Right wing Justin Williams signed a four-year contract extension worth $14.6 million Monday with the Los Angeles Kings, who inked yet another core player to a long-term deal.
Williams has 20 goals and 29 assists in 62 games this season as the Kings' second-leading scorer, often playing on their top line. The skilled winger would have been an unrestricted free agent this summer, but general manager Dean Lombardi struck a deal Sunday night that will keep him with the Kings through 2014-15.
Lombardi was grateful to lock up Williams a few hours before trading a prospect and two draft picks to Edmonton for goal-scoring forward Dustin Penner.
"It helped me sleep last night, (because) what you dread in the building process is taking a step backwards and then rushing to try to take two steps forward," Lombardi said. "Justin is certainly among the top three in our forwards in skill. I just couldn't imagine having to replace that in the offseason. I want to get better. I don't want to be sitting there and be saying, 'Oh, I've got to replace this.'"
Williams joins leading scorer Anze Kopitar, goalie Jonathan Quick, defenseman Jack Johnson and captain Dustin Brown among several players with long-term job security in Los Angeles, where Lombardi has patiently built a playoff team through homegrown prospects and a few judicious acquisitions — including Williams. Norris Trophy finalist defenseman Drew Doughty is Lombardi's next target for a big deal.
"I think it's a huge thing for the franchise that (Williams) took a reasonable number," Lombardi said, adding that Williams and Doughty "aren't guys who are going anywhere."
Williams has been an elite forward when he's able to stay healthy during his 10-year NHL career.
The former first-round pick broke in with Philadelphia in 2000, spending 3½ seasons with the Flyers and recovering from major knee surgery before getting traded to Carolina in January 2004. He scored a career-high 76 points while winning the 2006 Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes, scoring the last goal in their clinching victory over Edmonton.
He battled through another major knee surgery and a torn Achilles' tendon in Carolina before getting traded to Los Angeles in March 2009. He scored just 29 points in 49 games for the Kings last season while missing 2½ months with a broken leg.
Williams got off to an outstanding start this fall in his contract year, putting together an 11-game points streak while getting nine goals and 10 assists in the first 17 games. He has cooled off lately, scoring just two goals in the past 14 games.
Williams agreed to forgo free agency for a chance at a second straight playoff run with the Kings, who ended an eight-year playoff drought last spring.
"For him to commit here, I don't think would have happened two years ago," Lombardi said. "The sexy thing is always to go out and try to get something new, but the old saying — when you've got something good, a good player who's a good person who fits in, that's the smart thing to focus on."