuries.
Tom Gilbert, Minnesota Wild: His production plunged the last three years from 45 points to 31, 26 and 22. He came to the Wild from Edmonton last season and scored just five points with a minus-5 rating in 20 games. Now he is fully recovered from the knee injury that slowed him last season.