In most cases, preseason NHL contests are only a big deal for the guys who’ve never sniffed the big time. Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell has 719 regular season games under his belt, but if he can indeed play in Friday’s exhibition against Colorado like he told LA Kings Insider, it would be a huge step for him.
The 36-year-old blueliner missed all of the 2013 season with a knee injury that drove his employers to question him and prompted others to wonder if his fantastic (yet injury-riddled) career was coming to an end.
That’s still a question for some, yet playing tomorrow would represent a significant leap for the often-superb defenseman.
He noted to LA Kings Insider that the elevation in Denver could make for an extra challenge, yet it’s one he’s glad to embrace.
“I’m playing for sure, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m not looking forward to the thin air, but…after the road I traveled, I’d take that any day of the week,” Mitchell said. “I’m excited. Really excited to go. Just excited to get in game action. Gameday’s fun. Darryl talks about it. It’s true. You put in the work in practice so you can have fun in the games. I’m just going to enjoy it and keep working on my timing, working on everything.”
Considering all the people who wrote him off, the Kings could get a substantial bonus in their lineup if Mitchell can approach his form from 2011-12, when he helped Los Angeles win a Stanley Cup.
Late in the third period of Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, things were looking good for Columbus.
Brandon Saad, who the team acquired from Chicago this off-season, scored his first goal of the season to give his team a 2-1 lead with under four minutes remaining in the contest.
Unfortunately for the Jackets, that’s as good as it would get.
The Rangers responded with three unanswered goals from Oscar Lindberg, Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello to spoil Columbus’ home opener.
“When something like that happens at the end, I think we’re gonna be a better team because of it,” defenseman Ryan Murray told reporters after the game. “It’s a harsh lesson, but it’s a good one.
Luckily for Columbus, they won’t have to wait very long to try and get their revenge.
The Blue Jackets and Rangers will finish off their home-and-home series at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, which might not be such a bad thing for Columbus.
“It’s good that we get another chance tomorrow,” Saad said after Friday’s game. “We were high on emotions (after the go-ahead goal) and they scored and it took the wind out of our sails, but we have to keep playing. We have to learn to keep doing our thing, regardless of the score.”
The Los Angeles Kings may owe Mike Richards money until 2031 (seriously), but in settling his grievance, the team and player more or less get to turn the page.
Not before Kings GM Dean Lombardi shares his sometimes startling perspective, though.
Lombardi has a tendency to be candid, especially in the press release-heavy world of sports management. Even by his standards, his account of Richards’ “destructive sprial” is a staggering read from the Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Dillman.
“Without a doubt, the realization of what happened to Mike Richards is the most traumatic episode of my career,” Lombardi said in a written summation he provided to the Los Angeles Times. “At times, I think that I will never recover from it. It is difficult to trust anyone right now – and you begin to question whether you can trust your own judgment. The only thing I can think of that would be worse would be suspecting your wife of cheating on you for five years and then finding out in fact it was true.”
Lombardi provides plenty of eyebrow-raising statements to Dillman, including:
- He believed he “found his own Derek Jeter” in Richards, a player who “at one time symbolized everything that was special about the sport.”
- Lombardi remarked that “his production dropped 50 percent and the certain ‘it’ factor he had was vaporizing in front of me daily.”
- The Kings GM believes that he was “played” by Richards.
Again, it’s a powerful read that you should soak in yourself, even if you’re unhappy with the way the Kings handled the situation.
Maybe the most pressing of many lingering questions is: will we get to hear Richards’ side of the story?