Willie Mitchell's knee looks fine in MRI exam; Should the Kings ask him to play?

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

Sutter has been harsh in his public comments, but the Kings are waiting for Mitchell to decide he's ready.

Willie Mitchell has been medically cleared for several days, but he hasn't returned to play. That's making Darryl Sutter lash out in frustration, but so far, the decision remains up to the player.

On the plus side, there hasn't been any bad news about his knee. The Los Angeles Times reports that Mitchell had another MRI on Monday, and the results were positive:

"There was no structural damage and no setback," General Manager Dean Lombardi said Tuesday. Lombardi said the decision on when to rejoin the lineup remains up to Mitchell, who was medically cleared to play last week.

Mitchell had a minor operation to remove cartilage in his knee about two months ago. What was supposed to be a short rehab period grew much longer when Mitchell began working out again, and inflammation flared up.

The setback resulted from Mitchell pushing too hard, too soon, and it's likely the reason he's so cautious now.

Mitchell not skating in practice

Mitchell tested his knee the day before the season began, and returned to skating in practice with his teammates back on January 21st. He also traveled with the team on their road trip, leading us to believe he was close to returning.

That didn't happen. Then he stopped skating in practice. When asked why, Sutter huffed that he was not a "doctor or a psychologist" and couldn't explain.

Mitchell also didn't skate in the team's practice this morning, so it's very hard to predict when he'll be back.

The veteran defenseman has resisted pressure to rush back from his concussion before. He wants to be 100%.

"It swells up a little bit but goes back down. I think that's probably how it's going to be the rest of the year. I don't want to get out there and be a liability to my defense partner, to my teammates, to my coach. When I come back I don't want to come back, play the next couple of games and then it swells up and be out."

Mitchell has over 700 games under his belt, and rarely misses an extra practice. It's hard to question his commitment.

Coping without two defenders

The Kings usually lean on Mitchell heavily. Last season, he was behind only Doughty in minutes logged per game (22:13), and was the team's top penalty killer (averaging 3:35). Matt Greene, out for at least eight weeks after back surgery, is their other top PKer. In their absence, Scuderi's PK time has more than doubled, and Doughty, Drewiske, and Martinez have taken on more responsibility than ever before.

So far, the reworked defense corps has been handling things well, although Sutter has been keeping Muzzin sheltered to an extreme degree. Mitchell is usually a top choice for d-zone faceoffs in critical situations, such as closing out a game with a one goal lead.

It's easy to see why Sutter wants him back -- Mitchell is a valuable contributor. But so far, Lombardi is letting Mitchell call the shots.

Tell us what you think. Do you approve of the way the Kings are handling this? What do you think about Sutter's comments? Is Sutter being too "old school" about playing through pain, or what?

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