Why Justin Williams would get more than $5 million as a UFA next summer – and be worth it

Rory Boylen
Justin Williams

Since 2011, Justin Williams has been a 20-goal scorer. He topped out at 59 points over that time, but has seen his points-per-game average slowly decline year over year. He’ll be eligible for free agency after next season and, at 33, it’ll be his last chance to score big on a contract.

Williams is currently the fifth-highest paid Kings forward against the cap at $3.65 million and will undoubtedly get a raise and seek a four- or five-year deal, especially given his injury history.

So, what’s he going to be worth?

If you believe in clutch, that’s probably how you describe Justin Williams. I do. But not for his overall playoff scoring, which really isn’t always markedly better than his regular season rates.

Let’s compare his regular season and post-season points per game average for years in which Williams played at least 18 playoff games (three rounds).

williams

Probably not what you expected.

Williams gets the recognition of a superstar whenever a Game 7 comes along. He’s the record-holder in winner-take-all games with seven goals and 14 points in seven career Game 7s and he’s in the running for the Conn Smythe this year because of these late-series heroics. He’s not playoff clutch, he’s Game 7 clutch – and I believe that because he’s busted out in them so regularly over a few years.

But that’s not why I believe Williams is worth $5.5 million on his next contract (though it is a really nice bonus).

Perhaps the odds are in Williams’ favor that he’ll score big goals and contribute key points in clutch situations simply because he’s one of the top possession players in the game. In fact, since 2007, Williams has the second-best CF% of all NHLers at 58.4, just below Pavel Datsyuk. You can see Williams on that list just ahead of Jonathan Toews, Henrik Zetterberg and Patrice Bergeron. The next Kings forward is Anze Kopitar at No. 23, with a 55.3 percentage. This season alone, Williams ranked fourth in the league.

Williams is one of the premier possession players in a league that values the stat more than ever now, but did you also know his 5-on-5 points-per-60-minutes rate over the past three seasons is better than Mike Ribeiro’s?

Since 2010-11, Williams ranks 62nd in the NHL in that stat. And you can see him on this list, just below Daniel Sedin and just above Ribeiro, who signed a four-year deal worth $5.5 million against the cap with Phoenix last summer. Health aside, perhaps Williams’ point totals would have been higher had he been leaned on a little more. But the Kings didn’t need to. He went from being a 20-plus minute player in Carolina – where he spent his highest-scoring years – to a 16- or 17-minute player as part of Los Angeles’ machine.

He’s not going to log much more ice time than he already is on the Kings, but he could be a 19- or 20-minute front line player (barring injury) on a lot of NHL teams that would be happy to shell out for him. As weird as it seems to suggest a 20-goal scorer is actually worth a $5.5 million investment, Williams is an outlier here. He dictates the play and makes those around him better. In a different situation than Los Angeles, it’s completely reasonable to believe he’d be a more prolific point-getter. But he’s worth more to the Kings than his point totals indicate.

The Kings currently have about $28.9 million in cap space for next summer, which will change depending on if they sign Marian Gaborik or buy out Mike Richards now, and what next year’s cap rises to. But $5.5 million for Los Angeles should be affordable, if they want to lock in one of the league’s best possession wingers for his later years. They’ll have a few RFA deals to manage (Kyle Clifford, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, Jordan Nolan), but Anze Kopitar is the only other core contract they have to deal with over the next five years. It’s just a matter of if they want to pay Williams as much as a core player should get.

He’s a dominating possession player who makes average lines good and good lines great. He’s a piece in Los Angeles’ engine, but could be the driver in a lot of other destinations. There are no surprises in terms of the contribution you’ll get from this guy.

So how much will this 20-goal man be worth in a year? Probably more than you think. And it goes much deeper than clutch.

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