Chris Johnston reported on Tuesday evening that the Toronto Maple Leafs have shown interest in 38-year-old winger Justin Williams, who is currently contemplating his return to the ice this season after his contract expired in Carolina on July 1st, 2019.
The consensus has been that if Williams does play, it will be for Carolina, where won a Cup in 2006, where he’s spent the last two seasons (the last one as captain), where his family lives, and where he has been practicing as he contemplates his future. However, on Sportsnet 960 on Tuesday evening, Chris Johnston reported that Williams has taken some calls from contenders around the league, including the Leafs:
“I think it is coming to a head. It does seem as though Justin has got to a point where he wants a resolution here to figure out what he wants to do. I still think there is a scenario — I think it’s a small percentage, but there’s a still a chance — where he doesn’t play. I don’t have a good grip on how interested he is in playing somewhere other than Carolina. He continues to make his home in Raleigh. He is skating at the Hurricanes practice rink. He coaches his son, who plays for the Jr. Hurricanes. I do believe that he is pretty tied to that area and the idea of returning to the Hurricanes.
Now, it has gotten a little more complicated because in the last week or so, there has been a handful of teams that have expressed interest in him and have given him a chance to think about it and wonder if he wants to move for essentially half a year away from his family and go do that. I don’t know exactly where he is at in that process. I do think one way or another we are going to get some clarity, maybe even in the next day or so, on what his plans are. Something tells me he is not somebody who is just going to be able to retire. I think we are going to play somewhere.
He has been presented with a lot. I think everyone has sort of assumed it’s a foregone conclusion that if he is ready to play, it would be in Carolina. Now some other teams — teams like Boston, I believe the Leafs have expressed some interest, and he is from an hour or so away from Toronto here. I’ve heard Tampa’s name out there and Washington, where he has played before. There are some pretty good teams who if things go well, could win a Stanley Cup and are at least expressing interest. That has given him a lot to think about. If he does come back, it is to try to win a fourth Cup prior to retirement.”
For any playoff-bound team, the appeal in adding Mr. Game 7 for nothing but cash is obvious given his 20+ goal, 50+ point season last year, his veteran savviness, well-rounded skill set, vast experience playing and winning in the heavy hockey of the Spring, and knack for scoring big goals at key moments.
In the Leafs’ case, they’re still quite a young team that lost veterans Patrick Marleau and Ron Hainsey last summer and has only Jake Muzzin with Cup-winning pedigree. The head coach in Sheldon Keefe has frequently used timeouts with this group to settle them down and help get them through adverse moments within games; someone among the player group who is a revered greybeard and three-time Cup winner with a major leadership presence has an obvious appeal as a potential addition for this team, in addition to adding to their (already deep) group up front. It would also allow them even more freedom to explore moving other pieces off the wing to address needs on the blue line or shore up the depth chart down the middle.
On financial side of it, it is a little more questionable in terms of exactly how the Leafs could fit in Williams given they’re not accruing any cap space with their Long Term Injury Reserve situation, but a low base salary with performance bonuses would potentially allow them to fit him in this season and account for some of the cap hit next year in the form of a bonus overage.
It doesn’t sound like it’s anything close; odds are if Williams does play, it will be in Carolina, and if not, there are no shortage of contenders (and even other former clubs of his like Washington) showing interest. But it’s an intriguing thought: Has Mr. Game 7 ever fantasized about chasing a Cup closer to Cobourg?