The Los Angeles Kings are hopeful defenseman Willie Mitchell will be healthy and ready to take the ice for the 2013-14 season. At this point, nothing is certain, but general manager Dean Lombardi seems to think the 13-year veteran is on the right track.
Mitchell missed the entire 48-game regular season, along with all 18 of his team's playoff games in 2013. After helping the franchise to its first-ever Stanley Cup title in 2012, Mitchell began experiencing discomfort in his knee during offseason workouts. A trip to the doctor in December revealed he would need to undergo a minor procedure to remove cartilage from the knee. Mitchell was expected to recover in no more than a few weeks, but after re-aggravating the injury, the 36-year-old blueliner was stuck with the "out indefinitely" tag; a tag that would last an entire season.
Mitchell has been out ever since. In fact, there were even whispers earlier in the year that he may never play again.
The Kings' 2013-14 roster is still far from set, and while they may end up with an excess number of defensemen, Mitchell's availability still remains an important storyline during the offseason.
The 2012 Cup-winning roster was built with quality stay-at-home defensemen in Matt Greene, Rob Scuderi, and Mitchell. Of those three, only Greene remains a certainty for the upcoming NHL season. Scuderi recently left Los Angeles to sign a free-agent contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Mitchell's availability is still up in the air.
Lombardi recently updated Mitchell's status, giving a positive outlook on the veteran defenseman's chances of returning for the upcoming season.
"Well it does (look that way) right now," Lombardi said. "It's fair to say that given where he's at right now, it made us, and the proof's in what we did, that we believe clearly he's on the right track."
Lombardi made a quality move during the 2013 trade deadline, acquiring 33-year-old defenseman Robyn Regehr from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for two second-round draft picks. The move helped strengthen the back end in the absence of Mitchell and will continue to pay off, especially if Mitchell does indeed return to the ice next season. While Regehr essentially took Mitchell's spot in the lineup last season, Mitchell can help fill the void left by Scuderi, once again giving the Kings three quality stay-at-home veterans on the blueline.Tags: Dean Lombardi, Hockey, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Kings, Matt Greene, NHL, Rob Scuderi, Robyn Regehr, Willie Mitchell