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‘My heart’s always been here’: Williams ready to rejoin Canes

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The Carolina Hurricanes officially announced the re-signing of veteran forward Justin Williams Tuesday night, and held a new conference Wednesday to re-introduce the Canes’ former captain.

Kaydee Gawlik

He’s back.

The Carolina Hurricanes officially announced the re-signing of veteran forward Justin Williams, who captained the Canes last year, Tuesday night. Williams signed a one-year deal for the remainder of the 2019-20 season, worth $700,000 with an additional $1.3 million in possible bonuses.

With Williams, the Canes will get back a veteran winger that will bring with him an unmatched locker-room presence that helped the Hurricanes be so successful last season. Carolina held a news conference with Williams, general manager Don Waddell and owner Tom Dundon Wednesday afternoon to officially re-introduce Williams as a member of the Hurricanes.

“We are very pleased to welcome back Justin Williams to the organization and to our hockey club,” Waddell said. “We all know the history not only here, but in Justin’s great career. He’s a welcome addition, and we look forward to getting him back on the ice with our team.”

Williams stepped away from hockey at the end of last year, but the possibility of his return has been something that has been on the radar of Canes’ fans all year. While his return won’t be immediate, he said him and head coach Rod Brind’Amour will figure out when he is ready, he’s excited to be back with the team.

“Absolutely, it’s exciting,” Williams said. “I’m thrilled with the opportunity. My adrenaline just gets more and more upbeat everyday. I’ll be excited to get back in the dressing room and see the guys and compete. You only have a thin window to have the opportunity to play against the world’s best. I’m going to have that opportunity again this year, and that’s not something I’m going to take for granted. That’s something that I’ve worked for.”

On the ice, the Canes will be adding a guy in Williams that has 18 years of experience and was still a serious offensive threat just last season. Williams scored 23 goals to go along with 30 assists a year ago, and he will certainly be a welcome addition to an already strong group of Canes’ forwards.

While what Williams’ provides on the ice will be important, it’ll likely pale in comparison to what he offers in the locker room and on the bench. Williams was the Canes’ unquestioned leader last year, and there’s no doubt that he’ll bring that leadership into the Hurricanes locker room again.

While Jordan Staal now where’s the ‘C’ that Williams adorned last year, the leadership that Williams will bring can’t be overstated. Williams and the Canes aren’t sure of what letter, if any, Williams will have on his jersey when he gets back on the ice, but he won’t need a letter to continue being the leader that he is.

“My heart’s always been here,” Williams said. “That room knows me, and I know myself. It goes without saying that I’m going to have a leadership role on this team. We’ll figure all that other stuff out.”

Williams will be coming back to a Canes team that has played pretty good hockey all season, but still finds itself in a heated playoff race. For Williams, the opportunity to return was the opportunity to play against the world’s best and be reunited with his “brothers” in the locker room.

Williams said he wasn’t bored in retirement, and that he was enjoying being unemployed and getting to spend more time with his family. However, the opportunity to play hockey at an NHL level isn’t something that lasts forever, and Williams wanted to take advantage of that opportunity again, while he still can.

“You get the ability to play against the world’s best,” Williams said. “That’s what you strive for. You strive to compete. You strive to be the best, to be the last team standing. There’s only so many opportunities you get to do that. You miss the locker room. You miss the camaraderie… A lot of guys texted me last night, and it makes you feel wanted. That’s great. But, I feel at this time that I want them more. I’m happy to be coming back.”

Adding a new player to the mix is always an adjustment for an NHL team, but the familiarity that the Canes have with Williams might make this one a little bit easier. Williams will need some time to re-familiarize himself with NHL-level hockey, but there’s no concern as to how he will fit back into the team.

“There’s no adjustment, because we know what he is,” said Rod Brind’Amour after the team’s 5-4 win over the Flyers Tuesday night. “He’s been here. He’s a Hurricane. I don’t think it would be any adjustment if that happens. It would be an adjustment for him just to get back up to speed.”

One big question for the Canes will be who makes way for Williams. The Canes’ forward corps is currently healthy and talented, and there isn’t a clear outlier for who will be the odd man out of the Canes’ rotation when Williams is ready to return.

Brind’Amour will find a spot for Williams, and depth is never a bad thing for a team heading down the stretch of a season. Time will tell where Williams fits into the lineup, but he will certainly fit.

“Depth is a great thing to have, and it’s something you need for championship teams,” Williams said. “We’ve got a great forward corps and hopefully I can find a hole somewhere.”

Wednesday afternoon was all about Williams, but that’s all the attention that the veteran wants. Williams has come back to Raleigh ready to just play hockey, and ready to get back out on the ice with the guys he had such great chemistry with last year.

“Today is about me, and the people that know me here know I don’t really like that very much,” Williams said. “Today is about me, and I’ll do the questions and everything, but tomorrow I want it to be about the team. I don’t want to take anything away from the focus on being them.”