Justin Williams just completed his 16th NHL season. He’ll be 36 in October and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

What’s next? Williams says he’s not sure. He wants to return to Washington, but he’s been around long enough to know it’s not that simple.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Williams said, asked if he hopes to re-sign with the Caps.

“But,” he added, “saying something doesn’t mean it’s just going to happen. There’s a lot of things that go into the offseason here, which I’m sure is not going to be too quiet. So there’s a lot of factors that go into everything, and I’ll probably have a clearer picture in a couple of months.”

The dejection could be seen on Williams’ face and heard in his voice as he spoke to reporters Friday, another earlier-than-anyone-anticpated Breakdown Day at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

The second line winger believed he had a good opportunity this spring to add a fourth Stanley Cup to his resume. Instead, he suffered the most gut-wrenching postseason exit of his NHL career. After handling the Penguins in Games 5 and 6, he said, the defending champions turned the tables on the Caps in Game 7, won all of the small battles and advanced to the conference final with a 2-0 victory.

It was Williams' first taste of defeat in a Game 7 in eight tries.    

“This one has been the hardest one for me to take, probably just because of where I’m at in my career,” Williams said. “Being so sure of something and having it taken away, I’m still going to be sulking for a little while here. I haven’t really processed anything yet.”

 

“I was playing a prominent role on a Stanley Cup favorite,” Williams said. “Those opportunities don’t come along all the time. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know this was a really big opportunity lost.”

Overall, Williams had a good year after getting off to a slow start.

He finished 24 goals and 24 assists in 80 games. The goal total was his highest since 2006-07, when he potted 33 with the Carolina Hurricanes.

In the playoffs, Williams amassed three goals and three assists against Toronto. He did not find the net against the Penguins, though he did chip in with three helpers.

What the Caps must weigh in the coming weeks and months is how much they believe Williams can help in the locker room and on the ice next season vs. the team’s need to get faster and begin integrating some of its prospects into the lineup. He earned $3.25 million this season—the sixth highest total among Caps forwards.

It’ll be a tough call, no doubt.

But what isn’t up for debate is this: Williams’ desire to continue playing and performing at a high level.

“My drive is there,” he said. “It’s always there. I think the majority of people saw it this year.”

He added: “We’ll see what happens. You’ll talk with your family and figure out your next steps. We’ll see. I was a big part of this team. I felt wanted, needed, relied upon. As a player, that’s all you want.”