Some past Flyers are remebered for their physicality or fighting, some are remembered for an amazing goal that will be played in highlight reels until the end of time, but Justin Williams is remembered as the one that got away.
Originally drafted by Philadelphia 28th overall in 2000, He made the jump to the NHL immediately as he joined the Flyers for the 2000-01 season and was seemingly cursed out of the gate.
The Flyers were still learning to adapt in the post-Lindros era during the 2000-01 season as he sat on the sidelines demanding a trade. The team as a whole were struggling to produce offense. Luckily Keith Primeau had a career year and the supporting cast held strong enough to secure a fourth place finish in the East.
Williams’ first training camp and three months of the 2000-01 season he learned from coach Craig Ramsey, but he was fired in early December of 2000. Ramsey was replaced by Bill Barber.
Williams came out of the gate hot by scoring a goal and adding two assists during his NHL debut. A broken hand sustained in mid-February 2001 put Williams on the shelf for over a month and slowed down his production when he returned. He finished his rookie campaign with 12 goals and 25 points in 63 games.
His sophomore season in 2001-02 was the healthiest and most successful season of his Flyers career when he suited up for 75 games and recorded 17 goals and 40 points. His two-way play and ability as a secondary scorer earned him the Pelle Lindbergh Award as the team’s most improved player.
Head coach Bill Barber was replaced at the conclusion of the season with former assistant Ken Hitchcock, who had won a Stanley Cup in Dallas a few years prior.
Williams found success under Hitch, putting up a blazing 13 points in the team’s first 12 games of the 2002-03 season, but the injury bug showed its ugly head once again. He missed half a dozen games with a shoulder injury then tore both his ACL and MCL in a game against Tampa in mid-January. Originally expected to miss the rest of the season, Williams returned for the last game of the campaign on April 6, less than three months after he sustained the serious injury. He posted six points in 12 playoff games.
Williams returned healthy for the 2003-04 season but was underwhelming on the score sheet. He recorded just six goals and 26 points in 47 games, being utilized in a defense-first role. At the 2004 trade deadline he was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for defenseman Danny Markov.
Markov would play just 34 games in Philly before the installment of the salary cap forced the Flyers to move on from him.
Justin Williams found success in Carolina, breaking out for 31 goals and 76 points in his first full 82-game season and was a key contributor in the Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup victory. He posted a similar 33-goal, 67-point campaign the following season.
Williams would once again tear the ACL and MCL in his left knee the day after Christmas of 2007. He again returned in three months. The same summer, Williams would tear his achilles during an off-season workout and underwent surgery in September and returned in early December, at least a full month earlier than expected.
With his career seemingly derailed by injuries, the Hurricanes traded Williams to the LA Kings in March of 2009 for Patrick O’Sullivan and a second round pick.
Williams would once again defy the odds and stay healthy the remained of his career, playing a full 82-game season five times in the next 11 years and only missing sporadic games over the rest.
He won two more Stanley Cups with the Kings in 2012 and 2014, also securing the Conn Smythe during the latter.
He would also have a two-year stint with the Washington Capitals and helped them to back-to-back President’s Trophies, but failed to make it past the second round of the playoffs. Almost a decade after the trade to the Kings, Williams returned the Carolina Hurricanes for the final two-and-a-half years of his career. He retired after the 2020 season with 1,264 NHL games and 797 points to his name.
Today, Justin Williams is a special assistant to Don Waddell, the general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Williams was a player that defies traditional hockey logic. A lackluster, injury riddled start to a career very rarely ever gets back on track. But Williams overcame the odds and suited up for seven full 82-game seasons after he was traded away from the Flyers and secured three Stanley Cups with two different teams. Would he have had the same success if he remained in Philadelphia?
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)