Have you ever been in a restaurant and seen an old couple across the room? We’re not talking about Mom and Dad type old; we’re talking about Grandparents old. Great-Grandparents, even. We’re talking about canes and hearing-aids. I’ve-Fallen-And-I-Can’t-Get-Up type old.
Have you ever noticed that when you see these people, they look like they just go perfectly together? You’ll see the husband helping the wife up. You’ll see the wife handing her husband a napkin across the table because he has salad dressing all over his face. You’ll see those little things that only come with 50 years of attachment by being at each other’s side.
It’s interesting when you see people grow old together; because they end up growing together. The can complete each other’s sentences, know each other’s thoughts with just a glance, and will take each other’s side no matter wrong their spouse may be. On their own, they can be flawed individuals; but together, they’re perfect for each other.
The 80-year-old woman might be a mess, but all that is important is that she’s perfect for her husband. It’s the perfect example how all of us in this world have different needs. Some of us need someone who is a good listener. Some of us need someone who takes charge. In the Los Angeles Kings’ instance, they needed a veteran who could play a top four role on their blueline. In signing Willie Mitchell, they might not have found the perfect defenseman—but they found the perfect fit for their needs.
Of course, with every move, you have to take the good with the bad. Let’s start with the bad—he’s an aging defenseman coming off a concussion. Either one of those on their own would make a GM take pause, but take both of them and mix them in a blender and you’ll have a cocktail that will scare a lot of GMs away. He only played in 48 games after he took a legal brutal hit from Evgeni Malkin. If he doesn’t get his eggs scrambled in January, there’s no way he lasts past July 2nd on the free agent market. Here’s a reminder:
So that’s the bad. A guy who is a risk on more than one level better be bringing something to the table and Mitchell does just that. Over the last decade, Mitchell has consistently been one of the best stay-at-home defensemen in the league. When looking at the roster, the Kings desperately needed a defenseman. With the off-season departures of regulars Sean O’Donnell and Randy Jones, there were two spots up for grabs. When Matt Greene went under the knife for shoulder surgery, it opened up three spots on the roster for defensemen on opening night. I don’t care how good the prospects are—they weren’t going to start the season with three rookies.
Ok, so they needed a defenseman and he plays defense. But there’s more to it than just that.
While building the team, Dean Lombardi had a specific blueprint for putting together a successful defensive corps. To paraphrase, he said he’d rather have three Lubomir Visnovsky’s and three Mattias Norstrom’s than six Brad Stuarts. What he meant by that is he’d rather have three strong offensive defensemen to go with three strong defensive defensemen when he’s making up his roster. Brad Stuart is a good overall defenseman, but he doesn’t really thrive offensively or defensively. He’s just “pretty good” at everything.
On that note, Willie Mitchell will join Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene as the defensive-defensemen on the team. When he’s put in that role and not asked to do anything he’s not capable of (like score), he’s one of the best in the league. As some Canucks fans will tell you, he’s so good in his own zone, he made Kevin Bieksa look good (take that Bieksa commentary for what you will). Mitchell might not be the perfect player, but he could be a perfect piece for Lombardi’s roster.
“He’s also a workhorse on the penalty kill, averaging well over four minutes of short-handed ice-time per game in each of the past four seasons. The Kings were 20th in the NHL in shorthanded situations last season, killing 80.3 percent of their penalties.” –Adam Gretz (NHL Fanhouse)
A closer look at the Kings roster shows just how valuable a player like Mitchell can be. Assuming Terry Murray keeps the successful Scuderi/Doughty pairing together, Mitchell will play along side Jack Johnson on the second pairing. With Mitchell taking care of his one zone so effectively, it will allow Johnson to spread his wings a little more and use his offensive instincts without costing the team. Mitchell might not be the perfect player, but he could be a perfect partner for Johnson.
Another quality Willie Mitchell brings to the team is something that will never show up on a stat sheet or box score. Besides his stellar play in his own zone, he was one of the leaders in the locker room for the Canucks over the last few years. Wearing the alternate captain’s “A,” he was looked to by his teammates to lead by example with his tough play and determination. He’s a veteran guy who has been through the battles of the playoffs. With the Kings, he joins a team that just got their first taste of the post-season last year and hopes to have plenty of battles to come. Mitchell’s post-season experience and his ability to raise his game in the playoffs will both serve as a guide for players looking to find their way. Mitchell might not be the perfect leader, but he could be a perfect guy for a young team like the Kings looking to take the next step.
After a long, quiet, depressing summer for fans in L.A., they’ve finally found someone who is a tailor-made for the Kings. He might not be the best player out there, but he could be the best player to fit the Kings needs. Mitchell might not be the perfect, but he’s perfect for them.
That’s kind of the point, isn’t it?