2015 Season Review: Justin Williams
Mr. Corsi. Mr. Game 7. Mr. Gone Too Soon?
Justin Williams has long been one of the best possession players in the NHL. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, he has the 4th-best Corsi For% in the NHL, trailing just Anze Kopitar, Jake Muzzin, and Patrice Bergeron.
The Kings are a very good hockey team and will win lots of hockey games very soon SORRY IT'S A REFLEX.
Williams is not simply the beneficiary of good linemates, either. He tends to make all of his teammates better. Since 2011, just three players have lost the possession battle while playing with him: Ethan Moreau, Jordan Nolan, and Tanner Pearson. All three of those samples are extremely tiny and not really worth analysis, though.
Not a lot changed for Williams this season. Though his overall possession numbers dropped, they remained excellent. Some of this can simply be attributed to different deployment this season. Sutter used Williams with Anze Kopitar for just 342 minutes this season, compared to 644 last season. Instead, Williams spent much of his season with Jarret Stoll strapped to his back. Williams put up a 53.9% Corsi with Stoll, and a 59% Corsi with everyone else.
Though Williams wasn't quite as excellent as he's been in seasons past, the Kings as a team experienced a slight dip in possession across the board for whatever reason. Given this fact, I am not quite ready to put a bunch of stock in the decline of the Corsi God's possession skills just yet.
While I do believe in Justin Williams the play-driver, I'm not quite as sold on Justin Williams the play-maker. Though his goals/60 rate remained at a rate similar to his career norms, his other production stats dropped. In fact, his first assists/60, shots/60, and points/60 are all lower than they have been in any season since 2007-08. Furthermore, Williams maintaining his normal goal rate might even come as a surprise, given that his shot rate dipped so much from seasons prior. Before posting a 7.71 shots/60 rate this season, he hadn't logged under 10 shots per 60 minutes since 2008-09.
Again, I'd suggest giving some of the blame to his linemates. We'll review him later, but Jarret Stoll had a rough season. The Stoll/Williams combo put up 2.0 goals/60 when on the ice together, but Williams had his goals/60 jump to 3.21 when he was on the ice with literally anyone else. While the veteran duo worked in a stopper role (1.4 goals against/60), Williams outscored his opponents at a much higher rate when he played with other teammates.
Still, even accounting for teammates, these are troubling trends. Williams has been one of the most unheralded top line players in the league for a considerable amount of time now. If his production drop this season is at all for real - definitely a possibility for the 33-year old - then it's possible that he doesn't belong on a line with elite players like Anze Kopitar. He would still be a very good player, of course, but a different kind of useful player that may not fit into the kind of contract he's probably seeking.
Justin Williams didn't have the flashiest season that has ever existed, but instead played a steady, reliable game. As effective as it was, it didn't lend itself to a lot of highlights.
I guess we'll just have to settle for some thrilling heroics. Here he is tying up a crucial game against the Vancouver Canucks. The Kings would get the winning goal before regulation ended. The fun begins at the 9:50 mark:
Situation Going Forward
Williams is an unrestricted free agent when the fun begins on July 1st. Last we heard, contract talks between the Kings and Williams had come to a halt.
It's difficult to parse out what's going to happen here. I don't doubt that there is interest on both sides in making a deal happen, but there are a bundle of complications in the way. For starters, it could be argued that Williams is declining. This would make the Kings want to give him less money than the Conn Smythe winner would probably hope for.
Secondly, well, he's a Conn Smythe winner! His big game heroics in general could drive his price to a point that puts his desires at odds with those of the Kings'. This is also Williams' last chance at a big contract. He loves the Kings, but how much?
Lastly, the Kings have other big needs to fill. Namely, they have to sign Tyler Toffoli to a contract that will include a significant raise over what he's made so far in his career.
It is my opinion that the Kings should make every effort to re-sign him. As much as I am for the Kings breaking kids into the lineup, the Kings have had a poor track record with their non-blue chippers lately. Nick Shore and Linden Vey have been extremely unimpressive in the NHL to this point. It behooves the Kings to keep an excellent player around awhile longer. It could be some time before we see players like Valentin Zykov or Adrian Kempe make serious pushes toward making the big club. They will not find a better player than Justin Williams in free agency or in the system, that's pretty much a certainty.
It wasn't a tremendous season by Justin Williams standards, but it was still very good by any reasonable measure. The guy was able to drag Jarret Stoll to a positive goal differential at 5v5, which may just be the most impressive thing a King accomplished all season.
How would you grade Justin Williams' season?