Deadline: Out Of Control
Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell learned valuable life lessons from his two ‘deadline day deals’
Perhaps that is the point, one that any sports fan would surely agree with. After all, professional sports trade deadlines are like nothing else in life.
It may sound dramatic, but think about it. Come Monday, every hockey fan in 30 NHL markets will have NHL Network on the tube, Google Chrome tabs open for TSN, ESPN, CBC, Sportsnet and their team of choice, with a smart phone in hand to make perusing Twitter more efficient.
Mind you, all of this for news and information that doesn’t even directly affect them.
So, if your average guy next door who, by the way, doesn’t even pay this much attention to his own money in the stock market is this wrapped up in the NHL trade deadline, what in Sean Hill must it be like for the guys who are actually involved?
Go ahead, Google Sean Hill if you must!
The Kings have a couple players on their current roster who have been dealt at the deadline with defenseman Willie Mitchell being one of them. For Mitchell, it not only happened once but it happened twice.
Mitchell was drafted in the eighth round, 199th overall, by the New Jersey Devils in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. He was just breaking into the League during the 2000-01 season as the Devils were attempting to win back-to-back Stanley Cup titles. Mitchell, meanwhile, was moving in and out of the lineup between New Jersey and the Albany River Rats, their AHL affiliate.
On March 4, 2001, to a young Mitchell’s surprise, he was traded to Minnesota for defenseman Sean O’Donnell.
“That one was different because you’re kind of new to the whole NHL so you don’t realize that happens all the time, it’s just part of the gig and a common occurrence. I think the first time it’s a little bit of shock,” said Mitchell, currently in his second season with the Kings.
Mitchell went on to spend the next four seasons in Minnesota where he became an integral part of their hockey club. He matured as a player and became known as a steady, reliable blue-liner. The Port McNeill, British Columbia, native even spent part of his time in Minnesota as that club’s captain.
Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2006, Mitchell’s complications with contract negotiations gave him an inkling that he wouldn’t be in Minnesota for long.
Boarding a plane for St. Louis on March 9, 2006, a flight that would have the Wild in the air during the 3 p.m. deadline, Mitchell was well prepared.
“I packed two bags for a one day trip,” Mitchell said with a chuckle. “Guys were like, ‘No way you’re going anywhere, Willie!’ I said, ‘Oh no, no, I’m going, trust me!’”
Upon landing in St. Louis, the Wild players checked their phones but found no indication that Mitchell would be plucked from Minnesota. It wasn’t until the team was on the bus to the hotel that the equipment manager told Mitchell that Doug Risebrough, Minnesota’s General Manager at the time, needed to speak with him.
The move sent Mitchell to Dallas, where he was a self-proclaimed ‘rental player’ for the remainder of the season.
“It was an opportunity for me to go play with the Dallas Stars, which ended up being awesome. It was an awesome six or seven weeks there, I got to play with one of the best defenseman in the game, Sergei Zubov,” said Mitchell, who signed with Vancouver later that summer.
For anyone, having to pick up and move for any reason is typically a huge inconvenience, but seeing the glass as half-full is something that has gotten Mitchell through both of his trades.
“No one likes to get traded, but I’m kind of an optimist and I always think that if you’re going somewhere it’s because they want you and you know you’re going to be a big part of things,” Mitchell said. “They’re going to give you an opportunity and if you work hard you’re going to make the best of that opportunity.”
When asked if it was common for players to check their phones and other electronic devices for trade updates, Mitchell had nothing to hide.
“On deadline day, for sure. Everyone’s hitting the refresh button to see what’s happening,” he said with a grin.
As he approaches the 12th trade deadline in his NHL career, Mitchell admits that although it wasn’t always the case, he is no longer bothered by D-day.
When Mitchell was in Vancouver, deadline day was typically a day off for the players, a day that Mitchell would use to go fishing.
“If I came back home and I was moved, so be it, at least I got a good day of fishing in,” said Mitchell, who recently signed a two-year contract extension with the Kings.
As a veteran player reflecting back on his career, Mitchell is well aware of the fact that after the initial trade to Minnesota, he has been a career NHL-er who has played many minutes in a shut-down role, which makes it easy for him to consider the trades a blessing.
It also makes it easy for some of the younger players to look to Mitchell for advice and a good perspective.
“When one door closes another door always opens, and that door that opens always brings a lot of opportunity and a lot of great things.
“When I went to Dallas I ended up meeting some friends there that I’ll have for the rest of my life. I was so fortunate to actually get to go there and play on a great team, meet some good people and get some experience in Dallas, Texas. It was awesome,” said Mitchell, who concedes that the hardest part of being traded is not so much for the player, but more the significant other and/or family.
Much of what Mitchell learned through trades and his NHL experience is a valuable life lesson in general, something that many people learn any number of different ways, whether they’re professional athletes or…stock brokers.
“The thing is, don’t worry about it,” said Mitchell.
“Control what you can control, and that’s being a good teammate and being accountable to yourself in your preparation for being a good player. Whatever else happens, it’s really out of your control.”
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