Justin Williams was between interview sessions Friday morning when he let out a yawn and rubbed his eyes.
His Thursday night flight from Los Angeles to Washington touched down around midnight and his train from the airport was delayed.
That wasn’t enough to dampen the spirits of the 33-year-old right winger on his first full day in Washington as a member of the Capitals.
“I’m here now,” Williams said after a quick tour of Kettler Capitals Iceplex and before heading out to look for real estate with his wife, Kelly, and their two children, 7-year-old Jaxon and 5-year-old Jade. “It’s all good. Kids are resilient.”
So, he hopes, are their parents.
In signing a two-year, $6 million contract with the Capitals, Williams left the palm trees of his home in Manhattan Beach and returned to the East Coast, about 150 miles south of where he first planted his NHL roots.
Fifteen years ago, Williams began his NHL career in Philadelphia as a 19-year-old member of the Flyers. It’s where he met his wife, and not far from where they spend their summers in Ventnor, N.J., just outside Atlantic City.
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Williams said location was one of the boxes on his free-agent checklist. But it wasn’t the first one.
“There are a bunch of things that play into your selection,” Williams said. “The team. Where you fit within the team. Coach. Facilities. In my instance, schools and area to live. But certainly at the top of the list, ‘Does this team have a chance to win?’ All the boxes were checked here.”
Because the Los Angeles Kings missed the playoffs for the first time in six years and Williams went into the offseason without a contract, he said he had a chance to watch the Stanley Cup playoffs with potential employers in mind. With Braden Holtby, Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, Williams felt the Caps had enough goaltending, defense and offense to challenge for a Stanley Cup. They just needed to learn how to do it.
“Management builds the team,” Williams said, “but it’s not just finding the best players. It’s finding the right players for the team. Everyone can see that if you have a team of All-Stars it’s probably not going to work. But if you have the right guys and the right fit and the guys care about each other you’re going to have a successful team.”
Traded from Philadelphia to Carolina in 2004, Williams first learned that when he won the Stanley Cup in his first full season with the Hurricanes at the age of 24. Six years later he won his second Cup as a member of the Kings, and last year he had his name engraved again, this time at the age of 32 as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner with nine goals and 16 assists for 25 points in 26 games.
“I learned what it takes to win,” Williams said. “Winning, you want to celebrate with the people you care about. With your teammates and your family. You know how hard it is and when you do it, the feeling is so good you want to keep doing it, and I want to try to win it with another group of guys.”
During his playoff career, Williams has played in seven Game 7s and has won all of them, recording seven goals and seven assists. To put that into perspective the Capitals are 4-10 in Game 7s in their playoff history.
“I have good numbers in Game 7s but it’s a product of great teams I’ve played on,” Williams said. “We’ve won championships because of it. Game 7s, there are little plays here and there that make differences. It’s a goal here or there, it’s a blocked shot. It’s miniscule things that add up to the end result.
“Yeah, the end result is a goal, but the things that lead up to it are just as important. This team is close and I just want to do what I can to help.”
Hours after it was announced that Williams had signed with the Capitals, the club traded right wing Troy Brouwer, goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley and a third-round draft pick to the St. Louis Blues for right wing T.J. Oshie. Williams, whose Kings knocked the Blues out of the playoffs twice during his six seasons in L.A., said he was “instantly excited” about joining forces with Oshie.
“He’s a little pit bull,” Williams said. “He hits like a truck but he can stick handle through a phone booth. He’s got a lot of great qualities. That’s what you want. You want some excitement. He’s obviously a dynamic player offensively, but he’s a guy that plays hard as well.”
Williams said he’s equally excited to team up with Ovechkin, the favorite player of his son, Jaxon.
“People have asked me who’s hard to play against and usually you’d think of a defenseman,” Williams said. “But Ovi is hard to play against. Skillful and hard. He’d play against us in L.A. and he’d hit (defenseman Drew) Doughty about seven or eight times and Doughy was like, ‘Holy Smokes! Stop.’ When he wants to be, he’s pretty impressive and tough to face.”
Williams said that although his mind is telling him he’s an “idiot” for missing the playoffs, his body is thanking him and he’s excited about starting the newest, and perhaps final, chapter of his playing career. Williams will turn 34 on Oct 4.
“It’s different,” he said. “You’re moving to a new city. It’s going to be different for myself and my family. I’ve been in L.A. for six years and now I’m coming back to the East Coast.
“I’m just going to be me. I’m not going to try to be someone I’m not. This certainly isn’t my team. I’m here to be a piece and I hope I’m going to be a good fit.”