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.

PHT Morning Skate: Meaning of NHL regular season; Kadri regrets cross-check

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Format not to blame for wild Round 1 upsets. (Sportsnet)

• The cascade of issues that not having a Canadian team in the playoffs creates. (Angus Reid Institute)

• Perhaps your favorite team is out and you’re looking to cheat on them with a new team. Here’s a bandwagon guide. (CBC)

• The regular season means nothing. (FiveThirtyEight)

• Torn ACL likely to mean Zach Hyman will miss the beginning of next season. (NHL.com)

• Mike Modano getting himself into eSports. (TSN)

• A timeline of the recently-ended Calgary Flames season. (Calgary Sun)

• The tragic consequences of the NHL’s science denial. (The Atlantic)

• The seve…. eight deadly sins of Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Deadspin)

• The Washington Capitals’ Russian contingent heading to the World’s after their shocking playoff exit. (TSN)

Craig Smith is none too pleased with the Nashville Predators season ending in Round 1. (Tennessean)

• Game 7 controversy could have a ripple effect in the college game. (Jamestown Sun)

• Dubas not playing games after Maple Leafs tossed. (The Score)

Nazem Kadri regrets his silly cross-check. (TSN)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sharks’ Pavelski unlikely for Game 1 after scary injury

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski is unlikely to play Game 1 in the second round of the playoffs against Colorado after being knocked out and bloodied in the first-round clincher.

Coach Peter DeBoer said Thursday that Pavelski is officially day to day but is not expected to be cleared for Game 1 against the Avalanche on Friday night.

Pavelski got hurt Tuesday in a Game 7 victory over Vegas when he was cross-checked by Cody Eakin after a faceoff and fell awkwardly, with his helmet slamming on the ice. He was knocked out and bleeding on the ice before being helped to the locker room. The Sharks scored four goals on the ensuing power play and eventually won 5-4 in overtime.

Pavelski was at the practice facility Thursday but didn’t take part in practice. DeBoer says he is still feeling the effects of the injury.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

The Playoff Buzzer: Coyle plays OT hero; Tarasenko puts on show

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  • The Boston Bruins brushed off a 13-second disaster in the third period as Charlie Coyle scored the game-tying goal and then the game-winner in OT against the Blue Jackets
  • Blues picked up right where they left off in Round 1 thanks to Vladimir Tarasenko, Jordan Binnington and others. 

Boston 3, Blue Jackets 2 [OT] (BOS leads 1-0)

Everything looked breezy for Boston before Brandon Dubinsky and Pierre-Luc Dubois scored 13 seconds apart in the third period to turn the tide of the game. That was until the Charlie Coyle Show made its second-round debut. In the first episode, Coyle played hero, scoring the game-tying goal and then the winner in the ensuing overtime frame. The Bruins deserved it based on metrics and they ended up winning it on merit.

Blues 3, Stars 2 (STL leads 1-0)

The Blues needed Tarasenko to get going and they needed to rally around the same defensive structure that helped them see off the Winnipeg Jets. Job done in Game 1. Tarasenko had scored a brace. The Blues held the line and Binnington took care of the rest. The Blues were also able to penetrate a penalty kill that had gone 15-for-15 in Round 1, so there’s more joy to be had in Joyland for St. Louis.

Three stars

1. Charlie Coyle, Boston Bruins

Depth. It matters.

Coyle scored his fourth and fifth goals of the postseason, a game-tying goal late in the third period to force overtime and the game-winner off a slick feed from Marcus Johansson in the extra frame.

Boston was dangerous with their two top lines. If they’re getting continued scoring their bottom six, watch out everyone.

2. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

The Blues needed more from Tarasenko if they were going to taste success in their Round 2 series against the Dallas Stars.

Tarasenko had two power-play goals in Round 1 but didn’t get much-done five-on-five. Tarasenko scored once again on the power play in Game 1 against the Stars and then extended a third-period lead to 3-1 with his first five-on-five goal of the playoffs.

This is a good start.

3. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues

This guy. On Jan. 6 he didn’t have a win in the NHL, now he has five playoff wins under his belt spread across two rounds.

Binnington couldn’t care less about his likely snub in the rookie of the year race. He’s got a much bigger trophy on his mind. Binnington made 27 saves in the game, including 16-of-17 in the third period as the Stars searched for a tying goal. Something about Binnington’s calmness…

Highlights of the night

OT winners are always better:

Don’t give this man this kind of space:

Factoids

Friday’s games

Game 1: Hurricanes at Islanders, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live stream)
Game 1: Avalanche at Sharks, 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live stream)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Tarasenko takes over, Blues snag Game 1 vs. Stars

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If you needed a star player to score a big goal in a playoff game, who would you pick?

Most hockey fans would tab Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and other players who’ve already won at least a Stanley Cup. Maybe you’d lean toward Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, or Nikita Kucherov, if you wanted to mix things up.

St. Louis Blues fans would insist that Vladimir Tarasenko should be on the tip of your tongue, and in a tight 3-2 Game 1 win (and 1-0 series lead) for the Blues against the Dallas Stars, he added to his robust big-game resume.

(Game 2 airs on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday; stream here.)

While Ben Bishop will be haunted by allowing the Blues 1-0 goal early in Game 1 via Robby Fabbri, you wonder if there’s only so much anyone could do to stop Tarasenko on both of his goals. In particular, Tarasenko showed why his nickname is “Tank” on his second goal, as he absolutely powered his way past Miro Heiskanen and roofed a fantastic goal by Bishop. Tarasenko simply would not be denied:

At the time, Tarasenko’s second goal of Game 1 made it 3-1, but with Jamie Benn scoring a strange 3-2 goal that survived a goal review after an ill-timed whistle, the Blues needed every one of those Tarasenko tallies. Tarasenko’s nicest goal of the evening ended up counting as the game-winner.

With this result, Tarasenko now has an outstanding 26 goals in his last 50 playoff games. That ties Tarasenko with Sidney Crosby for the fourth-most postseason goals since 2013-14, and Crosby hit that mark in 82 playoff contests. None of that is meant to insult Crosby; instead, the point is that Tarasenko’s been an absolute superstar in the postseason.

Interestingly, Tarasenko was pretty quiet in Round 1, only managing two goals in six games against the Winnipeg Jets. The Blues were carried by other players like Jaden Schwartz with Winnipeg’s top line carrying the way, but on Thursday, it was the Tarasenko show.

***

While it was a tough night at times for Bishop (who took a scary puck to the head), Jordan Binnington was a mix of brilliant and a touch scrambly. Binnington also felt some content during Game 1, as this scuffle began when the rookie goalie was bumped by Blake Comeau:

Binnington gave up a juicy rebound or three in Game 1, yet he really locked it down when Dallas tried to wage a comeback; Binnington stopped 16 out of 17 shots in the third period alone.

This loss stings, but the Stars can feel comfortable that they weren’t merely facing a struggling Predators team. Dallas was absolutely able to hang with a St. Louis squad that was a buzzsaw at times down the stretch this season, and honestly, the Stars sometimes looked flat-out better.

The Blues found a way to win Game 1, which in this case, meant riding Tarasenko’s dominant scoring and Binnington’s brilliant netminding. If this one was any indication, more wins against Dallas won’t come easy, so the Blues might need more of that from their biggest star, and their rising star in net.

The Stars will try to even up the series against the Blues as Game 2 takes place at the Enterprise Center on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET (NBC; stream here).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.