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.