Will the wit, wisdom and considerable penalty-killing skills of defenseman Willie Mitchell be on display for the Kings next season?
The 37-year-old has won the Stanley Cup twice with the Kings in the last three seasons. In fact, Mitchell hasn't lost a playoff series since 2011. He missed last season because of two knee surgeries.
Mitchell will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He undoubtedly would be looking for more than a one-year deal, yet teams are often reluctant to offer terms beyond that to a player in his age group.
On Tuesday, Mitchell said that there have been informal discussions with Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi. Mitchell was at El Segundo with his teammates, completing postseason medical testing. He said he came through his testing with "not a thing on me."
"You have to ask Dean," said Mitchell about negotiations. "There's lots of moving parts, I get it. There's Willie Mitchell the player. There's the salary cap. And then as a GM, you structure your team so you can have success over a long period of time. So I get it.
"If you're asking me: 'Do I want to play hockey?' Hell, yeah. To be honest, probably this playoffs is the best hockey I've played [since] 2012. Even this one round, I felt even better. For me it was 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 makes you appreciate it that much more."
Lombardi has many tough calls to make beyond Mitchell. Defenseman Matt Greene and winger Marian Gaborik are also unrestricted free agents. Lombardi was not available for comment to the media but he was on hand at the team's El Segundo practice complex.
"The mad scientist was on the treadmill this morning," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "…I'm sure he's already scheming."
On top of player contract issues and the upcoming NHL entry draft, Lombardi also is trying to keep his coaching staff together. Elliotte Friedman, of Hockey Night in Canada, reported that the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins asked the Kings for permission to interview assistant John Stevens for their respective coaching vacancies.
That apparently happened at the recent general managers' meetings in New York during the Stanley Cup Final. The Kings acknowledged the interest in Stevens but are working on keeping him in Los Angeles.
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