It was the hit of the season last term, even if it came a little bit early on. You may remember this pretty entertaining hockey clip was distributed over the web at the beginning of last season. If you enjoyed that then you might also get a tingling sensation knowing Willie Mitchell was at Kettler Capitals Iceplex (WaPo reports) on Tuesday to discuss his and the Caps’ interest in the 33-year old policing the blue lines at Verizon Center come October.
We’ve all heard the laments simmering not only on this site but all over the NHL’s mediascape persuading George McPhee to swoop for a rock-solid rear guard. The word on the street, if you didn’t know already, is that if the Caps pick up a shutdown defenseman they would be true title contenders, if not odds-on Stanley Cup favorites. The problem is the man in charge has left that pan on the backburner despite going into the playoffs last season with an overstock of useless (in the literal sense of the word) trade-deadline acquisitions (even though I was on board), plus millions in cap room, minus a player like Willie Mitchell.
Last summer I was desperate for the Capitals to lure Matthias Ohlund from free agency land, but through his misguided approach he sailed on to beautiful Tampa Bay to the tune of $3.5 million per year long term. You’ll remember the Canucks were also his last team as was Mitchell’s. Vancouver has been quite successful in picking up fantastic defensemen either through draft (Bieksa, 2001 and Edler, 2004), free agency (Mitchell, 2006 and Hamhuis, 2010) and trade (Erhoff, 2009 and Ballard, 2010). Those six players in the same pot steams success, but Mitchell is not guaranteed to be an ingredient despite his recognition as the team’s top defenseman in 2008 and 2009. Vancouver breeds seriously good d-men and it would have been an error had this meeting never occurred.
Mitchell is perfectly suited to play top four minutes for the Capitals and George McPhee is the perfect suitor for a player with Mitchell’s ability. He’s the kind of guy McPhee has been unable to sign in his long stint as Caps headhunter. Mitchell’s ability to handle a superstar like a ragdoll, his size and stamina and his desire to rebound from a concussion sustained in the early part of this year could really add the Fuhgeddaboudit attitude to the Caps defense that has been absent for a long time.
But is he worth it? Mitchell’s last contract was a four-year $14 million deal with Vancouver. While the Caps have room to accommodate a similar contract, GMGM is not going to give him more than two years and it would be wise if it was for half the money he made in Vancouver. We are all aware how precious cap room is in terms of personnel mobility, so non-core, long term deals like Martin’s, Hamhuis’ and Michalek’s must be avoided.
Following the demolition of Chicago’s roster and Vancouver’s relatively recent playoff experience, it is likely the Canucks have the most formidable blueline this year, more so than the Windy City and Toronto, whose reconstruction from goal out is now concentrated on a top six forward. Adding a blueline spike strip to DC’s roster puts the Caps in the same class as those teams that have added grit to their blueline this summer like New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Vancouver. If the Caps can land a defensive product of the Canucks named Willie Mitchell, that tingling sensation I mentioned… yeah that can last a lot longer.