After all the hand-wringing, all the will-he-or-won’t-he, all the breathless speculation surrounding the future of Justin Williams’ NHL career, we finally have our answer.
Or do we?
The Carolina Hurricanes announced Monday that their captain will “take a break” from hockey and will not start the season with the Hurricanes while he continues to consider his future in the NHL.
“For as long as I can remember, my whole off-season until this point has been hockey and doing what was necessary to prepare for the upcoming season,” Williams said in a statement. “Because of my current indecision, and without the type of mental and physical commitment that I’m accustomed to having, I’ve decided to step away from the game.”
Williams, who will turn 38 the day after opening night, had his most productive season in years while helping the Hurricanes break a ten-year playoff drought in 2018-19. His 53 points were the most he’d posted in a single season since he scored 57 with the Los Angeles Kings in 2010-11, and he averaged nearly 17:30 of ice time while playing all 82 games, the most ice time he’d seen since the 2007-08 season with Carolina – eleven years prior.
Signed to a two-year, $9 million deal on July 1, 2017 by former general manager Ron Francis, Williams was brought in specifically to serve as a core member of the leadership team. However, coach Bill Peters had other plans, designating Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk as co-captains and not giving Williams a letter of any sort. When Rod Brind’Amour replaced Peters behind the bench, he wasted little time rectifying that error, naming his former teammate the eighth captain in Hurricanes history and making Williams the heir to his own legacy.
The path that Williams has chosen does not answer all the questions surrounding his future. However, there is a precedent for this sort of decision, with another Sun Belt captain. Predators captain Mike Fisher actually went as far as to retire from hockey in the 2017 offseason, only to reverse course and make a comeback late in the season. Williams’ statement leaves that door even more open, and while no one can be sure of his future plans, it seems plausible if not somewhat anticipated that he will return toward the end of the season – coincidentally, and conveniently, when a new contract would cost less against the Hurricanes’ salary cap.
The release from the team is below.
WILLIAMS ANNOUNCES BREAK FROM NHL
Hurricanes captain will not join team for start of 2019-20 season
Carolina Hurricanes forward Justin Williams today announced that he will step away from the National Hockey League ahead of the 2019-20 season.
“This is the first time in my life that I’ve felt unsure of my aspirations with regards to hockey,” said Williams. “For as long as I can remember, my whole off-season until this point has been hockey and doing what was necessary to prepare for the upcoming season. Because of my current indecision, and without the type of mental and physical commitment that I’m accustomed to having, I’ve decided to step away from the game.
“It’s important to me that the focus of attention is on the current, very talented group the Carolina Hurricanes have assembled, as they prepare to build on the momentum and growth we established last season.”
Williams, 37, has recorded 786 points (312g, 474a) in 1,244 career NHL games with the Hurricanes, Flyers, Kings and Capitals. He is a three-time Stanley Cup Champion, winning titles with Carolina in 2006 and Los Angeles in 2012 and 2014 and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2014. Williams has tallied 305 points (120g, 185a) in 429 career games with the Hurricanes, ranking seventh in team history (since relocation) in goals and assists and eighth in points. He is one of nine players in NHL history to score 100 goals and win the Stanley Cup with two different franchises.
“We appreciate Justin’s honesty and openness throughout this process, and respect his decision,” said Hurricanes President and General Manager Don Waddell. “He’s been an important part of our team, but we did prepare our roster with the understanding that he might step away. We are confident in the group we’ve assembled.”
The 6’1”, 184-pound forward was named the 16th captain in franchise history on Sept. 13, 2018. During the 2018-19 regular season, he posted 53 points (23g, 30a) to help guide the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009. In the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Williams recorded seven points (4g, 3a) in 15 games as the Hurricanes advanced to the Eastern Conference Final. During the 2018-19 regular season, Williams posted his highest single-season point total since 2011-12 and scored 20 goals for the seventh time in his career. He was the oldest player in the NHL to score 20 goals and record 50 points this season, and he was the oldest NHL forward to average at least 17:00 of ice time in 2018-19. Williams became the third player in franchise history to score 20 goals in a season after turning 37, joining Ron Francis (three times) and Ray Whitney. Since turning 30 on Oct. 14, 2011, Williams has played in 619 of 622 possible regular season games.
Williams was selected by his teammates as the winner of the 2018-19 Steve Chiasson Award, presented annually to the Hurricanes player that best exemplifies determination and dedication while proving to be an inspiration to his teammates through his performance and approach to the game. Williams was also chosen by the Carolina chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) as the winner of the 2018-19 Josef Vasicek Award for his cooperation with local media.
An ineffective power play has been a huge stumbling block for the Carolina Hurricanes. Can the two biggest offseason forward additions help right the ship?
As the Carolina Hurricanes clawed their way to a postseason berth for the first time in a decade, their underwhelming power play acted as a foil threatening to dash the hopes of the team and its fans. While the man advantage didn’t prevent a playoff appearance, an ever-evolving Metropolitan Division means that lackluster special teams can be fatal in 2019-20.
In an effort to add offensive depth to a team that finished 2018-19 in 16th place for goals scored, General Manager Don Waddell swung a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights that saw Erik Haula move to Carolina in exchange for Nicolas Roy and a 2021 5th round pick.
Haula, 28, lost most of last season to injury but is optimistic that he’ll be ready to go for the Hurricanes this season. “I’m going to have to take advantage of training camp so I’m good to go at the start of the year,” Haula said in an August 8th interview with NHL.com.
The Carolina Hurricanes and their fans hope that rings true.
The versatile forward has averaged .42 points per game over his 6-year career and, depending on how his recovery goes, could see an increase from his career 13:39 average time on ice. In 2017-18, Haula put up 12 goals and 7 assists on the power play while averaging 2:23 minutes per game on the man advantage. That production accounted for 35 percent of Haula’s total offense.
With possible power play linemates like Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teravainen, and Haula’s former Minnesota teammate Nino Niederreiter, it’s not out of the question that the newcomer nets double-digit power-play goals. Of course, that all depends on whether he’s 100 percent physically and how he’s utilized throughout the season.
RELATED STORY: 2019-20 Outlook: Erik Haula
Ryan Dzingel, the other notable forward addition for the Hurricanes, offers more offensive depth, though his power-play contributions haven’t been as solid as Haula’s. Dzingel, 27, has scored just 16 percent of his points on the man advantage over his 4-year career. The flipside of that is that, with the Hurricanes, Dzingel will have the opportunity to play with considerable talent that he rarely had during his time in Ottawa.
While his speed is a nice bonus, Dzingel possesses a goal-scoring touch around the net that lends itself to the power play. With linemates who can put shots on goal, the winger could plant himself in front of the net and put his skills to use cleaning up rebounds.
And, not only does Dzingel have a lethal shot, he has shown himself to be adept at redirections, another crucial component of power-play success:
While both Haula and Dzingel should thrive in Rod Brind’Amour‘s system, I don’t expect either player to put the power-play over the top. That said, both are fully capable of contributing to an improved performance that could, along with goaltending, determine whether the Carolina Hurricanes return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2020.