The Last of Willie Mitchell

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JANUARY 16: Willie Mitchell #8 of the Vancouver Canucks slides the puck past goalie John Curry #36 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period of NHL action on January 16, 2010 at General Motors Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

(**psst – I’m back!**) As rumours continue to swirl about the immediate future of WIllie Mitchell, it seems the fleeting optimism about Mitchell’s return to Vancouver may be somewhat premature.

Willie Mitchell made excellent and surprising progress in the last few weeks, and now appears to be recovered from a serious concussion. As news of his recovery made its way to Vancouver, many Canucks fans immediately began the chants to bring back the UFA as a final piece to the Canucks defensive puzzle.

All this has been happening while Kevin Bieksa is being sent out of town by every fan and media person in Vancouver. So a lot of folks are thinking of choosing between either Bieksa or Mitchell to keep in the lineup.

Putting on my GM hat for a minute, I wouldn’t have either of them back. Bieksa is too inconsistent yet has value on the trade market. And concussions are just too unpredictable. Mitchell is now far more susceptible to another concussion and risks further time out of the lineup.

However, given Sami Salo’s off-season injury, there is a need to have a veteran defenseman to fill that hole. If not for Salo’s injury, I wouldn’t be choosing between Bieksa and Mitchell. But, there seems to be a need to now to potentially choose one of them.

If I had to choose, I would choose to re-sign Mitchell and trade Bieksa. Bieksa’s inconsistency just makes him difficult to want to keep on the blueline. Mitchell’s stalwart, steady play makes him a valuable asset to the team. I would even choose Mitchell despite his concussion history.

That said, I do still think we’ve seen the last of Mitchell in Vancouver. And it all comes down to the salary cap. The Canucks are still over their cap budget, even with Salo’s injury providing some cap relief. They are still likely to move Bieksa to get themselves under the cap ceiling. If they sign Mitchell, that puts them back over the cap. So the Canucks would have to waive or trade another player to get them the cap space they need to sign Mitchell. I would be very surprised if Mitchell signed anywhere for less than $3m and without getting rid of Bieksa AND O’Brien (or Alberts), along with Salo’s LTIR savings, it’s just not going to happen.

So, I am fairly confident that Mitchell will be gone from Vancouver as the season kicks off. It just doesn’t appear to be in the cards for the Pride of Port McNeill to return here.