Yesterday I wrote about Justin Williams’ return from a few angles including the transition, leadership and other things mostly off the ice.
Today’s Daily Joe more so considers Justin Williams as a player and how his return could impact the lineup.
For as much is legitimately made about Williams’ leadership during the 2018-19 season, he was also a very productive player. His 23 goals were second on the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes behind only Sebastian Aho, and his 53 points trailed only Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. So Williams’ signing is not the case of a wily veteran who is a great addition for the locker room but is necessarily limited in terms of offensive production.
But what about his age and declining speed?
Some question whether Williams has lost too much in terms of speed to be effective at the NHL level. I think that concern is overdone. Yes, Williams does have weaknesses, but he is already multiple years into being a productive player without speed as an asset. So even if he lost a tiny bit more as compared to the 2018-19, speed this is not what drives Williams’ productivity.
And what about the eight-month layoff and the risk in general?
No doubt Justin Williams has some work to do to get back up to game speed quickly at a time when most players are already there. It could take awhile for him to get up to speed, but in total I think missing the first half of the 2019-20 season could be a positive too. If Williams can re-find a higher gear, he will be peaking just in time for the playoff stretch run and the playoffs themselves. And when some players are trying to find energy after a long 82-game season, Williams should still be fresh. With the risk of him just not making it back up to NHL speed acknowledged, I think the the long layoff is more likely to be a positive than a negative.
Any time a team adds a player during the season, there is a risk that the player does not mesh with the existing personnel. Though that is true with Williams too, I think the risk he brings is less than if the Hurricanes instead added someone from outside the organization. Williams is already a known quantity in the locker, and the players are already familiar with playing with him. Further, he knows the system and also has familiarity with most of the players.
At the most basic level, Just Williams gets the team back up to 13 forwards. The AHL call ups were serviceable at the NHL level, but none of them were productive on the score sheet. So while it is great to have some deeper depth available if needed, Williams makes the team deeper with forwards who can produce offense. That helps immediately but could be even more significant if the team experiences an injury or two at the forward position.
So where does he slot and what is his role?
Once he is ready to step into the lineup, I would slot Williams into the fourth line and then just let things progress naturally from there. A fourth line start would keep his minutes down a bit as he gets up to speed. And with Lucas Wallmark playing well, it is not as if that line needs to settle for being a no-scoring checking line. s
In addition, Williams can be effective in a net front presence role on the power play. The power play which has been good anyway could benefit from another player who can score from in close.
From that starting point, I think best would be to let a move up the depth chart come naturally based on how well Williams is playing, how well the top three lines are functioning and injuries. I would not get bogged down in trying to figure that out nor would I be working toward a schedule.
Justin Williams contract will pay him $700,000 (annual amount) and also up to $1.3 million of incentive-based bonuses. He will earn $250,000 if he plays 20 games and $250,000 more if the Hurricanes make the playoffs. Then he earns $100,000 per round won in the playoffs. Finally, Williams could net $250,000 if the team wins the Stanley Cup and another $250,000 if he wins the Conn Smythe. (All salary information is from CapFriendly.) So I would classify only $500,000 of the bonus probable followed by another $300,000 possible per round. And if the $500,000 related to the Stanley Cup comes into play, no one will care about Williams’ salary. In addition, the Hurricanes will have the right to defer the cap hit for the bonuses such that required cap hit for 2019-20 is just the salary portion.
Also worth noting is that by signing Williams to a minimum salary with the rest in deferrable bonuses, the Hurricanes will still have room to add another player at the trade deadline if they choose.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Where would you slot Justin Williams into the lineup when he returns? And where do you think he will ultimately end up?
2) To what degree are you concerned that the combination of the layoff and Williams’ speed could limit Williams in 2019-20?
3) What do you predict for Williams’ role and production during the regular season and hopefully into the playoffs?