The free agent bidding war for Willie Mitchell

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Thumbnail image for williemitchell1.jpgAs this summer’s free agency trudges along, one name getting a lot of heat lately is defenseman Willie Mitchell. Mitchell spent the last four seasons with the Vancouver Canucks and before that he played with the Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, and the New Jersey Devils. He’s developed the reputation (and has had the game to back it up) for being one of the toughest defenders in the NHL.

If you’re the GM of a team looking for that two-way defenseman that can chip in offensively and get back to block a shot or throw the body, Mitchell isn’t your guy as he’s only going to do the latter. Luckily for him, there are more than a few teams in the NHL looking for a hard-hitting, defensive defenseman and Dan Murphy of Sportsnet tweets that a few have checked in on him already.

WMitchell has worked out for the Canucks, Sharks and Kings. Testing went very well. No conf on LA offer, WM now expected to visit Wash

How do those candidates shape up in the race to get Willie Mitchell? We’ll tell you.

San Jose: The Sharks tried to get their hands on Niklas Hjalmarsson in early July only to have the Blackhawks match their offer sheet for the defenseman. The Sharks are in need of a bopper on the blue line as they’ve lost Rob Blake to retirement and Douglas Murray can’t play 60 minutes a night. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Dan Boyle and Jason Demers are nice defensemen but they’re not the big-time defensive presence you look for in a situation where you need to make a stop. Mitchell could plug in instantly to be a top-four defenseman with the Sharks and make them quite formidable.

Los Angeles: The Kings are in a strange spot. They need defensive help both in the form of a true defender but also could stand to use a guy who can make plays. Drew Doughty is the top guy here and Jack Johnson is solid. Rob Scuderi makes for a good situational defender and the team is without Matt Greene for a little while thanks to off-season surgery. Right now they’ve got three guys they can bank on, one man out hurt and two spots that are totally up for grabs.

While Greene will be closer to being ready by the start of the season, getting a guy with a nasty streak like Willie Mitchell has will help balance out the Kings lineup and help them get even tougher defensively. He’ll also be able to help the younger defenders looking to make the Kings roster out better by having them learn from him. Mitchell would also help make up for the departure by Sean O’Donnell. Don’t laugh, O’Donnell has had a positive plus/minus rating each year with the Kings.

Vancouver: Mitchell knows Vancouver well and plays their system about as well as anyone can. What hurts the Canucks here is their current salary status. While they’ll catch some relief to start the year with Sami Salo likely to end up on the LTIR, bringing back the potentially pricey Mitchell could make things even harder for the team once Salo returns to the lineup. The Canucks are overloaded on the blue line and unless they make a move to send one of those guys out (Kevin Bieksa has been rumored many times) making Mitchell fit into the budget might not be able to happen. What does work for them is that Mitchell is familiar with the team and seems to love playing in Vancouver. If the guy wants to go elsewhere to get paid, however, he can’t be faulted for that.

Washington: Of the teams in the running for Mitchell, the Caps are the one team that could see an instant benefit to adding him. While the Caps have plenty of talent on the roster, they don’t have a go-to shutdown defenseman. Mitchell would fill that role immediately with Washington. While you’ve got Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Tom Poti, John Carlson and perhaps Karl Alzner as well, none of those players stand out as a physical force. One guy they do have that does fit that bill isn’t very good (John Erskine). They’ve lost Shaone Morrisonn to the Buffalo Sabres and while that’s not a terrible blow, he’s at least a guy that cared about playing defense. Adding Mitchell, you could conceivably put him with Mike Green and feel OK about letting Mike Green roam a bit free offensively knowing full well you’ll have Mitchell there to back him up.

Who gets the inside track Mitchell is probably the team able and willing to give up the sweetest contract for his services. This puts Los Angeles, San Jose, and Washington in a bidding war of sorts as they’re the three teams with the most flexibility, Los Angeles much more so than Washington or San Jose. Los Angeles also has desperation to contend with as they’ve already missed out on Paul Martin and Dan Hamhuis this off-season. Washington has been extremely quiet this summer and landing Mitchell might just be the one move good enough to help them out the most this year. Vancouver could be in the running if Mitchell really wants to stay there and opts to cut a sweetheart deal for the team but whether that happens or not, Vancouver will still have a move to make later on.

Would Blues trade Shattenkirk? GM says ‘all bets are off’ if losing continues

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Kevin Shattenkirk #22 of the St. Louis Blues in action against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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During an appearance on NBCSN last week, hockey insider Bob McKenzie mentioned that continued struggles could prompt the St. Louis Blues to trade Kevin Shattenkirk.

When asked by Hockey Central at Noon on Tuesday, Blues GM Doug Armstrong didn’t exactly shoot down the idea of trading Shattenkirk (and maybe some other assets?) if St. Louis doesn’t get it together.

“If we’re stumbling along like this, then all bets are off,” Armstrong said. “We don’t want to keep players here, hope to sneak into eighth place and get hammered in the first round.”

Yep, that basically follows McKenzie’s update note for note. As you can see in this video, McKenzie mentions that Shattenkirk is also more willing to explore different options, including the possibility of being a “rental” rather than signing an extension wherever he goes.

So, it seems like the Blues might be open for business (or at least willing to open up shop if things don’t turn around soon).

With that in mind, what would be a reasonable price for Shattenkirk and what are the Blues asking for? Perhaps we’ll need to wait and see if we get a little more information in that regard soon.

You know, unless the Blues began a run with tonight’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, of course.

Some good news: Patrik Laine’s back for the Jets

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Patrik Laine #29, playing his first NHL game, of the Winnipeg Jets celebrates scoring his first NHL goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At top is Mathieu Perreault #85 of the Winnipeg Jets. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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The Winnipeg Jets could use some good news – couldn’t we all? – and it doesn’t get a lot better than this in late January: rookie sensation Patrik Laine‘s back.

Paul Maurice said it simply enough, stating that “he’s in” for Tuesday’s game against the San Jose Sharks.

Winnipeg lost its game against the Ducks on Monday while the Sharks rode Patrick Marleau‘s magical third period to a decisive win versus Colorado on that same night, so getting a burst from Laine is a pretty nice bonus for a Jets team that feels like it’s just sort of hanging on.

Laine’s been sidelined since Jan. 7 with a concussion thanks to a hard Jake McCabe hit that even the Jets considered “clean.”

He’s likely out of the upper ranks of the Calder race at this point, although who knows?

Laine already has 21 goals and 37 points in 42 games, so it’s probably foolish to say that the young sniper can’t pull something off.

WATCH LIVE: St. Louis Blues at Pittsburgh Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 25: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck against the St. Louis Blues during the game at Consol Energy Center on November 25, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins carry a four-game winning streak into Tuesday, staying within reasonable striking distance of their deadly competition in the Metropolitan Division.

The St. Louis Blues are familiar with that situation from the Central’s peak, but with a three-game losing streak and some serious struggles in net, they have to wonder about their chances of holding onto a playoff spot altogether.

So, yes, this is a battle of teams going in two different directions, yet the Blues can also note that the Penguins struggled quite a bit in 2015-16, only to win it all.

This game has the added bonus of featuring some of the NHL’s brightest scorers, including Sidney Crosby, Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeni Malkin. It should be a fun one that you can watch on NBCSN, online or via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream link.

Goalie nods: Bolts start struggling Vasilevskiy ahead of struggling Bishop

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 06:  Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning switches with Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 during a break in play in the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Since returning from injury, Ben Bishop has allowed 10 goals on 96 shots — an .896 save percentage — and was hooked on Saturday in a 5-3 loss to the lowly Coyotes.

So it’s not a huge surprise that Tampa Bay will start Andrei Vasilevskiy tonight, when it takes on the ‘Hawks in Chicago.

But it’s not like Vasilevskiy’s rolling at the moment.

The young Russian is winless in his last six outings, posting a 3.93 GAA and .877 save percentage. Perhaps head coach Jon Cooper was impressed with Vasilevskiy’s relief appearance over the weekend — he stopped all six shots faced in Arizona — or perhaps Cooper just flipped a coin.

As Brough wrote earlier, it’s crunch time for the Lightning right now. The club’s in desperate need of wins, and it’s estimated the Bolts will have to win around 21 of their final 34 games in order to make the playoffs.

If the goaltending doesn’t improve, it ain’t gonna happen.

For Chicago, Corey Crawford gets the start.

Elsewhere…

— The Red Wings will continue to ride Jared Coreau, who is 5-1-2 since his recall from AHL Grand Rapids. Coreau will face Tuukka Rask, who starts for Boston after leaving Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh with a migraine.

— After Jeff Zatkoff failed to impress in his start last night, Peter Budaj returns to the Kings’ net. The host Devils will go with Cory Schneider, who returns from a two-game absence (illness).

— Good matchup in Brooklyn. Thomas Greiss, the NHL’s reigning second star of the week, will start for the Isles, who play host to Sergei Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets.

— As we wrote about yesterday, Jake Allen‘s mental reset will continue as Carter Hutton gets the start in Pittsburgh. He’ll be up against Matt Murray, who’s coming off a 44-save win over Boston on Sunday.

Braden Holtby gets the night off for the Caps, who wills tart Philipp Grubauer in Ottawa. The Sens will go with their workhorse, Mike Condon, who makes his 27th appearance of the year.

Brian Elliott started last night, so Chad Johnson goes for the slumping Flames in Montreal. He’ll be up against Carey Price, who is slumping himself. Price has lost three in a row, and five of his last six.

— The Preds have a good record with Juuse Saros (5-3-1) this year, so they’ll go with him tonight as they host the Sabres. For Buffalo, Robin Lehner is back in after making 36 saves in a win over Montreal over the weekend.

— No confirmed netminders from either side in tonight’s Sharks-Jets game from Winnipeg.

Devan Dubnyk returns to the net for Minnesota, after Darcy Kuemper gave him Sunday night off. Dubnyk will be up against Kari Lehtonen.