It didn’t exactly require a leap of faith to predict that it would not take long for Justin Williams to find his way back to the game of hockey after his 21-year playing career, or that he’d find an off-ice role with the Carolina Hurricanes, the team he played eight seasons for.
That became official Friday, with the team announcing it hired Williams as a Special Advisor to the General Manager.
All Dwight Schrute jokes aside, Williams’ new role with the Hurricanes will be an important one. He’s maintained a strong relationship with general manager Don Waddell and Tom Dundon, and they had conversations about him joining the organization going back to Williams’ break from the game before returning to finish out last season.
In his new job, Williams will advise Waddell on anything from the team current team, scouting prospects, looking at potential acquisitions around the league and more, with Waddell saying “We’ve got to utilize him in every aspect of the organization he feels comfortable with.”
The perspective of a player who just recently concluded a decorated playing career that included 1,426 regular-season and playoff games, and three Stanley Cup rings, will certainly be valued.
“Being a player that’s just recently been out of the game, he’s got a lot of knowledge and a lot of contacts with the game, knowing the players as he does and being respected by players around the league,” Waddell said. “So having that kind of asset with your hockey club is something that we certainly can use. … Knowing every player out there, if Justin Williams picks up the phone, he’s going to get a call back for sure. There’s just a lot of things that he can do for us that will be something we’re missing right now.”
For Williams, it’s an opportunity to remain rooted in Raleigh and spend time with his family, including coaching his kids in youth hockey, without the constant travel of an NHL playing career. But he’ll be able to be around the team, attend scouting meetings and advise Waddell on anything he might need.
Williams is excited to see the behind the scenes aspect of an NHL hockey team, and what goes into building a team.
“I think my end goal is really to learn as much as I can,” Williams said. “That’s basically what I’m doing now. Once you make that transition and this part of the hockey world interests me, which it does, then you’ve just got to start dipping your toe in and start learning, what does Don do every day? What do the assistant general managers do every day? How do we evaluate players? How do we rate players? That whole day-to-day thing, which I know nothing about because I just went to the rink, did my stuff and went home. There’s a lot of work that these guys put in, and I’m just going to slowly try and learn it as best I can.”
One of the main areas Williams will try to help with is watching different players around the league to see who might be a good fit to help the Hurricanes.
It’ll be a very different process than the one he was used to as a player, but one he’s ready to tackle.
“It’s tough watching, but at the same time, you’re watching with a different eye,” Williams said. “That’s very unique. Am I going to be good at rating players, at grading players? I don’t know. So I’m just kind of learning what I need to see in a player, because when I went out there, I could just do it. So watching somebody play hockey and kind of seeing what type of game they play, what kind of assets they have, how they benefit our team, how they wouldn’t benefit our team, fit, all these things go into building a team.”
Williams does know that the same experience that helped him become such an effective on and off-ice leader later in his playing career should serve him well in this new role.
“I just think the longer you play, the more experience you have, the more clout you have, the more your words mean something, and the more people say ‘Alright, this guy knows what he’s talking about,’” Williams said. “I certainly don’t know everything, but I have a lot of experience to dwell on, and I think that’ll help me.”
Waddell intends to use Williams’ vast knowledge in as many different areas as possible, joking that Williams “doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into,” with how bus he’ll be, and that he might just let him see the other side of the table early on.
“I want to put him into the first contract negotiation I can so I can show him all of the pain him and his agent put me through,” Waddell said.
Williams is going to be an important asset for the Hurricanes’ front office given his experience and connections throughout the game, another voice to help the team in its constant quest for on and off-ice improvement.
And, while Williams will be playing a vastly different role than he did as a player for Carolina, the ultimate goal remains the same.
“The end game is doing my part to try and bring a championship back here,” Williams said. “I was able to help out back in 2006, but I know this team is very capable and very close to doing that.”