Everybody knows about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ depth up the middle. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal are as good a top-three as any in the NHL, and last year Mark Letestu showed himself a capable stand-in when he was given the opportunity.
The problem with having that kind of cast at centre is that they cost money. The combined cap hit of that trio exceeds $21.0 million on an annual basis, and it forces the Penguins to look for bargains on the wings. They signed a player today in Jason Williams who fits the bill.
Williams has bounced around over his career. He’s played less than 500 NHL games, but he’s dressed for five different teams. At times, he’s struggled – last year, he played 17 games in the AHL. Othertimes, he’s been extremely useful – he scored 58 points for Detroit in the first year after the lockout, flirted with the point-per-game mark in Chicago in 2007-08, and scored 29 points in 39 games for Columbus in 2008-09.
One thing Williams does better than many players – even some top NHL talents – is score on the power play. Last year in Dallas was a disaster in part because Marc Crawford bizarrely opted not to use Williams’ most developed skill-set; he averaged just 27 seconds of time per game on the man advantage in 2010-11.
Williams can score at even-strength too, though he hasn’t done it with regularity since 2008-09, which is a big part of the reason why the contract he signed in Pittsburgh is a two-way deal worth $600,000 in the NHL and $105,000 in the AHL.
Can Williams be a useful player for the Penguins? Absolutely, and I’d argue that the team did a great job of finding a possible fix for an area of weakness at a bargain price. Despite all the talent on the team, the Penguins have struggled on the power play for three seasons now (in 2007-08 they were very good, but key power play options like Sergei Gonchar, Marian Hossa and Petr Sykora have since moved on from that group):
- 2010-11: 15.8% (25th in the NHL)
- 2009-10: 17.2% (19th in the NHL)
- 2008-09: 17.2% (20th in the NHL)
If Williams makes the team, this is an area he can help with. It’s also possible that he’ll find a fit on a scoring line, as he has in the past. If those things happen, the Penguins will have picked up a really useful piece for a little over half a million dollars. That’s the best case scenario.
In the worst case scenario, Williams bombs and turns out to be a decent AHL player getting paid a little over a hundred grand.
This is a superb risk for the Penguins, with minimal downside and a great return if everything works out.