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Free Agent Spotlight: Could Justin Williams make a return to the Carolina Hurricanes?

The Stanley Cup Champion and Game 7 specialist is on the radar for a possible return engagement.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

For the Carolina Hurricanes, the only remaining on-ice link to their Stanley Cup winning team is netminder Cam Ward. With his status in Carolina uncertain for the coming season, perhaps the Canes will entertain the return of another Stanley Cup winner in Raleigh, as Capitals forward Justin Williams is an unrestricted free agent.

After leaving Carolina in a three-way trade that brought Erik Cole back to the Canes during the 2008-09 season, Williams went on to capture two more Stanley Cups in Los Angeles with the Kings and burnish his reputation as one of the ultimate playoff and Game 7 performers in NHL history.

Tale of the Tape

  • Age: 35
  • 2016-17 season: 24 goals, 24 assists, 48 points in 80 games
  • Career (PHI, CAR, LA, WAS): 273 goals, 409 assists, 682 points in 1080 games
  • 2016-17 Advanced Stats: 53.8% Corsi , 100.9 PDO, 60% zone starts, 61.5% GF
  • 2016-17 salary: $3,250,000
  • Contract ending: 2 years, $6.5 million, $3.25 million AAV, signed July 1, 2015

Making the Case

With a very young nucleus and a need for depth in scoring, Williams would seem to be a wonderful fit for a team with legitimate ambitions on returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Williams has a history with the franchise and a familiarity that would in all probability make the organization comfortable with adding him to the group, with the additional bonus of the fan base being excited for the return of a former fan-favorite.

Williams has provided consistent 20-goal, 40-50 point seasons since leaving the Hurricanes, and would provide some of the additional scoring needed up front for Carolina. One other factor in signing Williams, or any free agent for that matter, is that signing a player rather than trading for a player will only cost the Hurricanes money, rather than divesting of the young blue-line talent in the system to augment the offense at the NHL level.

And should the Canes add Williams and make their way back to the postseason, they would have a ready-made leader as the young squad experiences the playoffs together for the first time.

On the Other Hand...

Williams is 36 years old as of the first week of the upcoming season. In a league that is progressively becoming younger and younger, the number of players in their late 30’s who remain significant contributors continues to dwindle. As the pace of the game, and the pace of the Hurricanes themselves, quickens with the infusion of young swift skaters, will Williams be able to have the same sort of impact?

It is also fair to question whether or not the numbers WIlliams has put up with Stanley Cup caliber teams in Washington and Los Angeles can translate to a still building Hurricanes team that remains in the growing process. Not that you would expect 48 points from Williams, but rather can he have the same impact without the same sort of offensive centerpieces surrounding him as he had in Washington these past two seasons?

Signing older players is sometimes a form of hockey roulette. Can his skills and knowledge allow him to continue to contribute in a meaningful way, or will the clock strike midnight, either through a diminishing of skills or via injuries?

The Verdict

With the large number of young players on the roster, adding a solid veteran presence with proven playoff chops is a good message to send to your entire organization. With the significant offensive overhaul expected, WIlliams would likely not be the only move made this off-season, so as a compliment to the one or two other additions, he would be a terrific gamble — even at age 36 — if he can be picked up for 1-2 seasons at a rate similar to or slightly less than his previous deal with Washington.

It will not be easy though, as many teams who view themselves as contenders will be vying for his services. Should this require Carolina to get closer to the $4 million mark annually, they likely would need to shop elsewhere.