For the first time in a very long time, the Carolina Hurricanes made a big free-agent splash this off season by signing Justin Williams. Williams is a top line caliber talent that will immediately add scoring and top end depth to the roster.
Williams isn’t technically a new guy, but he starts his second tour of duty in Carolina an older and more experienced player. Williams’ last season with the Canes was coincidentally their last playoff season in 2008-2009, but was traded at the deadline to the Los Angeles Kings for Patrick O’Sullivan and the Flames’ second round pick.
Williams Away from Carolina
After being traded from the Canes, Williams spent the next six years of his career with the Los Angeles Kings. Over these six seasons, Williams went on to win two more Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe Trophy in 2014 as the most valuable player in the playoffs. Williams quickly earned a reputation for scoring big goals in important games, earning the nickname “Mr. Game Seven.”
This new reputation made him an easy target for the Washington Capitals, who were desperate to overcome the tendency to choke in big games. The Caps signed the experienced winger to a two-year, $6.25 million contract in 2015. Despite his own pedigree, the Caps’ history got the better of him, as they were eliminated in game seven in the second round of the 2017 playoffs, falling to the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins at home.
Over the past eight seasons, Williams has scored 20 goals four times, including the past two seasons. He has also registered six 40-point seasons since leaving Raleigh. In the playoffs, he has scored 28 goals in this time span and 70 total points in the postseason.
Signing with Carolina
On July 1, 2017, Williams signed a two-year, $9 million contract to return to the Hurricanes. This move was praised by fans and left both GM Ron Francis and Williams both happy.
Williams has given multiple interviews to the media since returning, but perhaps the best thing that he said was he came to this team to win now, not to help rebuild a team. These are exciting words for Canes fans, as for years the message has been to trust the process and trust the rebuild.
All the words have been great, but you may be thinking, “What’s the actual impact.”
Williams’ strong possession style will fit in with what the Canes have been building. Since 2009 Williams has a 63.25% Corsi percentage, which is the best out of all forwards in the NHL. Despite turning 36 before this season begins, he still ranked fifth on the Caps with a 53.69%. This would have him ranked fourth on the Hurricanes, just above Sebastian Aho’s 53.26%.
Outside of his possession and scoring stats, Williams slotting in on the top line will have a domino effect on the rest of the roster. The new top six (shown below) is now much improved and will see a more highly skilled third line.
Skinner - Staal - Williams
Teravainen - Lindholm - Aho
This now means that Lee Stempniak is likely to play in the bottom six, which is more his skill level. Keeping the scenario above, Victor Rask would be the third line center and the Canes will have plenty of options with the other wing, either Joakim Nordstrom, Brock McGinn, or Derek Ryan depending on camp competition. This line will still be able to compete on a night in and night out basis.
Williams’ arrival brings more than skill to the roster. It heralds a new mindset to this team that says that the Canes can win now, and are ready to make the right moves to get there.