Florida Panthers defenseman Willie Mitchell may have to make a choice about his career in the near future.
Mitchell averaged 19:56 of ice-time per-game this season and had one goal and six assists in 46 games played. He has reportedly been skating for several weeks now.
“Willie has to decide whether he can play or not,” general manager Dale Tallon said Thursday via the Herald. “We want to make sure he doesn’t get hurt, we want to make sure there is no permanent damage. 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.”
The 38-year-old Mitchell has a long history with concussions. In 2010 he missed the last 34 regular season games and 12 playoff games with the Vancouver Canucks with a head injury. He only started to improve after he escaped the city of Vancouver for his cabin in remote British Columbia.
Mitchell has been outspoken about head injuries in the past and was once critical about NHL hockey operations director Colin Campbell and his handling of supplemental discipline when that was part of Campbell's role.
Mitchell has also talked about head injuries and how they need to be looked at differently.
"Personally, I don't like the term concussion as it is. It's minor brain trauma, right?" he said during the Los Angeles Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup run. "I'd like to see that word changed, but that's just me. I don't like that diagnosis. In hockey we talk about it as a guy got his bell rung, well, it's a concussion, right? It's minor brain trauma. I think it should be spoke [of] in that light, not spoken in a lighter light. Hopefully people do that. I think that's part of it, the education on how serious it is and players who've been through it and talking about that."
Mitchell is in the final season of a two-year $8.25 million contract. At the end of his deal he’ll have over $39 million of career earnings per General Fanager. He’s won two Stanley Cups and played 907 career games.
Considering the link between brain trauma and quality of life issues, there are obvious questions as to whether Mitchell should play again.
But he’s played a major role in the Panthers’ rise the last two seasons as team captain and may want to see the team through their playoff push. Mitchell let young defenseman Aaron Ekblad stay with him last year. He’s also been a liaison between the team’s players and management.
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