Remember a few weeks ago when the Red Wings were still looking for a veteran defenseman to fit into our system at a bargain and help Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl along in their development as the next generation of Wings defenders? There was a lot of buzz that free-agent defenseman Willie Mitchell was a possibility to join Detroit. He was coming off an injury that might have made him affordable after his previous season's salary of $3.5 million. While Wings fans were trying to figure out how much of a discount Willie would give to come to Detroit and how else to fit him under the cap, Ken Holland went out and signed Ruslan Salei to a one-year deal worth $750,000 ($1.1M if he hits all of his bonus markers).
Reactions were mixed to the Salei signing; some fans were disappointed that it meant Mitchell would definitely not be coming to Detroit. Well, Mitchell signed with the Los Angeles Kings today for a two-year deal worth $3.5 million; the same amount he made last year in Vancouver. I think this fully answers the question as to whether Holland made the right move. Willie Mitchell is a better defenseman than Ruslan Salei to be sure, but a $3.5M salary cap hit means you're not simply comparing both of these players. At those cap figures, Willie Mitchell would have cost as much as Ruslan Salei, Mike Modano, and Drew Miller combined.
Comparing the Red Wings needs to what Mitchell would have brought, I'm very happy where Detroit is right now. While Willie would likely have been a better replacement in the event that Niklas Kronwall either needs to have surgery or will have to miss some games while his still-injured knee heals, he doesn't bring the dangerous third-line scoring that Detroit got at the hands of Modano. The Red Wings with Mitchell in the lineup would not be as deep as they would without him. $3.5M for two years is a significant risk to take for a guy who has to prove he can bounce back. That's a risk the Red Wings don't have to take. His upside is fantastic, but I don't think it's nearly enough to match the upside of the guys we would have had to dump to fit that kind of salary on our roster. Ken Holland made the right move getting the right player to fit the right role at the right price. In a salary-capped world, that makes all the difference.