After overcoming post-concussion syndrome earlier this summer, Willie Mitchell
had one last headache that needed relief.
The Los Angeles Kings
provided the aspirin Wednesday afternoon.
Mitchell, who was limited to just 48 games with the Vancouver Canucks
last season due to a concussion – the third of his career -- suffered Jan. 16 against Pittsburgh, signed a two-year deal with the Kings worth $7 million. While some may believe the contract is a gamble, both parties directly involved disagree and are excited about what lies ahead.
"I think I tried to have a pretty open process with the teams that contacted me," said the 32-year-old defenseman, who had 4 goals, 8 assists and a plus-13 rating for the Canucks before a controversial hit by Pens star Evgeni Malkin
ended Mitchell's season. "I was pretty open about what I felt I needed to do, to make sure I was prepared and ready to play. I didn't want to put a GM in a position they don't want to be in. I feel confident I went the right way of doing things. I was fortunate enough to have some teams contact me, and I felt the L.A. Kings was a good fit."
Mitchell entered the 2009-10 season as one of Vancouver's top defensemen. He set career-highs in 2008-09 for games played (82), assists (20), points (23) and plus/minus rating (plus-29), all while averaging close to 23 minutes of ice time per game. He also ranked second on the club with 125 blocked shots.
His presence should only benefit Drew Doughty
, one of the best young defensemen in the game. Mitchell is looking forward to protecting the blue line alongside the Norris Trophy finalist, one of the game's many bright stars playing in Los Angeles.
"As a player, it's my job to go out there and put my best game out there on the ice and do what I can within my powers to make my teammates better," Mitchell said. "Those are the things I'm going to do. It was just a good fit, playing for a team that has a chance to win. I'd like to go in and make a big difference. Hopefully I can help them get to another level."
Now, he must prove that he is indeed healthy and return to the form that will make him worthy of the generous deal provided by the Kings. GM Dean Lombardi is convinced he will do just that. Lombardi was particularly impressed by the way Mitchell – who said he's been healthy since June -- bypassed the opening days of free agency and stayed with his workout regimen in order to prove to himself that he was indeed able to play.
"If he's out there July 1st, he's a very attractive commodity," Lombardi said Wednesday night. "I'm not sure how many players would do that at that stage of their career. Quite frankly, he did the right thing. He really jeopardized other opportunities to go about it the right way and showed he is really symptom-free. I thought it was really professional.
"He was one of the top guys on our list for fit and what he could bring to this franchise at this stage."
The most difficult part of this transition for Mitchell will be leaving home. A British Columbia native, Mitchell signed with the Canucks as a free agent in 2006 and spent the past four seasons in Vancouver. Ironically, Mitchell will play his first game as a King in Vancouver on Oct. 9.
"It's going to make it easy for my family and friends, that's for sure," joked Mitchell, who's also played for New Jersey, Minnesota and Dallas since entering the League in 2000. "It'll be interesting. My wife looked it up before I did. It'll be really emotional and I'll be really charged. Hopefully I get my colors right on the first night.
"There's things that happen in life that are unexpected … my season to be cut short like it did. Teams need to make moves. They have to do things that they need to do. There's a CBA in place that has (salary) cap restraints. I enjoyed my time in Vancouver. I poured everything out on it."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL