On Mitchell's recovery and pressure from Sutter to rush back

Willie Mitchell's knee seems to be holding up really well, but did public pressure from Sutter to return go too far?

It’s been one year since Kings veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell underwent his first of two surgeries to repair a meniscus tear in his knee. The initial thought, before 2013’s lockout shortened season, was that Mitchell would be back at some point but just needed some time. That prognosis went from scary to bleak as the injury revealed itself to a be bit more serious causing him to miss all of last season. And according to general manager Dean Lombardi, it also looked like his career was in jeopardy.

Not only is Mitchell back this season, but he is also 2nd on the team in ice time. Over the weekend, the Province published a great read on Mitchell’s comeback and revealed some new details on the radical treatment he underwent in an effort to do everything he could to get his knee back in order.

Additionally, Mitchell had some interesting comments on the internal pressure he faced from the Kings to get back in the line-up at the beginning of last year:

“About that time, Matt Greene went down as well, and we were missing two key players on our team. That sped up the ‘get back in the lineup’ routine. You know, the internal pressure.”

“Everyone knows Darryl, that’s just how he is,” said Mitchell. “Whether you’re playing in the lineup or you're out, he’s making cracks. At first it’s not easy, but then you realize it’s just how he does business. He does it with everyone.”

(via the Province)

Mitchell was cleared by doctors to return to practice in January. Yet, Mitchell still didn’t feel right and didn’t return. This lead Sutter to criticize Mitchell publicly:

"You know what, he's got doctor's clearance," Sutter said Wednesday. "He's got trainers' clearance. Coaches want him to clear himself. So do it."

(via LA Times)

According to the Province, Mitchell was told not to worry about his coach’s comments. Yet, an organization asking one of its players not to worry about his coach is a rather strange request. And it seems as though the pressure did have an affect, as his his agent acknowledged that he “over-committed to his rehab and his knee didn’t respond in kind”. Instead of playing through it, Mitchell got another opinion and ended up having a second surgery which shut him down for the rest of the season. A move that may have saved his career.

It’s no secret that Darryl Sutter isn’t shy about publicly criticizing his players in an effort to motivate them. But there is a difference between trying to motivate a player’s efforts on the ice and attempting to pressure them to play when it is not in the best interest of their well-being. Sutter even went as far as to delay double hernia last season in order to "set an example to the players" that he could "play injured".

There's no doubt that hockey is a tough sport and often times players need to battle through injuries. Playing through pain is part of the culture. Yet, implying that a player is having mental issues when he doesn't feel healthy enough to play is a whole different matter. Sutter's comments crossed a line and were especially tactless in an era when the long-term health of professional athletes is becoming more and more of a concern.