Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Case for Willie Mitchell

 photo by Getty Images

GMGM has remained vague about signing any more free agents, saying that the Caps were done but not sounding definitive while saying it.  With Willie Mitchell visiting the Capitals and Kettler Capitals Iceplex this week and having "a very good meeting," could Mitchell be the ace up McPhee's sleeve?

A related question could be: Do the Caps really need Mitchell?  In a word, yes.  One of the persistent issues with the Capitals roster has been the lack of defensive defensemen - the "stay at home" guys who aren't afraid to make the tough hits and are valuable on the penalty kill.  The Caps lost perhaps their only good stay at home defensemen when free agent Shaone Morrisonn (who last year trailed only Alex Ovechkin for the team high in hits) signed with Buffalo.  

The Caps are gaining John Carlson and Karl Alzner,  but both are rookies who lack the experience of a seasoned blue-liner.  Jeff Schultz has stepped up his defensive play in recent years, leading the league in +/- last year, leading the team in blocked shots (129), and improving his hit count with 66 last year.  However, for some perspective, John Erskine bested Schultz in hit total (by over 40 hits) while playing 30 fewer games.

While Willie Mitchell, 33, missed almost half of last season with post-concussion syndrome (thanks to a hit by Evgeni Malkin), his 2008-09 stats show a definite knack for defense.  In that season, he had 82 hits (one per game) and blocked 125 shots.  He was fourth on the Canucks in takeaways with 39.  He also led the team in +/-, finishing up the season with a career-high +29.  Mitchell was awarded the Canucks' trophy, the Babe Pratt Trophy, for best defenseman on the team in 2008 and 2009.

With Kevin Bieksa, Mitchell has been a one half of arguably the best defensive pairing on the Canucks - Bieksa's offensive mindset complements Mitchell's strong defense and long reach (Mitchell uses a stick at the league-maximum of 63 inches).  I'd love the idea of a top defensive line of Mike Green and Willie Mitchell - Green would be a little more free to explore his offensive side without too much worry over the blue line going unprotected.

Only time will tell who Mitchell decides to sign with - Los Angeles and San Jose are in the signing mix with the Caps.  The Canucks haven't been ruled out either; re-signing Mitchell may be an option for them.  But Caps fans are pushing for McPhee to sign someone of Mitchell's physical presence.  The Caps have a decent amount of room under the salary cap.  And it's undeniable that the Caps could use him.

Mitchell is expected to make his decision by the end of the week.
UPDATE 8/25/10 - Willie Mitchell has signed a 2-year contract with the LA Kings.

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