Justin Williams announced on Monday that he’s taking a break from hockey. It was widely speculated he would return to the Carolina Hurricanes for another season, but, instead, the team’s captain will enter the season with his future up in the air.
Justin Williams has announced that he is taking a break from the NHL
He will not join the team at the start of the 2019-20 season
— Carolina Hurricanes (@CanesNHL) September 2, 2019
The key here is that this isn’t a retirement announcement and the door remains open for Williams to return to the NHL at some point. That could be after a full year off or it could come in the middle of the regular season. A couple of years ago, we saw Nashville Predators captain Mike Fisher take a good chunk of the 2017-18 season off after a long run to the Stanley Cup Final before returning to the team in March.
As Bob McKenzie reports, Williams’ decision didn’t come down to a lack of interest. Apparently, and, unsurprisingly, multiple teams were interested in Mr. Game 7’s services. And, since this is a question that always needs to be asked… How does this affect the Leafs?
Over the off-season, Kyle Dubas was tasked with navigating Toronto’s challenging salary cap situation. In order to open up salary cap room for restricted free agents (one of whom remains unsigned) and Auston Matthews’ massive extension, Dubas had to purge many veterans from the roster. Patrick Marleau, who took on the role of the baby Leafs’ adopted father, was sent to Carolina to have his contract bought out, and another key veteran in Ron Hainsey left the team in free agency.
I mean, the existence of veteran leadership is probably overstated in traditional hockey lore. But, in the case of Williams, you have a player who brings more than just that to the table.
Williams has been nicknamed Mr. Game 7 because he seemingly always comes up clutch in pivotal games. He won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes as a 24-year-old in 2006, scoring the empty-net goal in Game 7 to ice the win. In 2014, he put together an incredible playoff run with the Kings, earning himself the Conn Smyth Trophy. All told, he’s played in nine Game 7s and he has the most points in such games in NHL history.
The most important thing, though, is that Williams can still hack it. Having him in the room telling old war stories while drinking a lukewarm cup of black coffee is one thing, but having him do that while also contributing is another animal. Williams was a solid player last year for the Canes, putting up 23 goals and 53 points with positive relative shot metrics.
Old school? New school? He really is the best of both worlds.
And, finally, Williams is a home town kid. Mr. Game 7, born in Cobourg, Ontario, coming home to help this young Leafs squad finally get out of their own heads and win a Game 7 after back-to-back years of losing such games to the Boston Bruins would be incredible.
Of course, the Leafs are in a tight cap situation, which makes an addition like this a little challenging. We have no idea if or when Mitch Marner is going to sign a new contract and we don’t know how much it’ll cost. The team acquired David Clarkson’s contract to stock up on bonus LTIR room in order to give themselves as much ammo as possible for a high prorated cap hit as we saw with William Nylander last year, but all these balls are still up in the air.
If it’s possible, bringing Mr. Game 7 to Toronto would be a huge win. But is this simply a luxury the cap-strapped Leafs can’t afford?