Willie Mitchell (33) and Kings teammate Justin Williams watch the Panthers…
Defenseman Willie Mitchell said his comfort level in Los Angeles and his belief that the Kings’ nucleus “is a group that’s capable of winning” were his prime motivations in agreeing to a two-year contract extension with the Kings instead of testing the free-agent market on July 1.
The extension, announced Friday after insurance-related issues were settled, will pay him $3.5 million per season, the same salary as under his current deal.
Mitchell, who will be 35 in April, has three goals, 12 points and a +2 defensive rating in 55 games this season. He has been a solid addition since the Kings, taking a risk that he was fully recovered from a severe concussion, were the only team to offer him a two-year deal as a free agent in the summer of 2010.
Mitchell said Saturday after the Kings’ game-day skate that he had given some thought to free agency but instead chose the security of a situation he likes.
“I’ve enjoyed my time here, enjoyed my teammates. I’ve enjoyed the team. I think it’s a team that’s got a good nucleus and has a really good shot at winning for the next couple years,” he said.
“When you play a little while what comes first and foremost is having a shot at the Stanley Cup. You can go that [free agent] route but it’s very unpredictable where you could end up. For me I’ve played a little while. It’s all about winning. I want a Cup. I don’t have that. A couple guys around here do and I hear the stories. I hear everything. I’ve been to the conference finals. That’s what drives me….That’s what I want to accomplish. I think they’ve got some good people around here who can get that accomplished.”
Before the Kings can think about the Cup they must get into a playoff position. Through Friday’s games they stood 10th in the West, two points behind the eighth-place Dallas Stars, and were the NHL’s lowest-scoring team at an average of 2.05 goals per game. Before they traded defenseman Jack Johnson to Columbus on Thursday for forward Jeff Carter they were winless in four games and 2-6-2 in their previous 10 games.
“We’ve just got to win some games down the stretch here and get into the playoffs because obviously we’re fighting with a bunch of teams,” Mitchell said. “But I bet you if you polled any of the top teams, if we snuck in around eighth or seventh or even challenged San Jose [for the Pacific division lead] I don’t think teams want to play us….We get a big win tonight and get rolling to where we should be in the top eight. We’ve got to work for it though but I feel confident we’re going to do that down the stretch.”