2014 Season Review: Justin Williams
The onetime spare part is now irreplaceable.
Williams' dCorsi (2010-14)
|YEAR||EXPECTED CORSI FOR||ACTUAL CORSI FOR||dCORSI|
As difficult as it is to ignore the eye-popping numbers above you, please do so for a couple minutes. Because at the end of a series of relatively unemotional reviews, I'm gonna wax poetic about Justin Williams. Somehow, five years ago, numerous fans were lamenting the loss of Patrick O'Sullivan in the trade that brought Williams to Los Angeles. Four years ago, readers of THIS VERY BLOG voted to protect nine other forwards in a hypothetical expansion draft, and if there were ten spots, they would have picked Scott Parse instead. That changed very quickly. Three years ago, Williams signed a four-year contract extension, and two years ago, he was lifting the Cup (and I was buying his jersey).
Let's say you stumble upon a fistfight in an alley. On one side, an old-school hockey lifer. On the other, a new-school analytics enthusiast. The only tried-and-true way to stop them from beating the crap out of each other? Yell out the name of Justin Williams, and watch them tearfully embrace and apologize. Williams has maintained the clutch label since helping Carolina seal their first Cup in 2006, and his possession effectiveness has been evident since Corsi first started being called, well, Corsi. For every well-spoken interview, dramatic pregame speech, and unselfish play, there's an eye-popping statistic or a team metric that points to his importance.
However, no season has captured both sides of Justin Williams like the last one, and it's appropriate that we're finishing our Season Reviews with him.
Okay, so there aren't many negatives. It's just fun subverting your own format sometimes, and it allows me to get this out of the way. THAT BEING SAID...
Justin Williams didn't score that many points this season. He notched 1.71 points/60 minutes at even strength this season, which isn't a bad figure by the Kings' standards. In fact, only four other Kings topped him, and they're the four true dynamic players on the team... Gaborik, Toffoli, Kopitar, and Carter. But that rate was the lowest for Williams since his nightmarish 2008-09 season. And it's much worse if you cherry-pick the third of the season right before the All-Star Break...
So, yeah. When the Kings were in their worst slump, Williams wasn't helping. He also took a lot of penalties in the playoffs; there's a reason no one will remember that.
That's really the only point where you can describe Williams as unhelpful. In 82 games, the Kings were outshot with Williams on the ice a grand total of 14 times. Williams has the best Corsi% of any player over the last five seasons, so that isn't anything new. This year, though, he earned his keep while spending a fair amount of time away from fellow possession monster Anze Kopitar. Last year he spent 80% of his ice time with Kopitar; this year, it was closer to 60%.
Whether he was playing with Stoll, Richards, Gaborik, or King, Williams kept on doing what he does; getting shots, making wise decisions with the puck, and making sure that the other team never got a moment's rest. Only Muzzin, Kopitar, and Patrice Bergeron had better possession stats in the NHL, and among Kings forwards, only Kopitar saw more ice time at even strength. Are zone entries more your thing? That's good, because Williams led the Kings in zone entries/60 as well.
The typically good regular season got overshadowed this year, though. Even after switching down to a line with Jarret Stoll and Dwight King for the playoffs' latter rounds, Williams was on top of his game. His reward? That scoring rate, which had been iffy during the regular season, exploded. 25 points in 26 games ensued, including seven points in the Conference Final and seven points in the Stanley Cup Final. (Yep, seven.) Of the two goals that broke San Jose's back, he scored one (in Game 6) and assisted on one (in Game 7). He opened the scoring in LA's Game 7 destruction of Anaheim, and he did basically everything (other than taking the shot) on Alec Martinez's series-winner in Chicago. The one thing he didn't have was an overtime winner for the Kings, but he picked that up in Game 1 against New York.
The Conn Smythe Trophy is not what any NHLer is playing for in May and June, but it was a validation of the way in which Williams has bounced back from injury, established himself as the Kings' elder statesman, and made himself the epitome of what the Kings do so well. Williams clearly felt that way too, judging by the emotion he felt after receiving it. Even if he didn't quite believe it...
Justin Williams, asked what he'd do if someone told him after SJ-LA Game 3 that this would happen: "I would have punched them in the face."— Eric (@hailrover) June 14, 2014
... my goodness, did he earn it.
A typical Williams play as he enters the zone and gets to the corner. The Sharks appear to have the zone well-defended...
... until Williams makes the perfect decision.
Williams will be an unrestricted free agent in 2015 if the Kings don't re-sign him. After last season, though, it's hard to see any scenario in which they don't re-sign him. It feels like Williams is nowhere near the end of his usefulness, and unless he shows signs of slowing down a la Willie Mitchell, there's a decent chance he'll get to stick around until he decides to move on. A lot of teams would kill to have Mike Richards centering Williams in their top six; the Kings have the luxury of sending them out on the third line.
With that, we've completed our 2014 Season Reviews, and just in time. May 2014-15 give us even more reason to be positive.
Grade Justin Williams' season.