Signed by the Capitals to a two-year, $6.5 million contract late Wednesday night, veteran right wing and three-time Stanley Cup champion Justin Williams talked with reporters on a conference call on Thursday. Here’s what he had to say:
On why he chose to sign with Washington:
Even before we had a deal done, it was a team my agent and my family and I kind of looked at as a potential team because I liked what they did in the playoffs last year, even though it was a Game 7 loss. I liked the way the team played and they were exciting to watch and they played hard and I want to be a part of a team that has that type of attitude.
On what made the Capitals his final choice:
You have to get the balance chart out and weigh the positives and which direction the team is going to the city you’re playing in. There are a lot of things to go into it. This is my first chance at unrestricted free agency and it’s certainly exciting, but darn is it stressful. I wasn’t expecting that much stress or for it to go on that long, but the end result is I’m where I want to be and I talked with coach [Barry Trotz] before I signed and got a lay of the land a little bit and what the team’s all about and it was pretty much a lot of stuff I already knew.
On his conversation with Trotz:
When you move forward and you get to be a little older, you get to know a lot of players in the league and you get to know a lot of coaches. Barry is one guy that I have not heard a bad word about. Sometimes you can get coaches where guys say, ‘Yeah, well, he’s a real hard-ass, or he’s like this, he’s like that.’ Barry is hard when he needs to be but he knows his players. He’s been around the game a lot and knows how they’re feeling and how to coach them. He’s been in this league a long time for a reason and he assured me I’d be a big part of this team, that they really wanted me and I expressed the same back to him.
On his reputation of being a clutch player in Game 7s [where he is 7-0 with an NHL record 14 points] and the Caps’ troubles with winning Game 7s [going 4-10 in their history and 3-6 in the Alex Ovechkin era]:
I get asked that question quite a bit. My Game 7 record is a product of the teams that I’ve played on. I’ve played on some great teams. Guys are able to get that little goal or make that extra play that it takes in a Game 7 because everyone knows how important every single play is. That’s basically a product of the great teams I’ve played on, the great guys I’ve played with, and that’s why I kind of have that mantra hanging over me. But this is a great team as well that I’m coming to and I hope to help us get to that next level.
On his awareness of the Caps’ record in Game 7s:
Um, yeah. As a hockey fan it’s tough to not be familiar with your competition and other teams throughout the league. A lot of years go into everything. It could be a Game 7 loss from 10 years ago that none of these players had anything to do with and it gets put on that record. It is what it is. But like I said earlier and I’ll reiterate again, this team has battled hard and I like what I’ve seen and I’m just going to try to be me and help and earn the respect of my teammates and help us get over a little hump.
On playing alongside either center Nicklas Backsrom or Evgeny Kuznetsov:
It would be an absolute treat to have players of that playmaking ability make passes to you. A lot of people on the outside aren’t able to see the skill that it takes to keep the puck and make little plays to keep puck possession and no-look plays, the sheer talent and ability and those two guys certainly have it. I’ve seen it a lot from Backstrom over the years, I played against him enough when he started out and I was in Carolina. I knew he was going to be a special player and he certainly is. Those are guys that look to pass first and it will be a privilege to play with them.
On thoughts about playing with Alex Ovechkin:
We shoot the same way. But I know he’s on the left wing. Ha! I’ve played with a lot of great players who don’t need a lot of room or a lot of space or a lot of time to get a shot off and score. They’re dynamic in the way they play, but Ovi obviously is not just a goal scorer, he adds that physical element as well. He gave me a call this morning. I wasn’t around to answer it, but he just wanted to welcome me to the team and said he’ll see me soon. It was a nice gesture from Ovi to say hi and I’m excited to work well with him, among other guys.
On his seven seasons in Los Angeles:
Obviously, we enjoyed it. Except for my first season, we made the playoffs every time except for last year. I enjoyed a pretty good stretch there for three years with two championships and a conference final. Obviously, things got derailed this year with a lot of occurrences and things beyond individuals’ control, but hey, that’s part of a team. No team stays together the whole time if you don’t win. Everyone is looking to get better. Washington is looking to get better and I hope to prove that I’m going to make them a better team.
On leaving L.A.:
The best success that I’ve had as a hockey player was in Los Angeles. Not taking anything away from the Stanley Cup I won in Carolina, but year in, year out, the team success and individual success was great. In six or seven years you’re going to make a lot of friends and hopefully, friends for life. But hockey is a business and it’s about winning and now it’s time for me to move on. I spoke to L.A. a little bit yesterday but they’ve got this thing called the salary cap that comes into play, especially with a lot of teams spending to the cap. It is what it is. I’m going to move on, but I’m always going to have fond memories.
More on his conversation with Barry Trotz:
I had a great conversation with him. I have two small children as well that I have to look to and just try and make happy. I know my son’s excited. He woke up this morning and said, ‘Daddy, where are we playing?’ I told him Washington and he was all smiles. That passed the test, so I’m happy about that.
On whether other offers came his way:
As much as I’d like to, I don’t think that’s fair to any other team. But there were some offers out there that I pondered and this was just the best fit for me, I thought.
On his son’s reaction to moving to Washington:
He’ll be 7 tomorrow and he gets it that his father plays in the NHL. He even said a month ago, ‘Daddy, if we don’t go back to L.A. I think we should go play with Ovechkin because he’s the best.’ You watch the [NHL] Awards and what kids think and it’s pretty sweet. I just hope he has one of my jerseys instead of Ovi’s.
On pushing 34 years old [Oct. 4] and how much life he has in his legs:
Easy. Easy. [I’m] thirty-three. Listen, I’m going to continue to play as long as I feel like I’m productive and I’m healthy and I have been over the past few years. I’m going to say the thing everyone says, I haven’t felt better, but it’s true. My head was obviously upset when I didn’t make the playoffs this year but I think my body is saying thank you. I’ve had a lot of rest and I’ll be ready to go right out of the gate.
On what he thinks the Caps need to get over the hump and if he can provide it:
I don’t know. Sometimes it’s just an intangible quality. Sometimes it’s certain guys stepping up and having a big game, making a big play. I just feel like this team was so close last year. I know a lot of teams around the league feel that way but if you look at the way they play. As I said, I don’t know if I’m the answer but I’m going to do my darndest to prove to everyone, to my teammates and myself, that I can be a difference maker and I want to be for this team.
On if he spoke to former teammate Tim Gleason or any other players who played for the Capitals before signing:
I did not. I don’t know many guys on the team. I played against them a lot but when you’re over in the Western Conference for seven years like I have a lot of new faces come in. I browsed my way up and down the depth chart and know from playing them last year they were a tough team to play against and that’s a quality you want to hear from other players.