Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Welcome To L.A. Willie!

After attending the Kings Development Camp in July; I became worried. The Kings lost Sean O’Donnell to free agency and had yet to sign a defenseman. Jake Muzzin wasn’t ready. Thomas Hickey wasn’t ready. Colten Teubert was hurt. Viatcheslav Voynov was missing and now threatening a move to Russia. Then the news broke that Matt Greene was going under the knife, all of a sudden, leaving two gaping holes to fill on the Kings blueline.

I began searching the list of remaining free-agents for bargains (or scraps). Two names jumped out at me: Ruslan Salei and Mike Weaver. Salei has been steady his entire career up to last season when he battled back injuries last season. Mike Weaver left Los Angeles as a fringe NHL defenseman and has slowly developed into a solid reliable bottom-pairing defenseman for Vancouver and St. Louis. Both were snatched up within the week.

Willie Mitchell was the only remaining player on my Free Agent Shopping List. But I figured he was a longshot to sign in Los Angeles. Well, because quite frankly, every top free-agent seems to be a long shot for the Kings.

I began asking the question that I never thought I’d ever ask: Who is going to replace Sean O’Donnell?

And then it happened. The Kings announced the signing of Mitchell for two-years, $7 million (big shout out to Eklund for confirming the signing with an E5 an hour after everybody else). The 33-year old Mitchell will bring toughness, grit and a veteran presence to the Kings. Mitchell is an above-average skater and will jump into the rush a bit more than people think.

I see Mitchell as an upgrade over OD.  Ironically enough, the two were dealt for each other ten years ago. The New Jersey Devils dealt a 23-year old Mitchell to Minnesota for O'Donnell at the 2001 trade deadline. OD helped bolster New Jersey’s blueline as they advanced all the way to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Mitchell went on to thrive under coach Jacques Lemaire's system in Minnesota, becoming one of the league’s top shutdown defenseman. In 2006, Mitchell jumped at the opportunity to play for his hometown Vancouver Canucks. His homecoming was cut short by groin injuries and concussions. Mitchell has played in 62, 72, 82 and 48 games over the past four seasons. In 2010, he missed the last 34 regular season and all 12 playoff games with the third concussion of his career.

The Kings are taking a calculated risk here. Some already feel the Kings overpaid for him. Signing an injury-prone defenseman to a two-year deal worth $7-million. Helene is reporting that the Kings were the only team to offer a two-year deal.

Deano had this to say.  Per Hammer.
"When you’re talking about players with risk, all of those guys that I talked about, whether it was Ricci or Stoll or Granato or a Willie Mitchell, these guys are all character guys, and sometimes you go out on a limb a little, but I think the payoff is way too big."
Market value takes precedent here.  The Kings gave $13.6 million to Rob Scuderi, a bottom-pairing defenseman on a Stanley Cup winner.  Sometimes you have to overpay.  $3.5 million doesn’t buy you what it used to. I love the signing.  Look at what other UFA defenseman got this off-season.

Martin ($25 million, 5 yrs) = $5M/yr
Hamhuis ($27 million, 6 yrs) = $4.5M/yr
Volchenkov ($25.5 million, 6 yrs) = $4.25M/yr
Michalek ($20 million, 5 yrs) = $4M/yr
Kubina ($7.7 million, 2 yrs) = $3.85M/yr
MITCHELL ($7 million, 2 yrs) = $3.5M/yr
Tallinder ($13.5 million, 4 yrs) = $3.375M/yr
Leopold ($9 million, 3 yrs) = $3M/yr
Lydman (($9 million, 3 yrs) = $3M/yr
Morris ($11 million, 4 yrs)= $2.75M/yr
Eation ($5 million, 2 yrs) = $2.5M/yr

Mitchell is a top-four defenseman that's a bit of hybrid between (the positive aspects of) Sean O’Donnell and Randy Jones. Mitchell is a very steady influence on the blueline who takes care of his own end. He’s an absolute warrior; he’s never among the league leaders in hits or blocked shots but has been regarded as one of the league’s best penalty killers for years. He’s also not afraid to drop the gloves to protect a teammate. He’ll surprise some teams with his skating ability and willingness to jump into the rush with his hard accurate shot.

Mitchell sounds excited about coming to Los Angeles. Per Hammer.
"They have really good young defencemen there, I like their mix," he said. "They have a lot of good things going on down there as an organization, to be honest, I really felt they were really genuinely excited to have me down there."
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Doughty keeps his jersey #8.

Mitchell claims to be symptom-free and 100% healthy. Per Hammer.
“I started feeling better in the middle of June....Then, starting about July 11 or 12, I hired my trainer and I was kind of doing two-a-days, where I was skating in the morning and training after that. I started feeling better in June, but really when I said, `OK, everything is according to plan, it’s great,’ that was probably after I jumped all those hurdles — like I said earlier than I wanted to do — that was probably mid-July.”
Concussions are always scary. And I’m going to be a bit skeptical for a while. He’s already suffered three; the last one being very serious. Every Kings fans know how costly concussions can be after watching Adam Deadmarsh's career cut short.

The Kings blueline is beginning to take shape.  Deano seems pretty content.  Per Hammer.
"I'm totally comfortable with our top five...It was a huge hole. It was something that was obviously staring at us all summer, and it’s hard to imagine getting a perfect fit like this. His defensive skills are textbook, and I don’t think people appreciate, at times, the fact that he can make plays. He’s underrated in terms of his puck play. If you put that in the mix of our top four, it’s got a real nice blend to it, so I think we’re pretty comfortable right now."
Only time will tell whether or not Mitchell will return to form and be the same player he's been throughout his career.  But one thing is for certain: On paper, the Kings blueline looks a lot better now than it did 24 hours ago. Their top-five could stack up against almost any in the NHL. If one of the Kings puck-moving blueline prospects emerges at camp; the Kings could have the best blueline in the NHL by season’s end.


  1. Excellent article cikiri. I'm pretty happy that we have at least addressed a major team need. Can't wait for the season to start. Keep up the good work.

  2. I agree, great post!!! Willie Mitchell is a great addition and we got him at a bargain. Nice job with the salary chart

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  4. @Dominick: Thanks D! I didn't think losing OD would worry me at all. But those people saying that the Kings D would be OK with some combo of Muzzin, Hickey, Voynov, Fransson, Drewiske or Harrold are kidding themselves.

    Although, I'm excited to see what Fransson can do @ camp. He established himself as a pretty reliable offensive D-man in the SEL; could steal a spot in top-6. I did a profile on him a couple months back.

    @Elie: Thanks for reading! I'm not sure if I'm ready to call the signing a bargain but considering how many times the Kings have struck out signing free agents over the past few seasons; I'm ecstatic they finally signed one not named Valeri Bure or Scott Thornton.