Mitchell’s health a wild card for Kings

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Los Angeles Kings day on PHT continues with a look at a player who may or may not be on the ice in 2013-14…

There were times last season when Kings head coach Darryl Sutter sounded extremely frustrated at Willie Mitchell’s hesitancy to return from a knee injury that required offseason surgery.

“You know what, he’s got doctor’s clearance,” Sutter said in January. “He’s got trainers’ clearance. Coaches want him to clear himself.

“So do it.”

But Mitchell never did return in 2013. The defensive defenseman’s absence, among other things, forced Drew Doughty to play more of a shutdown role for the Kings, perhaps hindering the latter’s offensive production.

In June, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi provided a cautious update on Mitchell’s status for 2013-14.

“I guess it’s safe to say that he’s at least making progress,” said Lombardi, per LA Kings Insider, “but the problem is it’s the same progress he made before, and until we get to those final stages, you’re not going to know for sure.

“So, if you had asked me this maybe six months ago when we went through the process the first time, I would have been encouraged. But, given that we had two setbacks once he got to a certain point, I’m certainly not as optimistic as I would have been before.

“Your guess is as good as mine right now.”

While Lombardi did acquire (and re-sign) veteran Robyn Regehr, the Kings will be hoping hard that Mitchell is able to play, and play well, again. The 36-year-old was a big part of the team’s Stanley Cup run in 2012. In fact, only Doughty averaged more ice time in those playoffs than Mitchell (25:19).

Los Angeles also lost stay-at-home defenseman Rob Scuderi to free agency in July.

Mitchell has one year remaining on his contract ($3.5 million cap hit) before he can become an unrestricted free agent.

Habs sign Mark Streit — is he Markov’s replacement?

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The Montreal Canadiens have signed 39-year-old defenseman Mark Streit to a one-year contract worth a reported $700,000.

This will actually be Streit’s second stint with the Habs. He started his NHL career in Montreal, all the way back in 2005.

Streit split last season between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In the playoffs, he only appeared in three games for the Penguins, all of them in the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa when Justin Schultz was hurt.

What the Streit signing means for Andrei Markov remains to be seen. Streit, like Markov, can run a power play, so it’s tempting to conclude that Streit is Markov’s replacement.

That being said, almost all of Streit’s contract could be buried in the AHL if necessary, so that conclusion may be premature. This could even be a move by GM Marc Bergevin to gain leverage and convince Markov to sign.

Markov, 38, remains an unrestricted free agent. The Canadiens want him back, but only at a certain price.

Devils give Mirco Mueller two-year extension

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The New Jersey Devils have signed defenseman Mirco Mueller to a two-year contract extension with a cap hit of $850,000.

Mueller, a first-round draft pick of the Sharks in 2013, has only played 54 NHL games, scoring two goals with four assists. In June, after spending most of 2016-17 in the AHL, San Jose traded the 22-year-old to the Devils.

In New Jersey, Mueller should get a good chance to crack a rebuilding roster.

“Mirco is adding another piece to what we’re trying to build here,” Devils coach John Hynes said, per NJ.com. “He’s a young player, he can play with pace. He’s a very good skater. He’s got size, which is something we need on the back end. He makes a good first pass. He allows you to get out of your own zone because he can break out, he can end plays defensively, get possession, make the pass to be able to transition yourself out of defensive situations.”

The Devils have also re-signed goalie Scott Wedgewood and forward Joseph Blandisi.

Rangers lock up Zibanejad for next five years

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The New York Rangers have locked up a key piece of their future, signing center Mika Zibanejad to a five-year deal with a cap hit of $5.35 million.

Zibanejad had an arbitration hearing scheduled for today, but that won’t be required anymore.

The 24-year-old had 14 goals and 23 assists in 56 games last season. It was his first year in New York after getting traded from Ottawa for Derick Brassard.

With Derek Stepan in Arizona now, Zibanejad is arguably the Rangers’ No. 1 center. Kevin Hayes is in that conversation as well, and perhaps Lias Andersson will be soon.

But getting Zibanejad signed long term was a top priority for GM Jeff Gorton this offseason. Hayes can become a restricted free agent next summer, but that’s a bridge to cross at a later date.

Related: Andersson to get ‘every opportunity’ to make Rangers next season

Avalanche reportedly settle with Nieto, avoiding arbitration

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Matt Nieto won’t need his arbitration hearing on Monday.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Nieto has agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract with the Colorado Avalanche.

Nieto split last season between San Jose and Colorado, which claimed him off waivers in January.

In 43 games for the Avalanche, the 24-year-old forward scored seven goals with four assists.

Nieto was the only Colorado player on this summer’s arbitration list. However, the Avs still have a restricted free agent in Nikita Zadorov, who could be off to the KHL next season.