Mike Green had every reason to be bitter about his 2011-12 season. Injuries limited him to just 32 games and resulted in his lowest offensive totals three goals, four assists in six years.
So why was the Capitals 26-year-old defenseman smiling days after his teams second-round playoff elimination by the New York Rangers?
I feel mentally, as far as the game, the best Ive ever felt, and physically the same, Green said. You get your bumps and bruises, but I feel great. I feel like I did four or five years ago on the ice and thats comforting.
An ankle injury and abdominal tear forced Green to miss 50 of the Capitals first 57 games this season and when he returned on Feb. 18 his offensive game suffered. Green failed to record a goal in his final 22 games.
Under Dale Hunter, Green was asked to focused on his defensive game and by the playoffs he believes he was playing some of the best two-way hockey of his career.
I felt that I played strong when the time was right, as far as playoffs, said Green, who in 14 playoff games recorded two goals, two assists and was a plus-5 while average 23:45 in ice time.
I was just starting to get my feel back again and unfortunately its come to an end at this point. I felt good, but I wish that I didnt have to go through what I went through this year. I was really excited about this season but Im focused now mentally on next season.
Of the Capitals four restricted free agents John Carlson, Jay Beagle and Mathieu Perreault are the others placing a value on Green may be difficult. He is coming off a four-year, 21 million contract signed after establishing himself as one of the NHLs most explosive offensive players.
Under the terms of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, to retain his rights the Capitals are required to make Green a qualifying offer equal to his 2011-12 salary of 5 million.
Thats something that well talk about, Im sure, after things settle down here, Green said, Im excited to come back if thats the game plan. Thats what I want, but well see.
After four seasons of playing no fewer than 68 games, Green has missed 83 games the past two seasons and that could impact the term and value of his next contract. In all likelihood Green will accept only a one-year deal that will take him into unrestricted free agency at the age of 27 next year.
If the Caps cannot come to an agreement with Green, they likely would receive a first-, second- and third-round draft pick, dependent on his 2012-13 salary and the rules of a new CBA.
Green made no bones about his desire to return to Washington for an eighth season.
Absolutely, I love it here, he said. This is a great organization, a great city and I believe that were going to win a Cup here and I want to be a part of it.
Green believes that although the Capitals have not made it past the second round of the playoffs since his arrival, they are closer to winning a Stanley Cup than at any time during his tenure.
Weve been improving each year, especially this year, and I feel like were close, he said.
Maybe if a few more bounces go our way and we work a little harder and focus a little harder, were right there. Were going to win it. Its just unfortunate that it wasnt this year.
Green said he saw the Capitals grow closer together under the direction of Hunter, a step he feels is necessary if the Caps want to be considered serious contenders.
I think that over the course of the year we became really tight and I think it was evident in the playoffs with the way we played for each other and guys going down to block shots, he said. We had a young goaltender Braden Holtby come in that a lot of guys didnt know and we played our hearts out for him and he played his heart out for us and that just goes to show the character in the dressing room.
We have the talent and the skill. It comes down to one game and thats the tough part about this sport. You lose by one goal and thats the end of your season. It wasnt a lack of effort or heart or determination, it just didnt work out for us.
Green said the final two rounds of the playoffs are sometimes the most difficult to watch, especially when he thinks about what the Capitals could have done against the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals.
I usually follow whats going on, he said. Once you see who wins and you see who you could have beaten, then you can kind of put it to rest.