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[Articles] Former Canuck and Current Panthers Captain Willie Mitchell "Likely to Retire"

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Former Canuck and current Panther's captain, Willie Mitchell, may be forced into retirement due to concussions. Recent articles from The Hockey News and Sportsnet have revealed the struggle Mitchell had to go through to simply "get his life back" after being diagnosed with his latest concussion, which was on January 18 of this year. A relentless competitor on the ice and community philanthropist off the ice, Mitchell has endured -- according to Sportsnet -- seven concussions in his career. He is one of the outspoken leaders of all NHL players in player safety when it comes to headshots and concussions, and is never afraid to criticize the league in their lack of punishment for headshots and their lack of protection for it's players.


Despite his dark days battling concussions and post-concussion symptoms, Mitchell enjoyed a long career where he played for his hometown team and won two Stanley Cups.


I personally believe that Mitchell should hang up his skates but continue to fight for player's rights and safety as an ambassador to the NHLPA. His leadership and character and devotion to the game and his team are shown at the end of the Sportsnet article: "I want to make sure this guy [reffering to Aaron Ekblad] and that guy doesn’t have to go through this,” he said. “Even if I’m not playing, I can show leadership within the situation. I’m talking to the kids about it. I want them to be thoughtful and educated, and God forbid they’re in the same situation as me.”


Willie Mitchell, fearless leader, compassionate leader.


Wishing him all the best with his decision.





Willie Mitchell hasn’t come out and said that his playing days are officially over, but it doesn’t appear likely the Florida Panthers captain will continue his career after his latest concussion.


Mitchell, who turned 39 this past Saturday, is coming off of a season in which he missed all but 46 games. Mitchell missed the final 36 games with what was originally listed as a lower-body injury, but it was later revealed that he was sidelined with concussion issues that continued to plague him for the remainder of the campaign.


As the Panthers closed up shop for the season, Mitchell’s teammates and GM Dale Tallon spoke about the veteran blueliner’s career, and it seemed as though they were preparing to say goodbye to Mitchell. According to The Associated Press’ Tim Reynolds, Tallon said that he would be speaking with Mitchell about options for the future, whatever that may be. However, no comment made it seem more like it could be the end of the road for Mitchell than those from sophomore blueliner Aaron Ekblad.


“When I first talked to him and found out what was going on with him, we got a good cry,” Ekblad said, via Reynolds. “Everyone experiences it at some point, that point where you can’t play anymore.”


It wouldn’t be altogether surprising if Mitchell hung up his skates. He entered the season as one of the 10 oldest players in the league, and his role in Florida was already becoming more limited as last season wore on. If he were to come back to the Panthers, he probably wouldn’t have earned more than a one-year deal, and that’s if the Cats even had a spot for him on a blueline that is looking to bring in some fresh faces and new talent.


That’s not to mention there were already rumblings before the post-season began that Mitchell may have played his final game. Tallon said in late-March that Mitchell had to “decide whether he can play or not,” and added the team wanted to keep his best interests in mind when it came to Mitchell’s long-term health. The most recent concussion was the third documented head injury of Mitchell’s career, though there may have been other concussions that went undocumented.


“Obviously, I haven’t been able to get out there and it’s really, really hard to be honest with you,” Mitchell told the Miami Herald’s George Richards on Sunday. “It’s quite emotional…I’m not a quitter and have never quit on anything in my life. So, with my situation, I’m just trying to see it through I guess you could say.”


If Mitchell was trying to see his contract through to the end, he has done that, as 2015-16 was the final season of a two-year, $8.5-million deal he signed with the Panthers in July 2014. Mitchell was named the captain in his first season, and has been an on- and off-ice leader for the team since his arrival.


In the event that this is Mitchell’s farewell, he will finish his career with 34 goals and 180 points in 907 career games, with another four goals and 16 points in 89 playoff games. Mitchell won the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014.







Last Saturday night, one-by-one his teammates walked from the bench down the hallway to the dressing room after their wild, come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens.


While each of his Florida Panthers teammates dropped their gloves off to an equipment staffer, Willie Mitchell, the team’s captain, stood shirtless at the entrance to the room, with a towel wrapped around his waist offering a fist bump and encouragement to each player.

And night’s end, all the captain could do was celebrate, since he isn’t contributing on the ice.


Mitchell remains on injured reserve while he debates whether to return to action after suffering a concussion, the seventh of his career, earlier this season. He will turn 39 on April 23. He has been out of the Panthers lineup since Jan. 18. He hasn’t spoken publicly since.


But that changed Saturday morning when he opened up to Sportsnet in a lengthy interview.


“I don’t know where I’m at,” Mitchell admitted, matter-of-factly. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. When you’re blindsided like me, you reflect on things.”


It’s the dilemma many veteran athletes with a concussion history are facing. With only four games remaining in Florida’s season, including Monday’s at Air Canada Centre in Toronto against the Maple Leafs, time on this season, at least, is running out.


It wasn’t until three weeks ago that Mitchell says his health improved to the point where, “I got my life back.”


Mitchell claims he is now symptom-free, but in his multiple conversations with trainers, doctors, neurologists and other specialists, he has yet to receive a definitive answer as to what may happen if he sustains another blow to the head.


“Unfortunately, no one can give you an answer,” he said.


On March 24, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon told the Miami Herald that any decision to return to the ice belongs to Mitchell.

“Willie has to decide whether he can play or not,” Tallon told the newspaper. 


“We want to make sure he doesn’t get hurt, we want to make sure there is no permanent damage,” Tallon added. “But this is up to Willie. We want to do what is best for him. That’s the bottom line. The doctors have said they’re concerned with his long-term health.”


It’s a decision Mitchell has no intention of rushing.


“I don’t want to make an emotional decision, though,” Mitchell said Saturday. “I’m the captain of the team, so I want to navigate through all of this, but I just haven’t navigated it yet.”


One thing Mitchell is sure about is his belief that suspensions for headshots aren’t severe enough.


On Saturday morning, Panthers players privately expressed their disappointment over the six-game suspension handed to Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday. Many Panthers players felt that six games was not enough for Keith’s high stick on Charlie Coyle of the Minnesota Wild.


Mitchell insists players want more protection from head injuries, and he says the NHL could help by issuing longer suspensions to those who deliver blows to the head.


“The league needs to do a better job,” Mitchell said. “Guys need protection.


“There’s a concern with players. Guys are worried about it. Guys talk about it – the league isn’t doing enough to protect the players,” Mitchell said.


“A couple of years back, a 20-game suspension was a message. You’d be missing games, you get a big chunk of money taken from your pocket – a quarter of your (annual) salary gone. Those suspensions had gotten the game safer – still physical, still fast. Shanny (Brendan Shanahan, then the league’s chief disciplinarian) did a great job. But it’s not like that now.”


Of the 27 suspensions issued by the NHL this season for player-on-player hits, 26 were for five games or less. The exception, however, was a steep one for repeat offender Raffi Torres, who was slapped with a 41-game ban back on on Oct. 5 for a headshot on Jakob Silfverberg.


“Players are worried and guys talk about it here in the dressing room, but don’t say much (publicly) because they think they’re going to get fined,” Mitchell said. “But I can tell you: players are worried about it.


“I’d like to think I’m a rational guy. I’m not an F-U guy. I’m not criticizing the league as a whole,” he said. “If my game slips, a coach will come tell me, it’s slipping. Well, on trying to protect us, the league is slipping.”


Over and over, Mitchell reiterated he “wants to see this through,” not wanting to abandon a group that just clinched a post-season berth for just the third time in 16 years. 


Mitchell has his Stanley Cups and has his money. What he’s wondering about now is if he will have his health if returns to the ice. He has reached out to Chris Pronger and Pat LaFontaine, two men who know all too well about concussions, and he has also spoken with his good friend Justin Morneau, who went through a concussion hell of his own after trying to break up a double play in Toronto back in 2010.


“It’s real life,” Mitchell said. “I’ve talked to the older guys. I want to know how these (concussions) have affected their lives. I understand the risks, but I also understand the rewards.”


Many have advised Mitchell, who believes he can still play at a high level, not to return. The rest of his life awaits him, with plenty of options beyond the ice. He’s a business partner in a real estate brokerage, and he is an investor in a sustainable fishery in B.C.


“But I’m the captain of this team,” Mitchell said. “I don’t want to do them wrong. I feel a commitment to ownership as captain. I feel a commitment to the GM. I feel a commitment to the guys in here. I want to see it through.”




“I can’t change my life. The damage (to my brain) has been done,” Mitchell said. “That’s why, now, I’m telling you that the league needs to protect players more.”


He paused, then patted the seat to his left, belonging to defenceman Aaron Ekblad.


“I want to make sure this guy and that guy doesn’t have to go through this,” he said. “Even if I’m not playing, I can show leadership within the situation. I’m talking to the kids about it. I want them to be thoughtful and educated, and God forbid they’re in the same situation as me.”


Which is why after games Mitchell stands at the end of the Panthers tunnel, fist-bumping. It’s also why he continues to wonder what to do next.


“I feel,” Mitchell said, “like I’m playing roulette.”




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Always sad when someone can't go out on their terms but at the same time, Mitchell has had himself a hell of a career. He really has nothing left to prove to anyone.


Doesn't sound like we've heard the last of Mitchell though. I would love to see him in the Department of Player Safety but that would just make too much sense for the NHL to do.

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We let go of Mitchell when we signed Hamhuis because of his health concern.  LA took him and and he was a huge part of their 2 cups.


Imagine if we signed Hamhuis and kept Mitchell for the 2011 run....


But otherwise Willie got his cups, no need to risk future life.  Retire in the Florida sunest and enjoy life!!  Could easily see him as a defense coach or front office job, hopefully with the Panthers.

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It's always hard seeing a player call it quits because of injuries, it's a tough way to go out. I'm glad he got to lift the Stanley Cup, I hope he continues on being involved in the game some way. 

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I had a feeling that he would retire after he missed so long this season, especially given his history. Actually, I hoped he would. It's just not worth it any more.


I wish him nothing but the best in his future!



As an aside, if he was officially listed as having a "lower body" when it was a concussion issue that should be looked at by the league. They have to stop covering up head injuries and stop letting teams cover them up. The full breadth of the problem can only be recognized if we actually talk honestly about how many head injuries there are and how they impact the players lives (both on and off the ice). By accurately identifying them all hopefully researchers can use that information to study the cases, looking at which kinds of head contact seem to be the most dangerous, etc. and hopefully come up with ways of making the sport safer.

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Always been a big Willie Mitchell fan. I didn't fault MG one bit for letting him walk as a UFA when he did as we were better off not rolling the dice on an unhealthy top 4 defenseman. Hindsight is a beetch, but I was stoked when he played great for LA.


If there's any doubt just hang em up Willie. Your long term health isn't worth being sacrificed any more than it already has. It sucks not being able to call it on your own terms, but you've had a great career and there's nothing to be ashamed of.


All the best bud, you can probably walk into FLA, LA, or VAN and take a behind the scenes gig anytime. Until then, enjoy the fishing.

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Mitchell was awesome! I still hold a grudge against Malkin for ruining his career in Vancouver. My favourite moment was when he came onto the warmups in Calgary with a nine-foot stick in response to Keenan (of course) complaining about the length of stick he played with, claiming it was illegal.


Like others have said, glad he won a cup (even if it was with those scumbags)!

Happy Retirement Willie!





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57 minutes ago, NotJaredMcCann said:

Mitchell was awesome! I still hold a grudge against Malkin for ruining his career in Vancouver. My favourite moment was when he came onto the warmups in Calgary with a nine-foot stick in response to Keenan (of course) complaining about the length of stick he played with, claiming it was illegal.


Like others have said, glad he won a cup (even if it was with those scumbags)!

Happy Retirement Willie!





Loved it when he did that. Too bad he didn't try taking a shot with it. I'd like to see how much flex the stick would have given even though I'm pretty sure it would've snapped in half :lol:

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Willie Mitchell is one of my favorite guys in hockey...my wife and I got to know Willie and his wife Megan a little bit through our respective dogs as the little ones played together at George Waiborn Park and Coopers Lookout in Yaletown.  And hands down, they are an amazing couple.  Even when he was a King, Willie was Canuck in his heart and he called Vancouver "HOME" -- that much he shared with my wife and I (the four of us were together with our dogs the night Willie got the call that Rick Rypien had died...even though he was a King by then, he was on the call list of guys for RR). 


We've lost touch with Willie and his wife (we've since moved to White Rock and everyone knows where Willie's career has taken him), but for us, Willie is more than a hockey player who had a stellar career...he is no doubt one of the good guys who will be missed on the ice.

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