Justin Williams

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Capitals Mailbag: Why only 3 Caps deserve to have their numbers retired

Capitals Mailbag: Why only 3 Caps deserve to have their numbers retired

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check it out below.

Have a Caps question you want answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Joseph P. writes: It would be a crime if Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom’s numbers are not retired when it’s all said and done. Who else currently on the team or from recent years do you believe should have their names in the rafters of Capital One?

Uh-oh. You’re going to get me in trouble, Joseph. I am very, very strict when it comes to that particular honor. Retiring a player's number is one of highest honors a team can bestow and you cheapen it when you give it away to too many players. To me being a good player and a fan favorite are not enough to warrant having a number retired. It has to transcend that. To that end, the only players who I believe should have their numbers retired for the Caps are Rod Langway, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. That’s it, that’s the list. Yes, that does not include some players who already have their numbers retired, nor does it include Peter Bondra or Olie Kolzig.

I love Bondra and Kolzig. Those were the players I grew up watching. Bondra, in fact, was my favorite player. I do not see why being a really good player who spent most of his career in Washington should warrant either player getting their numbers retired. I’m sorry, I just don’t.

Langway coming to Washington quite literally saved the franchise, plus he was an incredible defenseman. Ovechkin is one of the greatest players of all time and led the Caps to their first Stanley Cup. His legacy will live on in the interest he sparked in hockey in the area. Backstrom is a Hall-of-Fame player whose career and accomplishments will forever be entwined with Ovechkin’s. To separate the two would be an inaccurate depiction of what this era was for the Capitals.

The bottom line is that what Langway, Ovechkin and Backstrom did for the Caps transcended their play and popularity.

It is all right to have nostalgia for those guys for players like Bondra and Kolzig. I certainly do, and I am not criticizing or downplaying their accomplishments in any way. In fact, if you want to raise their number to the rafters as “honored” I have no problem with that. But to me, retiring a number requires more. It requires not just a good career, but a transcendent one. There are only three players in the history of the franchise who fit that criteria.

@CAPSNFIVE on Twitter writes: What’s a story or memory you have of Justin Williams?

Did you know that Williams is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States? I do and the reason I do is because I was at Williams’ naturalization ceremony.

In 2017, Williams was a free agent. Given his leadership and the fact that he was still a top-six forward, there was certainly reason to keep him. Just like in 2019, however, the team was tight against the salary cap and no one knew if Williams would be back.

In June 2017, I was looking ahead to a weekend off. The Caps’ season was over, my wife was out of town and I supposedly had the weekend to myself. When you work in sports media, it is always a mistake to think that way. Sure enough, Thursday or Friday of that week someone at the office reached out and asked if I was free Saturday.


“Justin Williams is becoming a naturalized citizen on Saturday. The ceremony is at Gunston Hall.”


For those of you who may not know, Gunston Hall was the home of George Mason. And so on Saturday I went out to Lorton, Virginia, to watch Williams become a U.S. citizen so I could ask him about free agency.

What I remember most about it was the very end. Each new citizen was given a mini American flag and they all waved in celebration, including Williams. Seeing Williams waving his little flag around with the same wry smile he always seems to have has always stood out in my mind as a funny memory.

You can read the article I wrote off of it here, and don’t worry, I got pictures.

How’s that for a random memory?

John F. writes: Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Erskine, Donald Brashear, even poor Joe Murphy - are the Caps and former Caps more prone to troubled lives than those on other NHL teams?

No. It just seems that way because we follow the Caps so closely.

First off, Brashear played for five NHL teams, Murphy played for seven. Neither of them spent the bulk of their careers in Washington. Plus, Murphy played nearly 20 years ago. I don’t know how we can look at the problems they had and say this is a Caps issue.

There is no question that Kuznetsov was unfortunately one of the bigger stories of the offseason. Last year it was Austin Watson. Is anyone questioning the culture in Nashville?

The fact is that a guy like Erskine has name recognition here, but he may not in other places. How many depth, fourth line, third pairing players who used to play for the Jets have had incidents the past few years? What about former Anaheim Ducks? Arizona? Coyotes? I have no idea. Those stories do not circulate around here because no one would recognize who they were.

"Breaking: Former NHLer John Doe arrested for marijuana. He played 13 games for the Vancouver Canucks in 2002." CNN isn’t picking up that story. Neither is Pro Hockey Talk, NBC Sports Washington, the Washington Post, etc. Maybe people in Vancouver are paying attention because they saw John Doe fight that one time in that random game they went to 11 years ago.

The point is, I do not think anyone around the organization is looking at the recent stories and wondering if there is an issue with the Caps’ culture. These things are not unique to Washington.

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.


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Williams regrets coming up short with Caps, hopeful about future with 'Canes

Williams regrets coming up short with Caps, hopeful about future with 'Canes

As Justin Williams headed back to Carolina on Saturday, the former Capitals winger lamented the fact that he and his teammates in Washington did not hoist a Stanley Cup.

“I have nothing but good things to say about Washington,” Williams said on a conference call with reporters Saturday afternoon. “They believed in me and we had a couple of great years, although we were not successful in what we wanted to obtain.”

Williams, who turns 36 in October, said the Capitals showed interest in re-signing him but, as free agency approached, he realized that other teams, like the Hurricanes, were more interested. He helped Carolina win the Cup in 2006.

“When did I know when I wasn’t returning to Washington?” Williams said, repeating the reporter's question. “I think it’s tough to tell. As you probably know, [Capitals General Manager] Brian MacLellan doesn’t really lead on very much. All of sudden he does something and it kinda comes out of nowhere.”

He added: “I hadn’t heard from Washington very much. We had heard from them through the process, but certainly not as much as the other teams. They said they wanted to sign me, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that both sides are able to get it done.”

Williams signed a two-year, $9 million contract with the Hurricanes that will pay him $5 million next season and $4 million in 2018-19. He earned $3.25 each of the last two years in Washington.

The 17-year NHL veteran said he wanted to get the process over with quickly and that there were—to his surprise—more teams interested in his services this summer than in 2015.

“I didn’t want to wait in free agency,” he said. “We kinda set an internal deadline with our camp. Surprisingly, being two years older than I was the last time I was free agent there seemed to be a lot more traffic this time. Definitely on the higher side of 10 teams certainly inquired. You never know which ones are really serious until it’s crunch time. The teams feel that as well when we call back and we reciprocate our interest, that’s when you start to get really serious. Obviously, Carolina was right there.”

Williams says he’s confident that he’s joining a Hurricanes’ team that is on the rise.  

“We’re done losing,” he said. “It’s time to climb the ladder and get relevant. I really like this team. I like where it’s going. You can ask anyone within the NHL who has played against the Hurricanes, they are a tough, tough team to play against. I experienced that playing for Washington.”  

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Justin Williams returning to Carolina Hurricanes

Justin Williams returning to Carolina Hurricanes

A Capitals team still looking to get over the playoff hump will have to do it without one of their most veteran leaders next season. Justin Williams has signed a two-year contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. Williams will get $9 million over the 24-month span. The winger played for Carolina for four seasons, from 2005-2009. 

A proven winner, Williams was signed as a free agent by the Capitals in 2015 to help the Caps in the postseason. Who better to lead Washington in the playoffs than Mr. Game 7 himself who has won three Stanley Cups and earned a 7-0 record in Game 7s?

Now, however, Williams is Mr. 7-1 after the Caps' Game 7 loss to the rival Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs.


Williams will turn 36 in October, but was still in high demand as a free agent not just for his leadership, but for his production. Williams finished third among the Caps in goals last season with 24 and also added on another 24 assists.

There was some question heading into the offseason about whether Washington would try to bring Williams back. Facing cap constraints, there was not much money to bring back any of its unrestricted free agents. With the new contract for T.J. Oshie, it was clear Williams would be headed elsewhere this summer.