Stay or go: John Mitchell

Over the next few weeks leading into free agency, we will be looking at the Rangers UFAs and RFAs and analyzing their contribution to the team, potential asking price, and potential future with the Rangers organization. In typical BSB fashion, we like to kick things off with the player that brings up the most debate in regards to keeping him. That player, of course is John Mitchell.

Mitchell was acquired by the Rangers last year at the trade deadline from Toronto in exchange for a 7th round draft pick. After re-signing with the Rangers organization over the summer, Mitchell was called up (along with Carl Hagelin) in November and made an immediate impact. In March we classified this roster move (the dual call ups) as one of the major turning points of the season. Mitchell immediately bought into the Rangers style of play, and was a direct impact in the Rangers ability to maintain puck possession.

Without rehashing the turning point post, Mitchell’s RCorsi to finish out the year was a whopping 11.1, tops on the team. Yes, his numbers were even better than Mr. Hagelin (10.3). As a fourth liner, Mitchell generally didn’t face top competition (-.080 QoC), but he started less than half of his shifts in the offensive zone, and finished more than half of his shifts in the offensive zone. Puck possession has a lot to do with zone starts and finishes, and it is clear that this is an area Mitchell excels at.

Mitchell’s expiring contract was a one-year, two-way deal that paid Mitchell $650k in the NHL and $105k in the AHL.  It’s safe to assume Mitchell will be looking for a one-way* deal to guarantee some financial security.

*-Remember, two-way deals only dictate the salary paid at the different levels. These contracts have no bearing on waivers at all.

The one-way deal for Mitchell isn’t going to be a deal breaker for this organization. However length and value of the contract will be. If you remember, Mitchell was a healthy scratch from the lineup when Brandon Dubinsky returned from injury in the playoffs. While many may not agree with scratching him, it speaks volumes of where he is on the depth chart, and how much he is worth.

Considering Mitchell’s status as a depth forward for this club, the Rangers may not want to give him more than a two year deal at a 10-15 percent raise. That puts a final number on Mitchell at two years, $725k per season ($1.45 million total). He deserves the raise, but he doesn’t deserve an astronomical raise.

However there is a problem for Mitchell: The Rangers already have 10 forwards under contract, and it’s assumed Brandon Prust will re-sign, making it 11 total forwards. That doesn’t leave much room for Mitchell, especially if the Rangers decide to sign more than one forward during free agency. Mitchell’s future with this club is as a depth forward, maybe rotating in and out of the lineup with Mike Rupp. Barring some roster moves, Mitchell may wind up getting squeezed out.

I would like to see Mitchell brought back as someone who can provide depth and matchup options for the Rangers on the fourth line. Players like Mitchell are almost necessities for these matchup purposes. It’s not like he’s a liability either.