Should the Canucks bring back Willie Mitchell?
Short Answer: Yes
Long Answer: Mitchell would improve the team in several areas.
First, Mitchell is a great shutdown defender, easily the best defensive defenceman left on the market. Assuming of course that he is healthy, but he has now been working out for several weeks and has passed his physicals.
Second, he is a leader, and as we saw last season during yet another meltdown against Chicago, the Canucks need leaders. Before the Malkin hit that ended his season, Mitchell wore an A for the Canucks, and was mentioned as a candidate for the Captaincy before Loungo was named Captain.
Third, his steady style and intelligent play make his D partner look better. Its no surprise that Bieksa had his best years playing as Mitchell’s partner.
An off ice benefit of signing Mitchell would be that it shows loyalty from Gillis and the Canucks towards a player who faced a career ending injury. That sort of rep helps attract free agents in the future.
What would bringing Mitchell back cost the Canucks?
Well, the obvious cost is his salary. Mitchell was making 3.5 million/year over the last 4 years, and it is doubtful he would make that much again after his concussion.
However, he is eligible to sign a contract with performance bonuses, because he missed more than 100 days last year due to injury. Teams can exceed the salary cap due to performance bonuses, and pay them out the following year if necessary. (See this article for more info on how performance bonuses interact with the salary cap)
I’m guessing Mitchell will probably warrant a 1 year contract at ~2 million, with some performance bonuses for games played, plus/minus, TOI, etc
The other, not so obvious, cost would be the roster spot. The Canucks are already overstacked with D, and will most likely have to trade Bieksa (or Erhoff). Adding Mitchell means another body has to go.
So who would be cut?
Assuming Ballard, Hamhuis, Edler, Erhoff all make the starting lineup, plus Salo after he comes off LITR, there would be 1 starting spot, plus a pair of roster spots for the 7th/8th D. (I’m assuming the Canucks are going to carry 8 D this year due to all the injuries they’ve had over recent years)
So Mitchell would be competing with OBrien, Rome and Alberts for those last 3 spots.
Its easy to say he would be better than any of them, and OBrien at 1.6 mil seems an easy choice to cut given his off ice issues. However, considering that Mitchell is 33, and the others are all in their 20s... and it might well be that Gillis has future plans that include OBrien, and not Mitchell.
So resigning Mitchell and cutting OBrien would be beneficial to this season, but possibly hurt the Canucks down the road.
All that being said, I think they should bring him back on a 2 mil contract plus performance bonuses. If he is fully recovered, great. If not, he should still be able to play at a level at least equal to the player he bumped off the active roster, albeit at a bit higher cost. And whoever was bumped by Mitchell could still play as Salo's LITR replacement before eventually being waived/demoted to the AHL. (See this article for more info on LITR replacements and the salary cap)
This is a gamble I think Gillis would take. Assuming everyone is healthy come April, doesn’t a 3rd pairing of Salo + Mitchell sound a hell of a lot better than what the Canucks were forced to ice in the 2009-2010 playoffs?