In the same offseason that Commissioner Gary Bettman receives a pay hike to $7.23 M per, Willie Mitchell will receive less money because of Bettman’s indifference.
It’s not easy being a Vancouver Canuck defenseman these days. In the 2009/10 season, the Canucks lost the most man games for blueliners. The competition arising from those stifling injuries is intense, with Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis being brought into the ranks. Willie Mitchell was hit from behind January 15th by Evgeni Malkin, and missed the remaining 48 regular season games, as well as two rounds of the playoffs, due to being concussed. Gary Bettman’s inability to put together proper discipline for headshots and dangerous play was a direct contributor to Willie Mitchell’s plight. There’s a certain amount of travesty, if not irony, stemming from the fact that players like Willie Mitchell lose money (which I’ll get to briefly) while the professed Commissioner gets a pay hike.
The fact remains that, because of Bettman’s indifference to the headshots issue, players like Willie Mitchell, ie – the “product”, are set to lose money. Do you really think that Mitchell will land the kind of contract now that he would have been looking for this offseason? Perhaps more importantly, will he get the number of years that he was looking for?
Please don’t misread this; I am not a ‘bleeding heart’, nor do I secretly have a man-crush on Willie Mitchell. But I do sympathize with him, and particularly with his sentiments uttered at a press conference approximately 6 weeks ago. He is now considered “damaged product”, and has been labelled the same way Eric Lindros was after his concussion. Essentially, fairly or unfairly, there are concerns regarding his health, and some GM’s would probably be thinking that he’s one big hit away from retirement.
My last muse on the matter: The biggest pity is that Canucks fans will almost certainly never know what could have been. If you don’t believe that losing your best shutdown defenseman before the playoffs is a big deal, then the Stanley Cup winning GM Stan Bowman’s words won’t hold any meaning for you. ”I think you win with defense. I think the success of our team is that we’ve got some very skilled forwards, but they get the puck a lot. We want to keep that part of our game intact.”
With all that said, I truly hope Willie will again play meaningful hockey, be it in Vancouver, or even Edmonton or Washington for that matter. He knows full well that Mike Gillis’ hands were tied at the beginning of Free Agency, and with 3 (defensive) contracts expiring at the end of next season, he had to make a move. Believe me, should you ever read this Willie, that we WOULD have waited for you to heal if we could have. It sure would have made Round 2 very interesting. But time waits for no man… perhaps except the Commissioner. Sometimes it looks like he’s got all the time in the world.