As August rolls on, the NHL free agency signings are few and far between. Most teams have solidified the core of their roster, and will wait until training camp to fill the last few gaps in their lineups. The Washington Capitals are no different, as they have elected to find a second line center from within, but there is one need they cannot satisfy without a late splash in free agency.
The Capitals were beaten in the first round because (among other things, including superb goaltending from Halak), the Canadiens managed to block a huge number of quality scoring chances. The play of big, lumbering defensemen Josh Gorges and Hal Gill quieted Washington's snipers, but Washington could not do the same.
For the last couple of seasons, the Capitals have lacked a true defensive defenseman—a player who can block shots, intimidate the opposition and play important minutes against the opposition's top line. Former Vancouver Canucks blueliner Willie Mitchell is the definition of this kind of player.
Mitchell has averaged over 100 blocked shots per season in the five years since the NHL lockout, and finished fourth among all Canucks in this category in 2009-10 though he only played 48 games. Additionally, Mitchell was presented with the Babe Pratt award for both the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, given annually to the Canucks' best defenseman.
While Mike Green and John Carlson are roving, puckmoving players on the back end, Mitchell is just the opposite. He is the quintessential 'stay-at-home' defenseman, and has been looked to as a leader everywhere he has played—he served as an assistant captain with Vancouver, and briefly wore the 'C' in Minnesota prior to that.
Mitchell is said to be in talks with a couple of teams, including Washington. If he comes at the right price, the 'Caps should jump at the opportunity to sign him.
Not only would Mitchell help in the short term—he is a veteran who has helped his teams advance deep into the playoffs, but he would help the maturation process with young defensemen like Carlson, Green and Karl Alzner.
For a team that lacks a tough, calming veteran presence on the blueline, signing Willie Mitchell would be a huge step towards truly contending for the Stanley Cup come spring time.