After seeing Los Angeles Kings forward Justin Williams seemingly always be in the right place at the right time during the Kings’ run to the Stanley Cup, his “clutch” abilities earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy.
It also has put the team in a bit of an awkward position headed into this season.
Once the Kings roll through the 2014-15 season, Williams, 32, could become an unrestricted free agent. There’s no doubt he’s been great for the Kings since arriving in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2009. Since then, he’s been a fairly steady 15-20 goal per season player who just manages to become superhuman in the playoffs.
Williams will be coming off a contract with a $3.65 million cap hit. Players his age don’t tend to continue getting better as they get older and the Kings have a pair of young players pushing to graduate to his spot on a wing with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown.
Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson stepped up big in the playoffs themselves and Toffoli in particular has the offensive touch that has many thinking he’ll be a goal-scoring stud for them for years to come.
The question for Kings GM Dean Lombardi wrests on a couple of matters: The salary cap and when it’s the right time to part ways.
According to CapGeek.com, the Kings have over $59 million committed to next season. While the cap is surely to jump, they’ll have key RFAs to re-sign in Toffoli, Pearson, Kyle Clifford, Jordan Nolan, defenseman Jake Muzzin, and goalie Martin Jones.
It’s unlikely that all those players would put the Kings in cap peril, but retaining Williams could potentially stunt one of the forwards’ growth. That situation makes it tricky for Lombardi to decide if it’s time to hand the keys over to the kids at forward or re-commit to Williams and potentially give him a raise.
If Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter feel it’s Toffoli’s time to slide up the lineup, that’d make for an apt time to wish Williams well on his future endeavors and thank him for the Stanley Cups.
Then again, making rosters work with a lot of depth hasn’t been an issue for the Kings and rolling four lines that can beat you has been one of their trademarks. The Kings will find a way to make it work with or without Williams if it comes to that, but another monster postseason with a Stanley Cup could make him an icon impossible to let go in L.A.