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.

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.

 

After ‘great’ senior year, Pens sign Union standout Taylor

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Pittsburgh wasted little time in getting Jeff Taylor in the mix.

Taylor, the Union College senior defenseman who had his collegiate career end over the weekend, signed a two-year, entry-level deal on Monday, and also inked an ATO to join the club’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Taylor, the club’s seventh-round pick in 2014, enjoyed a career year at Union, helping the Dutchmen advance to the NCAA Tournament by setting career highs in goals (9) and points (33) in 38 games.

Back in December, Pens assistant GM Bill Guerin spoke glowingly about Taylor’s last collegiate campaign, saying he was in the midst of a “great” senior season.

“This is a kid we’ve been looking forward to getting since we drafted him,” Guerin said, per the Post-Gazette. “I remember his first development camp, everybody was like, ‘Oh, wow, look at this kid. He can move the puck, he can skate, he’s quick. He thinks the game well.’ And it hasn’t stopped.

“He’s an undersized guy, but he has the ability to get himself out of trouble because he’s got great feet and he thinks the game well.”