|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2009||[Print without images]|
NEW YORK -- I received a snickering e-mail from a media colleague Thursday suggesting the timing of the announcement for the Norris Trophy finalists could not have come at a worse time for Mike Green.
I'm not here to say the Washington Capitals defenseman has played as well as he can in these playoffs. Because he hasn't. But it appears there's a legitimate reason for that.
"He's been under the weather. He was sick," Caps GM George McPhee told ESPN.com on Thursday. "And he mentioned today that he finally feels good."
Green had two assists in the opening game of the playoffs, but has been held off the score sheet ever since. He is also a minus-3 for the series against the New York Rangers. The consensus among observers was he was pressing, but McPhee disagreed.
"No, we're impressed that he's played through this," said McPhee. "He's been sick and he finally feels good today."
A cynic might suggest the Caps are now saying this to protect their star blueliner, but that wouldn't be McPhee's way. The Caps' GM is a stand-up guy and that just wouldn't be part of his makeup.
Green said Thursday at the team's practice facility in Arlington, Va., he finally felt like he had his legs under him. But the Norris announcement, with his team down 3-1 in their quarterfinal series with the Rangers, obviously makes it a bittersweet moment.
"It's definitely a big honor and I'm very proud," Green told reporters. "It's been a long season and to be rewarded like that is pretty special. I never really thought that [this] would ever happen. But here it is. ...
"But like I said, I'm worried about tomorrow," he added. "So I apologize for my answer."
Green posted 31 goals and 73 points in 68 games during the regular season -- crazy numbers for a blueliner.
"He had an exceptional year," said McPhee. "His productivity was really something in light of the number of games he missed. He missed 14 games. That's pretty darn good to have been as productive like he was and play 14 fewer games than most of the other defensemen. He played a big role for us, not only on offense, but he kills penalties and plays 25 to 30 minutes a game now. He had a terrific season."
Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins and Mr. Norris himself, Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings, are the other finalists. I think it's going to come down to Chara and Green judging from most responses among my voting colleagues in the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. The voting is done before the playoffs.
While Green has struggled somewhat so far in the postseason, Chara has been dominant as the Bruins swept the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.
"He was so composed when the guys were going after him and trying to get him off his game," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com on Thursday. "In the past, I think you've seen some guys get under his skin. I thought he had great composure. Under non-playoff circumstances, I'm sure he would have snapped."
Chara's overall game has never been more complete.
"He never loses a puck battle. Never," Chiarelli said of the 32-year-old Slovak giant. "And then what he's got a lot better at this year is protecting the puck on the breakout. I think that's put him to the next level, the elite level of defensemen, the fact that he has that poise now to really control a breakout.
"He's taken his game to a new level and he's added even better puck-moving skills to his game. I really saw that in our first-round series."
While we're on the subject of NHL awards, I can't help but pass on my dismay that Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty did not make it among the finalists for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. It is a gross oversight from my colleagues in the PHWA.
You're talking about a teenage player learning the most difficult position at the NHL level and leading all rookies in the league in ice time per game at 23:49. I'm sorry, but people didn't do their homework on this one. I love Kris Versteeg, he's an excellent forward, but his rookie year pales in comparison to Doughty's. Case closed.
My ESPN.com teammate Scott Burnside was also unhappy Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne didn't make it among the finalists given his numbers were nearly identical to Steve Mason's. It's hard to argue with that, as well.
Oh, well ... fun to debate!