Why the Kings Shouldn't Trade Justin Williams

Jeff Gross

OK, I'm not going to lie, Justin Williams is one of my favorite players on the Kings' roster. So, there's a good chance I'm a tiny bit biased but I do think Dean Lombardi would be an idiot to trade Justin Williams away.

He's everything the Kings' management prizes in a star (or would be if he hadn't gotten hurt so much early in his career) forward: He's tough, he's gritty, he's got "intensity" and best of all, he drives play. Not only that, he's one of those good locker room guys (supposedly, I can't speak from experience) and he's a quiet leader. Plus, he's clutch and money in big game situations.

How is he clutch? I'm glad you asked. First of all: He's Mr. Game 7. Meaning, he knows how to get the job done when the series is on the line. In the 2013 playoffs, he got the game winning goal and nearly had a hat trick in the second round against a very tough San Jose Sharks team. He scored two goals in that game and for the fourth consecutive time in Game 7s that he has appeared in at the NHL level. Williams became the first player in NHL history to score in each of his first four Game 7 appearances. That is clutch.

It is well known amongst Kings fans that prior to the start of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, Justin Williams gave an impassioned speech. His exact words were never revealed (nor should they be, that was a private moment) but whatever he said inspired his teammates to capture an elusive silver trophy that is hockey's greatest prize.

It's not just his intangibles that make him such a valuable player. He's one of the best possession forwards in the NHL. He is consistently in the top 3 in terms of possession, usually only being edged out by teammates Jake Muzzin or Anze Kopitar. His 60.6 Corsi For percentage means that the Kings control 60% of the shots while he's on the ice (that's a lot).

However, according to Mayors Manor, the Kings believe they have Williams's replacement in Tyler Toffoli and are believed to be shopping him around. They apparently don't have a replacement for Stoll so will keep him for the time being until Nick Shore or Linden Vey prove to be useful at the NHL level

While I think Lombardi is great and has done an excellent job in constructing this roster, it would be a huge mistake to trade Williams and sort of "hope for the best" with Toffoli. This is by no means a knock on Toffoli because he's awesome, but he's a rookie who's got 62 (52 regular season and 10 playoff) total games of experience. Conversely, Justin Williams has played in over 800 regular season games and nearly 90 playoff games. Toffoli is still a rookie while Williams is an experienced veteran.

That's not to say that Toffoli can't eventually be a Justin Williams type player, but I don't think it's wise to trade your best possession player when your entire game relies on possession. Also, for a team that is in bad need of scoring, trading away a guy who will likely score at least three or more goals by the end of the season (as a reminder: at the time Robert wrote his post, he predicted Williams would score 5.5 goals to bring his total from 14 - at the time of writing - up to 19 by the season's end. Since then, Williams has scored twice). If he finishes with 20 goals on the season, he'll be one of only three Kings to do so. If Toffoli and Brown get hot, that'll bump the total up to five players, but it's pretty statistically unlikely.

The best way to test the plausibility of management's theory is to compare the two players side by side. It's a little unfair to do so because player usage is different for both guys, but I'm going to try my best.

First let's examine their usage chart.


via Extra Skater

Circle size represents average ice time (TotTm%). Colour represents possession (5v5 CF%).

Per Extra Skater, Toffoli averages approximately 12.7 minutes of ice time while Williams receives an average of 16.8 minutes per game. So it's pretty clear that Darryl Sutter doesn't trust Toffoli enough to give him big minutes, despite playing him on the first line while Williams receives pretty typical top line minutes. It's only a five minute time difference but in a 60 minute game, but it has the potential for a significant impact. That's not to say that those five minutes will have a significant impact, just that there is potential for it.

So hypothetically, if you trade Williams for, say, a defenseman, now you'll have to rely on other forwards to pick up those minutes. As his replacement, is Toffoli capable of handling the extra ice time? Probably, but given Sutter's penchant for leaning heavily on his veterans and most highly skilled players, it seems unlikely that Toffoli will pick up the extra time. After all, let's not forget that with Colin Fraser in Manchester and being forced to play the kids more, Sutter pulled a sneaky move by scratching Tanner Pearson against the Calgary Flames on February 28. He then put Jordan Nolan on the second line with Carter and Richards, a move that nearly cost the Kings had it not been for Quick's stellar play in net (and the Flames majorly sucking).

I'm not overly concerned about Sutter finding a way to redistribute minutes, though. So let's talk driving play instead. Is Toffoli ready to take over for Williams in that department? To gauge this, let's take a look at their CorsiRel, which measures how effective a player is in driving possession relative to the rest of his team. If we go back to their usage chart above, both show positive possession numbers. Players with bigger, darker circles do a better job of driving possession so Justin Williams, in a less sheltered role, does a better job of driving play than Toffoli does. That is not to say that Toffoli does a poor job, because he doesn't. As Robert pointed out in an earlier post, the kid is pretty good at puck possession. However, we do have to put into context that he does start 58% of shifts in the offensive zone (compared to Williams who starts 55% of shifts in the o-zone) and faces middling competition.

So while Toffoli is suitable replacement for Williams in the future, he's not there yet and it'd behoove the Kings to be patient with Toffoli's development and allow him more time to grow before counting on him to take over the same role as Williams.

One other name that's been thrown around is trading for Marian Gaborik with Justin Williams being the guy whose contract they'd most likely offload to make room. The problem is, the Kings are projected to have roughly $3.225MM available in cap space by the March 5th deadline. Gaborik's cap hit is $7.5MM. So even if the Kings were to trade Williams for Gaborik, the Kings are still $625K short (though there may be a loophole to fit Gaborik's contract under the cap, but I'm not sure).

Another problem is that Gaborik has a No Trade Clause in his contract so he'd have to agree to being traded to the Kings and then he's an Unrestricted Free Agent at the end of the season making him a potential rental.

And lastly, it'd be a bad idea to trade Williams for Gaborik because that would make the Kings worse. There's no way of knowing that Gaborik, with 6 goals in 20 games, would flourish in the Kings' system or that he'd complement this team. While others have touted his speed, it's a risky move. He's 32, a pending UFA with an NTC and he's not an upgrade over Justin Williams.


via Extra Skater

While Gaborik plays on a middling possession team, his possession stats are nowhere near Williams's or Toffoli's. It is likely that he would receive a boost by playing on a better possession team, but it's still risky, even for a top goal scorer.

Giving up Williams to get a guy who's likely on the decline in his career and would likely end up being a rental is a rather scary proposition in my (admittedly biased) opinion. Toffoli will eventually be ready to take over for Williams, perhaps as soon as next year, but is not there yet. It's better to stay with Williams and continue to develop Toffoli, especially given Mr. Game 7's history of being a money and clutch player in big game situations.

This item was written by a member of this community and not by an author of JFTC.

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