We still don't know for a fact that Justin Williams is leaving the Los Angeles Kings. So this tribute post still could end up being a celebratory one!
Assuming it doesn't end up that way, though, we just want to talk about how great Justin Williams is. Here are our favorite moments of his tenure in Los Angeles:
My favorite moment was the Conn Smythe Trophy presentation in 2014. When the Commissioner handed Williams his trophy, they stood for a moment for a photograph. Williams barely smiled, and even had his tongue sticking out, I think. After halfheartedly raising the trophy above his head, he immediately handed the trophy off to a staffer and rejoined the team celebration. He appeared uncomfortable with the individual accolade, preferring the company of teammates, but he was betrayed by his emotions shortly after. I'm not sure we can read anything into that moment, but it strikes a chord for me.
I don't know that I can pick one particular moment. I loved the different expressions he'd have when he scored, his total chill attitude, and the way he likes to study the competition during warm ups. It doesn't matter if it's home or road, he has a favorite spot where he likes to stand and watch the other team. I also loved his relationship with Willie Mitchell; this picture is one of my favorites.
So if there's one thing that really sticks out to me, it's this moment before Game 7 in Chicago.
And if I HAD to pick a goal, it'd be his (temporarily) game-tying goal from that game.
What stands out to me immediately: the brilliant shovel pass he made across to a streaking Anze Kopitar in game 7 of the 2014 Kings-Sharks series. He found Kopitar wide-open despite being nearly at the goal line and into the corner, who quickly went to the backhand on Niemi to give the Kings their first lead of the game. While it feels almost inevitable that the Kings were going to win in hindsight, remember that they trailed 1-0 in that game initially. After the Kings tied it up, Williams-to-Kopitar gave them the lead and they never relinquished it. Williams was "Mr. Game 7" for a reason, and he and Kopitar always had great chemistry playing together.
My favourite/one of my favourites was when he scored his 200th goal. His facial expression afterward always makes me laugh, because it's so Justin Williams to either be like, "Yup, that was my 200th goal," or "Uh, yeah, that did go in." He always struck me as a guy that I would want to hang out with. Also, the shot itself was magnificent, and it was also Kopitar's 500th point. All-around, it was a great goal.
After his heroic Conn Smythe campaign, it was easy to forget that Justin Williams also had 15 points in the 2012 playoff run. My favorite Justin Williams moment was also the first time I allowed myself to believe that the Kings could win the Stanley Cup, in Game 3 of the 2012 Final. Williams-to-Brown-to-Kopitar put the Devils on the ropes in the second, and Carter's power play goal made it 3-0 before Williams sealed the game with a nifty power play goal. After two nailbiters, the Kings made a statement, and Williams' exuberant celebration (he doesn't do many of those) showed just how close LA was to the top.
2012, Game 1, OT. He got so little credit on that play! The announcers didn't even say his name live. But it was him!
This might not be my favorite Justin Williams moment (there are so many!), but it's sort of a defining series of moments to me. When he came back to play against San Jose in 2011 after busting his shoulder, he was the best forward on that Kopi-less team. He had no one to play with, he had one arm to work with, but he was still one of about 3 reasons that series didn't result in a Sharks sweep. Playing through injury is generally overrated, but it was so indicative of how much he gave to this team, and how much he was capable of providing.
I got beat to the punch on a lot of Justin's greatest moments. Of course, there were all the goals. But there was a lot more than that.
What I'm going to talk about may seem a little off. It's not really even his moment in a way. I'm going to go back to March 4, 2009, when Patrick O'Sullivan was sent to the Carolina Hurricanes for Williams. Kings fans were confused... at best. After all, O'Sullivan was just 24, coming off a 22-goal breakout campaign, and had just inked a three-year extension with Los Angeles to grow with a core that featured Kopitar, Brown, Doughty, and Jack Johnson.
Williams was 27. He had blown out his left ACL and MCL the previous year. He returned for one game that season and promptly left with a season-ending back injury. That summer, he tore his right Achilles tendon during a fitness test. These injuries sapped his production in 2008-09: He had notched just three goals in 32 games for Carolina before being dealt. In fact, when LA acquired him, he was already on the disabled list with a broken hand!
Let's summarize: Dean Lombardi had just swapped a young, exciting, and healthy winger, a purported piece of the foundation, for a vet who had been sidelined four times (twice with significant injuries) over 15 months. Williams made his Hollywood debut a couple weeks after the trade, and let's just say nobody was starstruck by his single goal in a dozen games to close out the year. He looked slow. He looked old. He looked... like somebody who was still recovering.
Justin realized the spot his GM was in: "I know [Lombardi] took a little heat when he traded for me...Trading for an injured player is always tough. And I want to make [Lombardi] look good, too." And you know the rest. After suffering another major injury in 2009-10, Justin has gone on to play 436 of LA's last 446 regular season and playoff contests. He's been our most durable King over the last four seasons, missing just one game.
So now's it's your turn: what's your favorite Justin Williams moment? You might notice we missed one very obvious choice, which says something about how great Williams was in his time here.