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.

As the youngest GM in NHL history, Chayka is already making waves

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 25: John Chayka of the Arizona Coyotes attends the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) His time on the ice done, John Chayka would turn to the tape, spending up to 25 hours to break down the game just played.

He tracked every player on the ice, every possession, touch of the puck, calculating the impact of every decision or movement on the ice.

The attention to detail, to making himself and his teammates better, led Chayka to co-found his own hockey analytics company. Now it’s helped him become the youngest general manager in NHL history, a meteoric rise even he didn’t see coming.

“It would be silly to suggest it wasn’t a little surprising,” said Chayka, named GM of the Arizona Coyotes on May 5. “It’s like anything in life; good fortune, good timing, a lot of that plays into it. I always just try to better myself every day, learn every day.”

Related: The Coyotes are going in a ‘new direction,’ and that’s an understatement

Chayka was like most Canadian kids growing up, playing hockey from a young age on a backyard rink in Jordan Station, Ontario. He had some skill, too, as a high-scoring winger who was good enough to be an Ontario Hockey League draft pick.

Instead of becoming a professional hockey player, Chayka took a different route to the highest level. He opted to attend college instead of playing in the OHL and suffered a back injury that ended any chance of a continued playing career.

Chayka liked the analytical aspect of hockey even when he was playing, logging numbers by hand while meticulously going through every play of each game. Once he teamed up with Neil Lane, a friend with an IT background, Chayka was able to vastly expand the data sets he could analyze.

Chayka and Lane co-founded Stathletes in 2009 and built it up, molding the hockey analytics company to serve the needs of NHL teams and players.

But in 2015, Chayka decided to make a change. The business was in good shape and the Coyotes wanted an analytics person, so he joined them as an assistant GM prior to the 2015-16 season.

“The company was in a position for the co-founder to step aside and let it grow, so it was good timing for me to do that,” Chayka said.

Timing worked out for Chayka again this spring.

After missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season, the Coyotes decided to make a change, firing general manager Don Maloney after nine seasons.

Instead of hiring an established hockey front-office man, the Coyotes took a bolder route, hiring the then-26-year-old Chayka, making him the youngest GM in NHL history and the first with a primarily analytical background.

“What people are going to find out about John as he becomes more well-known is he’s a very smart guy, a very intelligent guy,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said.

Those smarts, along with a year of watching the Coyotes operations from the inside out, have allowed Chayka to hit the ground sprinting.

Arizona had one of the highest-rated drafts, landing center Clayton Keller and defenseman Jakob Chychurn, players who could contribute quickly.

The Coyotes signed top-four defenseman Alex Goligoski after trading for his rights and added some scoring depth by signing left wing Jamie McGinn, who set career highs in goals and points last season. Arizona also signed captain Shane Doan to a one-year deal.

Chayka has retooled Arizona’s roster by combining his analytical approach with the traditional methods of evaluating players, dispelling the notion that he would be a numbers-only GM.

“It’s a good holistic approach where you’re weighing both options and ideas,” Chayka said. “Where you have agreements and consistency in your approach, then you have a better decision. When you have those disagreements is where you have real opportunity to learn from it. If the data disagrees with the eye or the eye disagrees with the data, now you have a real opportunity to understand why.”

The need to understand got Chayka to this unprecedented point. It should be the foundation to keep him climbing as well.

Report: Wheat Kings’ McCrimmon likely to be named Las Vegas assistant GM

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The Las Vegas NHL franchise has been in search of an assistant general manager, and that search may be nearing an end.

According to a report from Guy Flaming of The Pipeline Show on TSN 1260, Brandon Wheat Kings owner, GM and coach Kelly McCrimmon is likely to be named assistant GM in Las Vegas.

The report was backed up on Friday from Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.

Last summer, McCrimmon turned down a job with the Toronto Maple Leafs front office.

It was reported last week that Vegas general manager George McPhee had asked the Washington Capitals for permission to speak with that team’s assistant GM Ross Mahoney.

Canucks’ Rodin says he’s ‘not 100 percent but getting close’ after freak knee injury

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Anton Rodin will be among a lengthy list of right wingers looking to compete for a roster spot with the Vancouver Canucks for next season.

Originally selected by the Canucks in 2009, and after having gone back to play professionally in Sweden, where he began to light it up offensively, Rodin signed with Vancouver for one year, and one way at $950,000. He’s listed as a right winger, but has a left shot and could perhaps help the Canucks find some scoring, which was a major problem for them during a dreadful 2015-16 campaign.

General manager Jim Benning, in speaking with The Province newspaper, has already compared Rodin’s style to that of Canucks’ forward Sven Baertschi.

However, he’s still working back from a knee injury that interrupted his 2015-16 season, in which he had 37 points in 33 games for Brynas.

From Sportsnet:

Over the past couple of seasons Rodin found a new level in the SHL and was particularly dominant this season. Wearing a captain’s “C” on his sweater, Rodin was leading the league in scoring by a wide margin before sustaining a gruesome knee ligament tear during a mid-January practice.

That injury sidelined Rodin for the balance of Brynas’ season, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from winning the Guldhjälmen – quite literally “the gold helmet” – which is an MVP award voted on by SHL players, similar to the NHL’s Ted Lindsay Award.

As per News 1130 Sports in Vancouver on Friday, the 25-year-old Rodin will arrive in town next week to have his knee checked out.

Avalanche, Tyson Barrie have arbitration hearing, could still reach a deal before ruling

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 08:  Tyson Barrie #4 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center on October 8, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Wild defeated the Avalanche 5-4.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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So far, scheduled arbitration hearings around the NHL have been avoided — until Friday.

The Colorado Avalanche and defenseman Tyson Barrie went ahead with the player-elected arbitration hearing on Friday, however, the two sides can still reach a new deal before a decision from arbitrator Elizabeth Neumeier must be provided within 48 hours of the hearing.

Here is what was separating the two sides heading into the hearing, as per Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet:

Last season, the 25-year-old Barrie, who brings an offensive style to Colorado’s blue line, tied his single-season career high in goals with 13. He also had 49 points, which is four shy of his single-season career high from 2014-15.

He also just wrapped up his two-year deal, which came with an average annual value of $2.6 million.

Given his numbers and the position he plays, Barrie is in for a substantial raise. Exactly what dollar figure that comes to has yet to be determined.

From the Denver Post:

The arbitration hearing could get bruising, with the Barrie camp citing his offensive numbers and arguing that as a terrific skater and puckhandler, he is among the top offensive defensemen in the league; but with the Avalanche countering that as an undersized defenseman, he has deficiencies in the Colorado end.

The Avalanche have the option of walking away from the arbitrator’s ruling, but that could make Barrie, a right-shot blue liner, an unrestricted free agent.

Barrie has also been the subject of trade speculation, but Avalanche GM Joe Sakic has already said the Avs are not trading Barrie.

“I’d like to do a long-term deal with Tyson. If that doesn’t work out, it’s expected he’ll go to arbitration,” Sakic told the Denver Post last month. “Either way, he’ll be here.”

Related: Barrie’s agent says no lingering issues with Avs from O’Reilly situation