It’s an indication of the strength of this particular UFA crop that Justin Williams comes in number 1 on our list. That’s not to take anything away from the 33 year old, who has been a high-end winger for years. But his age and the fact that he’s only scored in the 40-point range the last two seasons goes to show there isn’t a lot of franchise changing players available to sign this summer.
Despite those concerns, Williams remains a very useful player, in part because his value doesn’t merely come from his offense. As one of the few wingers who has proven he can push possession over the years, Williams is a guy who can play up and down the line-up and provide quality minutes to whoever inks him.
Despite battling a panoply of injuries at certain points in his career, Williams scored 20+ goals and 50+ points four separate times, as well as multiple seasons at 50+ point pace (shortened by either harm or lockouts). He was also a key cog in winning three Stanley Cups: once with the Hurricanes in 2006 and twice with the Kings in 2012 and 2014. In fact, Williams has built a reputation as being a clutch player in the post-season, a rep that was cemented in the Kings recent run where he scored 25 points in 26 games.
Williams isn’t overly big or strong at 6’1″ and 189 pounds, but he thinks the game exceptionally well. His teams have outshot the bad guys with him on the ice forever because of his ability to anticipate and execute plays.
As you can see, Williams is always on the right side of the puck. The blue bubbles above indicate positive relative possession rates, which means even on the best possession team in the league (LA), Williams was better relative to most of his teammates.
That’s one of the main reasons Williams has rarely been a minus player in the league. Though plus/minus is a stat rife with issues in small samples, it’s no coincidence that Williams has only suffered two minus seasons in a 16 year career and is a cumulative +92 over 918 regular season games.
As you can see, there’s lots of reasons NHL teams may still covet Justin Williams. He’s got a champions pedigree, a long history of putting up a decent amount of points and is a rare complete player who makes his line mates better on both sides of the puck.
The only issue is at nealy 34 years old, no one can really be sure how much longer that will last. Even for good-to-great NHLers, Williams is entering the stage of his career where things can go south rapidly.
As mentioned, he recently put together back-to-back 40-ish point seasons, which is on the low end of his career norms. This past season his shots/game rate fell to 2.14, which is a concern for a guy who has always been a decently high volume shooter. A players’ shot rate is typically one of the first indications of a downward spiral.
The issue for any suitors out there for Williams becomes one of term. On a one or two year deal, he’s probably a decent bet around $4.5M or so. After that, things start to get pretty dicey unless you can stretch things out a bit with a back diving contract. Williams was criminally underpaid on his last deal (making just $3.5M a year), but he’s unlikely to get a massive retirement contract this time around given his age.
The player and his agent will likely press for a 4+ year contract while many of the teams will press for one or two. There might be compromise in the form of a falling contract to the tune of 5-4-3-3 over four years, which averages out to about $3.75M per year.
Unless some one gets crazy, that seems like a reasonable range to expect for Williams this summer.