The more I look at Gillis' approach to team-building, the more 'post-lockout Detroit' it looks.
Detroit doesn't have a $3.5 mil 'shutdown' defenseman and they do quite alright.
However, they have a hall-of-fame captain defenseman named Nick Lidstrom. Now... Believe it or not, Christian Ehrhoff just had a comparable season to Lidstrom on 09/10. His +/- was better. He had more goals. He had almost as many points. And his actual defensive ability was actually closer to Lidstrom's than most people would give him credit for last season. Of course Lidstrom had an off year, but whatever. Now Ehrhoff just needs to carry that regular season success into the playoffs.
When Detroit wants to score, it's Rafalski that is usually on the ice with Lidstrom. Our equivalent would be Edler. Problem: Edler is not Rafalski. He's just 24 and is still learning the game, but most experts are willing to predict that he's ready to reach the next level now. When that happens, then we have another excellent two-way defender.
Detroit also had another excellent two-way guy in Kronwall. He currently has injury problems, so his effectiveness could be limited for 10/11, but our equivalent would be Ballard, another hard-hitting guy who's capable of two-way play. Problem: Ballard isn't Kronwall. At least not yet. So how the Canucks as a team positively affect Ballard's performance level remains a question mark. Three down, no exclusive 'shutdown' guy yet.
The closest thing Detroit has to a defense-only 'shutdown' guy right now is Brad Stuart. But if you look at Brad Stuart's career in San Jose, he's not 'defense-only' at all. He scored 39 and 40pts just a few years ago. Willie Mitchell's career high was 29pts, and that was in 08/09, when Gillis took over. Basically, Gillis has been trying to get Mitchell to be a more dynamic defenseman than he's capable of being. It was plainly obvious that he wasn't in Gillis' long-term plans, however, as Edler was re-signed, Ehrhoff and Ballard were traded for and then Hamhuis was signed. (I'm not quite sure why some people thought Mitchell would stay after all that.) Hamhuis is our Brad Stuart as the moment. Actually, he's better at the moment. Stuart was a -12 last season. Hamhuis has also scored high 30's in points before and has been a consistent two-way force in Nashville for his entire career.
Overall, Gillis has setup a framework of younger, healthier two-way defenders to build the team on now and all that needs to happen is for the systems in place to help them grow as players, hopefully leading towards a dominant force in the NHL for years to come. Better: Our prospects will be able to come into this system later on and will be better, faster, so our team can maintain a high level of competitiveness indefinitely. Sounds a lot like the Detroit model to me.
Now i know a lot of you will say that Willie Mitchell is better than so-and-so defensively, and he is, but what good has it done so far? His defense-only skills haven't conjured up a second round victory for us so far. And let's not forget the clutch giveaway that led to Chicago's key goal in our 08/09 meeting with them. There's no way Hamhuis would let that play happen. Why? Because Hamhuis is capable of plays with the puck other than dumping it up the boards.
Hamhuis in his young age has already had a year better than Mitchell's best. imo this opportunity he has in Vancouver for this season will make him have an even better career year. It's all part of the plan that'll lead this team to glory And then we'll forget all about Willie Mitchell and his great, one-dimensional 'shutdown' plays that just lead to turnovers in our own zone anyway.
Nothing against Willie here. He gave it his all. But in the end, it was never going to be enough.
The Wild fans spouting negative comments on the Willie signing here were inevitably right: Not quite worth the money. Gives away the puck too much in his own zone. And has likely seen his best days as a player pass him by.