2010 NHL Free Agency: What about … Willie Mitchell?

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williemitchellcelebrates.jpgAt this point in free agency, the focus shifts from the gems to flawed guys who can still bring some skill to the table. So, going forward, we’ll spotlight individual players who are flying under the radar.

Previous Entries: Slava Kozlov, Alex Frolov

Today’s entry: former(?) Vancouver Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell.

Name: Willie Mitchell
Height: 6-3 Weight: 208 lbs.
Position: Defense
Strengths: Size, physicality, positioning, shutdown defense in general
Weaknesses: Concussion issues, limited offensively

Every team needs a defenseman who will make an opposing forward’s life miserable. Consider Willie Mitchell to be the NHL’s equivalent to an aging shutdown corner in the NFL; he won’t put up big interception/point totals, he’ll just do his job every game.

Well, he’ll do that job when he’s healthy … which hasn’t been the case very often the last few years. Much like more-sinister open ice hitter Scott Stevens, Mitchell’s physically intense style hurts him almost as much as it hurts his victims. Yet taking that element out of his game is like de-clawing a tiger or muting Fran Drescher. It sounds like a wise idea on paper, but they just wouldn’t be the same. I mean, just look at this brutal – but clean – check Mitchell unleashed on Jonathan Toews.

(Man, that hit never gets old.)

Pretty much any team in need of a rugged, stick-to-you-like-glue defenseman could use Ideal Scenario Healthy Willie Mitchell. The problem is it’s unclear if that player will ever emerge again – even for pockets of time. He hasn’t been the same since taking a hit from behind via Evgeni Malkin and that wasn’t even his first battle with concussions.

I haven’t heard many rumors about teams sniffing around Mitchell, and that might be because they want to make sure that he’s fit to play hockey again. As Mr. Plank of Fear the Fin points out, Mitchell said on the record that he wants to play again, so it might be a matter of time. Maybe he’ll sit out part of the season and then let people know he’s ready to return, but at this time that’s all speculation.

Either way, if I were an NHL GM, I’d be chomping at the bit to sign Willie Mitchell when (or if) he is ready to go.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.