Defenseman Andy Greene’s path to legitimacy is far from over.
In seventy-eight games this year, Greene enjoyed a breakout season, putting up career numbers of six goals and thirty-seven points. He went a plus nine, had four goals and fifteen points on the power play, along with a goal and two points in the Devil’s five playoff games. To many optimistic fans, Greene’s admirable season, in which he led Devil’s defensemen in goals and points, has been highly anticipated and overdue. He had a goal and six points in his first six games in 08-09, but his momentum shattered when he was sidelined for twenty games with a hand injury. Upon return, Brent Sutter (head coach at the time), seemed to have more faith in the likes of Mike Mottau and Colin White (outside the obvious candidates of Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya), and never gave Greene a chance to re-establish what he started.
Many Devils fans hope Andy Greene could be the second coming of Brian Rafalski, an undersized puck moving defenseman that was signed as an un drafted free agent. As of now, I won’t put Greene anywhere near the level of Rafalski because he’s an established top three defenseman guaranteed for forty plus points. And like I said, despite Greene’s breakout season that arguably stabilized the Devil’s defense during Paul Martin’s absence, the privilege of being labeled a top three defenseman is far from his grasp.
In a way, Greene’s situation reminds me of Johnny Oduya before he left the Devils. After struggling the first half of the 07-08 season, he had a strong finish and built on that the following year with career numbers of seven goals, twenty-nine points, and a plus twenty-one. Going into this season, Oduya was anticipated for another career year to establish himself as the top three defenseman the Devils desperately needed since Rafalski and Scott Niedermayer left the team. Oduya only had two goals and four points in forty games this year before being shipped off to Atlanta as part of the deal that brought Illya Kovalchuk and Anssi Salmela to New Jersey. Oduya’s inability to adapt to Lemaire’s system could excuse his lackluster performance, especially when you consider how he tallied a goal and nine points in the twenty-seven games he played with the Thrashers, more than doubling his output before the much needed change of scenery.
The point I’m trying to make is nobody should jump to any conclusions on Greene’s value based on one high performance season. Greene is entering a contract year with a $737,500 salary after which he can become an unrestricted free agent. Whether he builds on this season’s performance or shares the same fate as Oduya will determine whether he can rightfully be entitled the top three defenseman the Devils community wants to make him out to be or if this year’s numbers were a one hit wonder. The only potential catch to Greene evolving into a recognizable offensive force on the blue line is players of that type seem to have short lives with the Devils, especially when a summer arrives when they’re eligible for UFA status.
Going into next season, the expectations surrounding Greene will be high for him to step up his role and performance on and off the score sheet. Any skepticism counteracting hopes of Greene escalating his game a notch or two could reflect off his streaky play throughout this past season. Having said that, his defensive game was respectable, but would you say his patches of pointless games could be a means of concern? For now, we’ll just overlook it but keep it in the back of your mind. I want to say hopes are high for him to meet those standards as he seems to be versatile enough to thrive in any system, having his breakout season under the defensive mindset of Lemaire, and could have achieved the same feat under Brent Sutter hadn’t he got injured. This is based purely off speculation, but considering the team’s performance that year and Greene’s stats in the short time span he played before getting injured, I’d expect him to have gotten numbers that were at least similar to what he had this year.
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Written by Mike Luciano