By: Will Burchfield
For the Red Wings, one thing seemed certain in advance of Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline: Mike Green would be dealt.
It was Tomas Tatar instead.
Wings GM Ken Holland deserves credit for scoring big in the latter move, but his decision to hang onto Green is puzzling. The veteran defenseman is a pending unrestricted free agent and is likely to leave the team this summer.
It would have behooved the Wings to trade him while they still had the chance.
For one, Green missed the final six games before the deadline with a neck injury. This likely scared off a few buyers and certainly depressed his value. With the Wings five points out of the playoffs, Holland may have preferred keeping Green to trading him for, say, a mid-round draft pick.
For two, Green was viewed on the trade market as a luxury more than a necessity. In contrast to the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh, who was sent to the Lightning in a last-minute blockbuster, Green is far from a do-everything, top-pair defenseman. Contenders weren’t going to spend big on a bit part.
The Lightning were rumored to be the club most interested in Green, who was reportedly willing to waive his no-trade clause for the top team in the NHL. But Tampa’s pursuit of McDonagh obviously took precedence, and Green may not have been so inclined to head anywhere else, aside from Washington. Holland’s hands were likely somewhat tied.
Thirdly, and this may leave Wings fans particularly frustrated, Holland is bullish on putting a competitive team on the ice. He wants his young players exposed to a playoff race, and they’re on the fringes of one right now. Green helps keep Detroit in the picture, even if the trade of Tatar does the opposite.
The Wings are reportedly interested in re-signing the 32-year-old Green this summer, and keeping him in tow probably increases their odds of doing so. Again, Holland has every intention of chasing a playoff spot even as the Wings retool, and Green fills the team’s need for a puck-moving (albeit limited) defenseman.
It’s also possible the Red Wings see him as a potential role model for Dennis Cholowski, the promising 20-year-old defenseman whose arrival in Detroit is on the horizon. Between his passing and skating ability, Cholowski possesses a similar skillset to Green.
Jeff Blashill sung Green’s praises last week in terms of setting a positive example.
“First of all, I think Mike’s work ethic and his will to win has rubbed off on any young player that’s come in this locker room,” Blashill said. “He’s been excellent, his competitiveness has been excellent. I’m not sure that everybody totally understood that, maybe the perception wasn’t quite that. I can tell you what reality is: He comes to work and comes to compete every day. I’ve been unreal impressed, so that rubs off on everybody in the locker room.
“I also think, when you’re trying to get your D to jump into the play, you’re trying to get your D to be part of the offense, it’s great to have an example of it. He’s been a great example of how you push the puck up the ice, how you join the play, how you try to push for offense in what I think is today’s kind of NHL’s defenseman.”
Blashill and the Red Wings have stressed the need to get more offense out of their defense since the All-Star break, and Green certainly shows the way. Second-year pro Nick Jensen, who has been bolder with the puck and more active in joining the rush this season, has broadened his game by observing Green on a daily basis.
“It’s kind of mesmerizing watching him play out there with his stick-handling skills and his playmaking ability. I think it’s rubbed off on me with the playmaking ability,” Jensen said. “Obviously his great breakouts and being able to get the puck from his hands into the forwards’ hands, that’s a focus every defenseman has, and watching him helps.
“I think you always have a little bit more time than you think. If you don’t think you have as much time, you tend to panic with the puck. You never see panic in that guy’s eyes. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone as calm as he is, as confident in bringing the puck up like that. There’s been some guys, but not quite at that level.”
For what it’s worth, Jensen has taken on a much bigger role in the wake of Green’s injury, averaging 20:34 per game. Niklas Kronwall said Jensen has “benefited a lot” from watching Green play and “seeing how he handles different situations.”
“That’s very exciting to see,” Kronwall added.
Of Green, Kronwall said, “He’s a guy that you want to build around just because of the way he plays, how active he is and how he pushes the play from the back end. Power play or five-on-five, he’s a guy you want to have the puck.”
There are undeniable shortcomings to Green’s game, but he excels in an area in which the Red Wings are lacking. He’s a model for what they’re trying to develop, which may have meant more to the team than a negligible return in a trade.
When Ken Holland addressed the media following the Petr Mrazek trade last week, he made it sound like Green was the only player certain to be dealt before the deadline. He referenced his status as a pending UFA more than once. Holland also suggested he was more likely to wait until the offseason to trade a player like Tatar. Only a top-notch offer would convince him otherwise.
That’s what he got from the Golden Knights, landing a 2018 first-rounder, a 2019 second-rounder and a 2021 third-rounder. Holland’s bar for selling Green was much lower, but it apparently wasn’t zilch. He wasn’t willing to take whatever offer he could get, assuming there was an offer or two on the table.
Unless Green re-signs this summer — even if he re-signs this summer — that’s a hard decision to justify.