Something that the Capitals have been lacking in the last couple of year is a sound, veteran, physical, stay-at-home defenseman. There were several names that came up not only at the trade deadline, but also at the start of free agency that could potentially fill this void. One of these names, Willie Mitchell, has become a very interesting option.
The defensive defensemen has spent the last four seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, amassing 10 goals and 58 points in that time with 233 PIM. What he is most known for, however, are his crushing hits. He laid a hit on Jonathan Toews last season that knocked the Blackhawks Captain out of commission for six games. The best part? It was completely clean. Toews even admitted after the game that while it was a hard hit, he should have had his head up and it was his own fault.
At 6’3 208lbs, Mitchell has size and knows how to use it. Unlike Jeff Schultz, who is a large defenseman who doesn’t really play the physical game much, Mitchell relishes in rough, gritty play. That is the only component the Capitals were missing last season, and seem to have committed to correcting that with the acquisition of D.J. King. Mitchell would be a great addition to this new effort.
Because the Capitals organization is swimming in a plethora of D-men, they don’t need to go after a free agent unless the situation is perfect, and that may be the case here. George McPhee has made it clear that he wants to go into the season with enough cap space to make any necessary changes via trade mid-season. This means they only pick up a player if the price is right, and the price could be right for Willie Mitchell.
Mitchell’s last contract with the Canucks was worth 3.5 million a year. That would be a little on the high end for the Caps, but Mitchell is coming off of injury problems. He played only 48 games last season before he was sidelined by an Evgeni Malkin hit that left him with post-concussion syndrome. With teams being more and more cautious about head injuries, there could be fewer organizations interested in Mitchell, which would drive the price down.
The word around the league seems to be that there are about 4 teams Mitchell is talking to. The front-runners are supposedly the San Jose Sharks and the Capitals. If the Caps can manage to pull ahead and get Mitchell for a reasonable price, it would definitely be worth it. This could be a Brendan Morrison-type situation, when you take a chance on a player and it really pays off (at least for the first half of the season). Plus, every game Mitchell plays would be a game without Tyler Sloan and/or John Erskine. That right there is a win.
This could be the player the team wants at the price they want. If the Caps can get this done, it will make the long, hot, monotonous summer Caps fans have been suffering through worthwhile. It would be the first move this offseason that would actually significantly improve the team. Git er done.