When Ron Francis sat down for his end-of-season press conference alongside head coach Bill Peters, he outlined three main areas of need to fill in order to get his team back on track toward the playoffs.
He took care of two of them early on, bringing in Scott Darling to be the team’s new starting goaltender and acquiring Trevor van Riemsdyk to bring stability to the bottom pairing.
When free agency opened up on Saturday at noon, he wasted no time securing his top-six forward, as Justin Williams agreed to a two-year, $9 million pact with the Hurricanes.
But it’s been a long time since Williams wore the sightless eye, and he’s not quite the same player he was when he was shipped out to Los Angeles way back when.
The biggest difference maker for Williams has been his recently-found ability to stay healthy. In 2007-2008, he skated in just 37 games for the Hurricanes. The following season, he played in just 32 before being shipped out to L.A. in a deal that facilitated the return of Erik Cole from Edmonton.
Since 2011-2012, however, Williams has become somewhat of an iron man, playing in 455 out of a possible 458 regular season games.
With his newfound health, Williams became somewhat of an analytics darling, combining high-level offensive production with elite possession ability. Williams hasn’t finished with an 82-game point pace below 40 since 2009-2010, and he put up 52 and 48 points in the past two seasons respectively, in his time with the Washington Capitals.
But while the production and play-driving ability that Williams brings will be huge in terms of improving this team’s forward group, perhaps what’s most intriguing is the fact that he’ll be stepping right into a leadership role on a team that certainly needs that.
Justin Williams on signing with the Hurricanes: "Carolina hasn't made the playoffs since 2009. That's a long time. We're done losing."— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) July 1, 2017
That kind of confidence and assertiveness that defines Williams as a player and a person is something that most can agree is needed on this team. Having a guy who has been there and done that both in this market and in others serving as fresh eyes and a new perspective will be crucial in the development of this team’s younger forwards.
The wily veteran sounds determined to bring this team back to where he once experienced it being. That kind of sentiment is something that has not been publicly expressed enough by members of this organization.
It’s good to have Williams back in the fold, and I think his impact both on and off the ice will be huge in helping this team take the next step in their rebuild.