As Kings face free agency, Mitchell set to keep going

Tuesday, 06.17.2014 / 8:39 PM
Curtis Zupke  - NHL.com Correspondent

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said he's had some informal talks with general manager Dean Lombardi about re-signing and he expects that to continue as the Kings move forward into their summer of celebration.

The Kings conducted physicals Tuesday before breaking up for the offseason following their second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons. Mitchell, like a lot of his teammates, was still recovering from the celebration festivities, but he said he expected to meet with Lombardi soon.

"I'm sure it will happen in the next little bit," Mitchell, 37, said. "We're kind of all doing the same things: exit medicals … a little bit of partying mixed in. Just a little bit. See how my [golf] swing is this afternoon. Really, if it's going to get done, it gets done in a short period of time. There's lots of time."

Lombardi was not available to discuss his plans for Mitchell, defenseman Matt Greene and left wing Marian Gaborik, who are due to become unrestricted free agents July 1. Gaborik, who played the final season of a contract that paid $7.5 million, also was not available.

Kings captain Dustin Brown, asked about Lombardi and his upcoming summer, told reporters, "The mad scientist was on the treadmill this morning."

Lombardi might be mulling over the fact Los Angeles will have more than $42 million tied up in six players next season, according to nhlnumbers.com. That doesn't include Gaborik, who likely will have to take a cut in pay to re-sign even though he has leverage because of his outstanding performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (14 goals, eight assists in 26 games) after he joined the team prior to the NHL Trade Deadline.

The Kings also face a June 30 deadline to use any compliance buyouts.

With all those variables, Mitchell, who reportedly wants a two-year contract, is cautious about whether he expects to be with the Kings next season.

"I have no idea on that yet," he said. "Ask Dean about that. There's lots of moving parts. There's Willie Mitchell the player. There's the salary cap. And then, as a GM, you structure the team so hopefully you can have success over a long period of time. So I get it. If you're asking me if I want to play hockey? Hell yeah."

Coach Darryl Sutter was not available to disclose if any Kings need offseason medical procedures. But Mitchell said, "There's not a thing on me. I feel great."

Mitchell, who missed eight playoff games with a hamstring injury, said he more than held up after 94 total games as one of the Kings' hard-nosed penalty-killers. His body might have been re-energized from sitting out the previous season with a career-threatening knee injury.

"To be honest, I think this playoff is probably the best hockey I've played," Mitchell said. "I think this one around it felt even better, which, for me, is a big personal accomplishment after missing last year with a couple of knee surgeries. As much as you don't like going through it, I think the breaks and missing hockey for a year makes you appreciate it that much more, so you want to keep on playing, and then, when you have success and such a good year with a great bunch of guys, you just want to keep on playing. So we'll see."

Mitchell has played 795 regular-season games in his NHL career and will turn 38 in April. A second Cup title tends to erase the wear and tear though.

"When you're doing stuff like this, you [want to play] a long, long time," he said. "I'll play 'til I'm 50."

Mitchell got serious, though, and said it's a matter of quality in his career.

"I don't want to play when I'm laying it up in the lineup," Mitchell said. "I want to only play when I feel like I'm making a difference out there with my teammates. I played lots down the stretch and lots in the playoffs and felt I was on top of my stuff. For me, that motivates me to continue playing because I just like that element of 'you're making a difference.' If I don't have that anymore, where I'm not out there when the game's on the line … then that's when I'll decide to reinvent myself and get on to the next thing."

Author: Curtis Zupke | NHL.com Correspondent

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