Late yesterday, the news broke that the Capitals had signed forward Justin Williams to a two-year, $6.5 million deal. It seems like decent-to-great value no matter how you look at it—whether through the lens of boxcars (nearly 20 goals and just over 40 points each of the last two seasons), playoff performances (three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and two points per game over seven career Game 7s, all wins), or advanced stats (the third-best CF% in the league since 2007). He was one of the best unrestricted free agents available and the Capitals swooped in and got him.
Last night, his agent said, Williams talked with Barry Trotz about his fit in Washington. A half-hour later, the deal was done.— Alex Prewitt (@alex_prewitt) July 2, 2015
Although Williams is showing some signs of aging, he's still a very good player—again, no matter how you slice it.
First, here are his rate statistics since 2007.
The cutoffs are 0.8 goals and 1.9 points for first liners and 0.6 goals and 1.5 points for second liners. They come from ranking among all NHL forwards—top 90 for first line and top 180 for second line, minimum 500 minutes for full seasons and 300 minutes for the lockout-shortened season—and have been fairly consistent since 2007.
It's clear that Williams produces offense at a top-six level and often a top-line level, a bit more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer. He may be falling off a bit now—he is 33, after all—but is still a good player, especially considering he played for a team that often has a tough time scoring in Los Angeles. (He was also hurt a bit by the percentages this past season, gaining a point on only 58% of on-ice goals instead of a more typical 70-80%.)
Even if he dips into third-line territory, it's still not an awful contract by any stretch of the imagination—both because of the relatively modest commitment and other attributes Williams brings to the table.
This is where Williams really shines. He was the top possession player in the NHL for a few years, and even over the last couple still ranks in the top 60 in relative Corsi. He seems to do it at least partly with liberal shot selection—he's a fairly high-volume shooter himself, and the Kings shoot for a slightly worse percentage with him on, but he's also in the top 60 in relative scoring chances over the last two years.
Prepare to get better, Evgeny Kuznetsov (or whomever)! pic.twitter.com/maG8fztdZf— Japers' Rink (@JapersRink) July 2, 2015
Williams' impact seems like it will come in all three zones. For example, here's how two-way stud Anze Kopitar's on-ice shot rates have changed with and without Williams over the last two years.
Based on how far up the chart Williams' bubble is (and his very good rate stats), he certainly seems like he adds something offensively. Based on how far to the left his bubble is (fewer shots against) and his neutral zone numbers—good, not great—he could well be adding something in the defensive zone, too, even though he's not known as a good defensive player.
Quite a few good possession players have a positive effect on shots against without good defensive reputations, though, so it's by no means certain, based on the numbers. Whether he actually adds defensive value may go some way toward determining whether he's best used alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (who received Selke attention) or Evgeny Kuznetsov (who's still figuring things out defensively).
The dip over the last year in his rolling possession graph is a bit concerning, especially considering his age, but that can partly be explained by linemate issues.
He was playing more with Jarret Stoll, who has fallen off recently in his own right. The Kings had some depth issues, and responded by replacing Williams on their top line with Jeff Carter. Late in the season, Williams was reunited with Kopitar, and his possession—that is, the black line topping the red line in the third graph—took off once again.
Williams didn't play the toughest minutes for Darryl Sutter, although he played power-versus-power when he was with Kopitar, Los Angeles' go-to center in all situations. Regardless of role or linemates, with Williams on the ice, the Kings were able to get the better of their opponents in possession.
These charts show how the Kings fared with Williams on the ice based on the quality of forward opposition (higher is tougher) and quality of defensemen in support (to the right is stronger). Each graph is a different set of linemates. Green means a high CF% and purple a low CF%.
Judging by all the green at the tops of the graphs, facing tough opposition didn't hamper Williams very much, even when he was away from Kopitar. And the same is true looking at the quality of defenseman opposition, too. Williams has kept on delivering even when the going has gotten tough—and his playoff scoring rates (0.26 goals and 0.68 points per game, both slightly above his regular-season averages) attest to the same.
Barring an unexpected drop-off, it's safe to say the Caps found their top-line right wing or have a terrific right wing to play on their second line - we'll leave that decision up to Barry Trotz.