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Open Ice: Green's amazing season

2/16/2009

Just how amazing is Mike Green?

Well, straight projections have him on pace for a 35-goal season, but extrapolate his pace from the past 19 games over the final 25 contests for Washington, and it's closer to 40.

The NHL record for goals by a defenseman is 48 by Paul Coffey in the 1985-86 season. Just for comparison's sake, though, Coffey played on an Oilers team that potted 426 goals while this season's Washington Capitals are on pace for 274 goals. Not that this fact should take away from what Coffey did, but it certainly gives some context when we are talking about how prolific Green's scoring has been.

Even if Green's pace slows again and he finishes with 30 goals, he still joins an elite group of seven defensemen to have ever achieved that mark. Who are they? Coffey, Bobby Orr, Dennis Potvin, Ray Bourque, Phil Housley, Doug Wilson and Kevin Hatcher. Certainly good company to keep. Those seven managed to notch 30 goals in a season 16 times between them, and Green's pace of 35 goals would give him the seventh-highest total of the group.

If he were to keep up his recent pace and approach 40 goals, he would join only Coffey (twice) and Orr in achieving that feat. When Coffey and Orr scored at least 40, they played at least 79 games in each season. Here's the kicker: Green has already missed 13 games this season and will finish with no better than 69 games played!

Now, just for fun, take Green's pace from the past 19 games and give him an imaginary 11 more games to play this season to make up for injury and give him an even 80 games. In this imaginary world, he would finish this season with 50 goals. Yikes!

What have they done for us lately, though? Well Hatcher's 34-goal season in 1992-93 with Washington was the most recent 30-goal outburst by a defenseman. In the current decade, the mark is 26 goals, which Sergei Gonchar achieved in 2001-02 with Washington (Capitals fans sure do get to witness defensive prowess) and Sheldon Souray managed in 2006-07 with Montreal.

Credit where credit is due in this case, as coach Bruce Boudreau has turned Green's offensive instincts loose and created a pseudo-fourth forward when he is on the ice.

How does this affect the fantasy realm? Well, Mike Green is a no-brainer first-round draft pick next season in my book. The distinct advantage he gives you on defense allows you to be more flexible with all your other picks, and also starts you way ahead of the game in the ever-elusive goals category. But the other question is, how many copycats will we see? Certainly Boudreau's deployment of Green is a bit revolutionary in an age in which defensemen must answer to preventing goals before scoring them. Will other coaches get on board with the idea of allowing an offensively skilled defenseman to shed his defensive leash and take chances with the rush? With the success of Green, it certainly seems like something other teams will want to at least look into.

But who might get that opportunity to start copying Green's feats? How about Jay Bouwmeester? Surely one of the best skaters in the league, Bouwmeey could be on the move out of Florida by the trade deadline, and what if his new coach decides to allow him more freedom to roam? At the very least he'll be on a new team by next season and perhaps that is when someone will experiment with the Green strategy. Brent Burns, Mark Streit, Shea Weber, Alex Goligoski, Matt Carle and John-Michael Liles are all players I'd love to see allowed to do what Boudreau allows Green to do.

Green is going to take a run at Coffey's record in the near future, but whether his play allows some of his fellow defensemen to shed their shackles in the neutral zone is the story I'll be watching for next season.

Sunny Days Ahead

Tom Gilbert, D, Oilers: Injuries to Lubomir Visnovsky and Denis Grebeshkov mean Gilbert is on the blue line with Sheldon Souray for Oilers' power play. Though not as offensively skilled as most D-men, Gilbert is in a good position to play over his head for a while.

Chris Mason, G, Blues: Mason gets another mention because he got another shutout and is still owned in only 16 percent of ESPN leagues. He is a legitimate No. 2 goaltender for the remainder of the season, and currently performing like a No. 1. With Andy McDonald back, I assure you that the Blues don't intend to go quietly this season, and Mason will be a big beneficiary of their play.

Cory Stillman, LW, Panthers: Playing on a great line with rookie Michael Frolik and Stephen Weiss, and on the first power-play unit with Weiss, Nathan Horton, Bouwmeester and Bryan McCabe, Stillman is back to his scoring ways. Stillman has 19 points in 18 games since Jan. 3. He is still available in fewer than half of ESPN leagues.

Storms A-Brewin'

Wojtek Wolski, LW, Avalanche: The injury to Paul Stastny coincided with Joe Sakic's absence and forced Wolski back to the center position he played in Junior. That allowed him to move up to Colorado's first line between Milan Hejduk and Ryan Smyth (lately Cody McLeod). With Stastny's return imminent, though, Wolski likely dips back to the level of being useful only in deeper fantasy leagues.

Bryan Little, C, Thrashers: For a while, it was the line that really tied the room together for the Thrashers, but now the Little-White-Russian line is entering a world of pain. Their great nickname aside, for 10 straight games before Sunday's contest, Little marked it zero, while Todd White had just one assist in that span. Slava Kozlov has been more effective, thanks to his power-play role, and has five points in those 10 games. Sunday's two-point game aside, the outlook for Little and White is darker than a black steer's tuchus on a moonless prairie night. The arrival of Rich Peverley and subsequent improvement of Ilya Kovalchuk actually coincides quite nicely with the cold streak for the Kahlua Line. At the end of the day, though, this was to be partly expected, as players like White should not be counted on as top-six forwards. He and Little should remain mostly irrelevant for the remainder of the season.

Jonas Hiller, G, Ducks: It's no fault of his own, as his performance remains solid when called upon, but coach Randy Carlyle is making the bold -- and likely intelligent move -- of starting Jean-Sebastien Giguere consistently, whether he deserves it or not. In what is probably a move to try to get Giggy to get giggy with it before the playoffs, Giguere has started four straight games for Anaheim with mixed results, but the point is that he keeps starting. It looked good for Hiller owners for a while there, but this Ducks team will want to have Giguere making most of the starts as the postseason approaches.

Bill Guerin, RW, Islanders: Quite a revival for two veteran American players on Long Island this season is being cut short by an injury to Doug Weight. Almost half of Guerin's 34 points, 16 of them in fact, have come on goals in which Weight also logged a point. Guerin is going to miss Weight a lot.

Long-Range Forecast

With plenty of young talent making some waves in the NHL this season, yet not doing enough to be worthy of redraft fantasy league owners' attention, I've decided to add a new section to look at some of these players in the context of their future contributions.

Michal Neuvirth, G, Capitals: In Saturday's contest, Neuvirth got his first NHL start and win for the Caps in net. He is yet another example of Washington's strong goaltender prospect pool. He will backup Jose Theodore while Brent Johnson is on the shelf. Neuvirth came to North America like a whirlwind, backstopping the Plymouth Whalers to the OHL championship with the best goals-against average in the league. He surely would have won the league's rookie of the year title if not for some kid named Patrick Kane. But it was Neuvirth's heroics that toppled Kane's heavily favored London Knights (with Steve Mason in net) in the semifinals. The numbers game had Neuvirth in the ECHL to start the season, as Simeon Varlamov is also considered a top goaltending prospect, but Neuvirth was called upon when Varlamov was injured recently. With Theodore signed to a long-term deal, something has to give, as both Neuvirth and Varlamov vie for a bigger role. Both goalies need to be on your long-term radar, though.

Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.