LOS ANGELES – A total of 42 players have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs and 29 of them are either in the Hockey Hall of Fame or have already punched their tickets. (It’s a little too early to count Jonathan Quick and Patrick Kane as future Hall of Famers, but they’re making a pretty good case to push that total to 31.)
Suffice to say, Justin Williams will almost certainly not be making a Hall of Fame acceptance speech three years after his career ends. So he’ll have to be content with his three (possibly more) Stanley Cups and a reputation as one of the best clutch players of his generation.
The reality is there are players who score more than Justin Williams. There are a lot who skate better, are more physical and certainly more dynamic. There are those who are far better in the regular season. But as Williams proved in this year’s playoffs and particularly this Stanley Cup final, there are few who can produce when the stakes are so high. If you’re going to make comparisons to past Conn Smythe Trophy winners, forget about Jean Beliveau and Wayne Gretzky. A pretty good place to start would be Butch Goring or Claude Lemieux, and that isn’t all bad.
Williams has now won three Stanley Cups during his career, joining Martin Brodeur – speaking of future Hall of Famers – as the only active NHLers with that many Cups. It’s one thing to be along for the ride. It’s quite another to be a vital cog in the machine, scoring seven points in the Stanley Cup final. Williams was quite emotional when he accepted the trophy and the tears were still running down his face during the on-ice celebrations.
“I can't believe I won that,” Williams said of taking the Conn Smythe. “That will, I don't think, ever, ever sink in.”
You could have fooled Craig Williams on that one. According to Craig, Justin has done just about everything he’s set out to do. Even 16 years ago when he couldn’t stick with a terrible, terrible Jr. A team in his hometown of Cobourg, Ont., the younger Williams never wavered in his belief.
“He took every challenge and made it a positive,” Craig Williams said. “He knew what he had to do to get to the next level and that’s exactly what he did do. He never got down about it. He just said, ‘I still want to do this. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ And my wife (Denise) and I have supported him the whole time.”
Going into Game 5, it looked as though the race for the Conn Smythe was developing into a two-horse race between Williams and all-world defenseman Drew Doughty, who logged an enormous amount of ice time and was often the best player on the ice. Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik – whose third period goal sent Game 5 to overtime – and perhaps Jeff Carter and Jonathan Quick were all worthy of consideration, but even the runner-up thought the right player received the award.
“He deserved it,” Doughty said. “He was very good in the final especially. You could have given it to anybody on this team really, everyone played so well, everyone cared so much and it was a full team effort, but Justin Williams deserved it.”