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2014 Season Review: Willie Mitchell

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Two Cups in three years? AUTOMATIC A

the shot that broke the Rangers' back?
the shot that broke the Rangers' back?
Harry How
dCorsi Table


Mitchell's dCorsi (2011-14)

Corsi On Expected Corsi dCorsi
2010-11 2.664 3.173 -0.509
2011-12 9.73 10.368 -0.636
2013-14 11.814 12.743 -0.929

(stats via Behind the Net and @mimicohero)

Positives

Willie Mitchell has a well-defined role. He kills penalties. He plays defense. He gets paired with a younger, more offensively talented defenseman and handles things on the back end. It's hard to argue that he didn't succeed in those roles, for the most part. The Kings' PK finished 11th overall in the NHL, killing 83.1% of their penalties this season. The Kings took home the Jennings Trophy after allowing the fewest goals in the NHL. Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov, despite each struggling at times, each put up career-high point totals. And both Martinez and Voynov performed about as well with Mitchell as they did without him, which I'll mark as a positive because Mitchell turned 37 in April.

The big concern coming into 2013-14 was injury, and aside from a nasty-looking injury sustained in Game 6 of the first round, Mitchell played big minutes without his health failing him. (Mitchell missed the Anaheim series, allowing Jeff Schultz to become an unlikely contributor to the Cup run.) Even when Mitchell looked a bit slow out there, he was still averaging 20 minutes per game and generally not freaking anyone out in his own zone. Mitchell was alternately a second-pairing and third-pairing guy, and that seemed like the right spot for him.

He also appeared to have a positive impact "in the room," but we'll save that for a bit farther down...

Negatives

... because we have to put the sentimental value of Mitchell aside for a couple paragraphs.

After a year off, Mitchell's performance did decline in comparison to 2010-11 and 2011-12. That is to be expected, to a degree. Mitchell, however, did not get the tough assignments he had received in past years; though he started in his own zone fairly often, the quality of his competition was just fifth on the Kings. His playoff assignments were a bit tougher relative to his own team, but again, they were on a tier with Robyn Regehr and below Doughty, Muzzin, and Voynov. This made it a little disheartening that Mitchell took 18 more penalties than he drew, which was the worst cumulative figure on the team. In fairness, though, Greene had a -14 in half as many games, so he's not at that level.

Mitchell gets a bit of a pass for his relatively weak possession numbers, though when playing with Alec Martinez (a past possession dynamo) and Slava Voynov (who the Kings have invested in quite a bit), you'd expect Mitchell to really see the benefits. And his zone entry numbers and scoring chance numbers are predictably weak, but if you were expecting Willie Mitchell to really shine in those departments, you don't watch the Kings enough.

In the end, there was simply no room for Mitchell on next year's Kings. Chalk that up to a lack of cap room, but also chalk it up to the Kings' apparent belief that Robyn Regehr is a better option on the blueline than Mitchell in the coming years. Given Mitchell's age, the Kings might not be wrong.

Pokemon Comparable: Slowbro

Slowbro_medium

(Note: I know absolutely nothing about Roman history or professional wrestling.)

Slowbro is an evolved water/psychic type Pokemon. His strongest traits are his defense and his special abilities, while he is (obviously) one of the slowest Pokemon in the game. Apparently, in his previous form, Slowbro fished using his tail; now, however, he swims to catch his prey because of that thing on his tail.

That thing, by the way, is another Pokemon. The Pokemon (a Shellder, if you were curious) persistently holds on to the tail of Slowbro. It's a beneficial relationship for both sides. Slowbro has lost the ability to feel pain due to Shellder's poison, and is actually strengthened by the Shellder's presence. The Shellder feeds on Slowbro's scraps and is essentially protected by the presence of a larger, stronger, more experienced Pokemon. (Way too much information on Slowbro here.)

Mitchell, of course, is an avid fisherman, but more importantly, he has formed a mutually beneficial relationship with a number of younger defensive partners. Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, and Alec Martinez are among those who have latched on to Mitchell and grown from his experience, while the presence of those up-and-coming defensemen has allowed Mitchell to flourish in a more defensive role. Doesn't seem very hygienic, though.

Highlight

This was where he got injured. Hell of a kill.

(He also provided the shot which Dustin Brown tipped in in overtime of Game 2.)

Going Forward

Mitchell will now make a large amount of money to do his mentor thing in Florida. In particular, he's the odds-on favorite to play with #1 overall pick Aaron Ekblad. I imagine they'd be happy to see him flourish on the level that Drew Doughty did, though in Doughty's case, he had a fantastic season under his belt even before Mitchell showed up.

The Kings are probably going to miss Mitchell quite a bit from a leadership standpoint. He was easily the oldest member of the Cup-winning squad, more than three years older than Robyn Regehr, and it showed in the respect he got from teammates and fans alike. It felt like he was here a longer than four years, didn't it?

From a hockey standpoint, they'll miss him, in the sense that giving Robyn Regehr or Matt Greene his minutes is a bit of a downgrade. It might not be as large a fall as expected, though. The biggest question is how long it will take Brayden McNabb to find his place in the Kings' lineup; if he's capable of playing decent minutes by the end of the season, letting Mitchell walk was the right move.

Grade

After a long injury layoff, expectations for Willie Mitchell were varied. Most of us had forgotten about said injury layoff by the time the playoffs rolled around, and that speaks to the workmanlike performance he put in this season. I'll give him a B to send him on his way.