In many cases, the best free agent acquisitions tend to slip under the radar. Sure, every once in a while you’ll see a guy who’s just so good it really doesn’t matter where he goes; Marian Hossa and Scott Niedermayer jump to mind in those cases.
But if Jay Bouwmeester and Craig Anderson – two former Florida Panthers teammates with radically different profiles in the ’09 summer spree and similarly contrasting successes in the 09-10 season – prove anything, it’s that the lesser known types can often make a bigger mark than their richer counterparts.
This is an elaborate way for me to say that I think that the Los Angeles Kings ended up landing the biggest fish in the free agent sea even if he blended into the metaphorical corral reef. They didn’t land Ilya Kovalchuk (barring a true catastrophe of the New Jersey Devils, of course). Instead, GM Dean Lombardi signed Willie Mitchell, one of the league’s leading experts in the field of muzzling Kovalchuk and other offensive stars.
If he’s healthy, of course.
That qualifier kept both Mitchell and other interested parties from putting the pedal to the metal on any legitimate contract offers until August. The Kings’ official site ran a rather fascinating piece on Mitchell’s recovery from his latest concussion thanks to a dangerous hit from behind via Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin.
One day, Mitchell grabbed a motivational speaker’s CD that had been collecting dust in his house, one titled “The Maverick Mindset.” Mitchell listened, and the timing couldn’t have been better, as it provided a framework for his eventual return to the NHL.
“It’s funny how it was sitting on my countertop and I never touched it,” Mitchell said. “Then something like this happens to you, and it’s like, `Well, I’ve got time to kill in this chamber, so I’m going to listen to it.’ It was probably one of the best things I’ve ever picked up in my life, in terms of it being a life lesson but also in being an athlete like I am. A lot of it was talking about controlling the things that you can control and not worrying about all the external factors that ultimately, at the end of the day, you have no bearing over.”
The message helped bring calm and clarity to Mitchell. He stopped worrying about how his teammates would fare without him, stopped stressing about his recovery and, as much as possible, stopped wondering whether he would ever play hockey again.
Perhaps it’s because I watched “The Big Lebowski” on a seemingly eternal loop during high school, but picturing Mitchell listening to a motivational speaker in a hyperbaric chamber makes me look back to the time the Dude was relaxing to some “Sounds of the Whale” in his bath tub before being rudely interrupted by a few nihilists.
Moving on, Mitchell is motivated to prove that he’s healthy after some rather troubling concussion issues. He might not fill the net very often and won’t make many Youtube-worthy plays, but when we look back at the 2010 free agent summer, don’t be shocked if Mitchell is considered one of the best signings of them all.
If, you know, he’s healthy.