It’s official. Justin Williams, Mr. Game 7, has signed a one-year, $700,000 contract to return to the Carolina Hurricanes.
In a press release on Jan. 7 after their 5-4 overtime victory against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Canes announced that Williams would be rejoining the team after his time away from the game.
The contract includes a potential for an additional $1.3 million in signing bonuses for a variety of different conditions. According to Chris Johnston of SportsNet, the breakdown is as follows: $150,000 if he plays 10 games, $100,000 if he plays 20 games, $250,000 if the team makes the playoffs, $100,000 for each round of the playoffs the team wins through the first three, $250,000 if the team wins the Stanley Cup and $250,000 if Williams wins the Conn Smythe trophy.
The 38-year-old, three-time Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe winner scored 23 goals and 53 points last season and could see himself slotted in a variety of lines this year should he be able to remain productive on the ice, but the biggest boost will be the leadership and accountability he brings to the team.
There were a few other teams that inquired Williams, rumors being that the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs had each pitched him, but Williams stated in a press conference Wednesday that his heart’s always been with Carolina.
In true Justin Williams fashion, he is already trying to move the focus back onto the team, never one to want to steal the spotlight.
“This is about me, and people that know me here know that I don’t really like that very much,” Williams said. “Tomorrow, I want it to be about the team. I don’t want to take anything away from the focus being them.”
In September, Williams released a statement saying he would be stepping away from hockey, the first time in his career he said he wasn’t 100% ready for the next season.
“The statement I made at the beginning of the year was honest,” Williams said. “Retirement is something you think about as you get older. I thought about it when I was 31 years old. Where is the next stage of my life going to start? You never know … There’s family decisions, kids getting older. It’s not just hockey. There’s things more important than hockey, and that’s family.”
While there were many things keeping Williams from the ice, there were quite a few things that pulled him back.
“I’ll be excited to get back into the dressing room and see the guys and compete,” Williams said. “You only have a thin window to have an opportunity to play against the world’s best, and I’ll have that opportunity this year again, and that’s not something I take for granted. It’s something you have to work for, and there’s only so much time in your lifetime you are able to do that.”
Williams wouldn’t say whether or not this would be his final year, saying he is focused instead on the next five months and that’s it. In terms of when Williams will see the ice, though, the answer is kind of in the air.
“[Head coach Rod Brind’Amour] and I will talk through it,” Williams said. “It’s in our hands now, but I’m going to work my way back to where I feel comfortable and Roddy feels I’m comfortable to play. You can’t put a time on it. Whenever it happens, it happens … We have a great forward core, and I hope I can find a hole somewhere.”
Asked only moments before the signing about whether there would be any adjustments necessary to fit in Williams, Brind’Amour said he felt there wouldn’t be any for the team to make.
“There is no adjustment, because we know what he is,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s a Hurricane. I don’t think there will be any adjustment if that happens. It would be an adjustment just for him to get back up to speed, and that’s the whole thing … I said many times, obviously we’d welcome him back, and it would be a huge addition for us.”
A few players gave their opinions on the possibility of Williams’ return, and from the comments, it seems the room will be more than fine with the addition.
“We’d be thrilled and really, really excited if he does come back,” said Canes defenseman Dougie Hamilton Tuesday night. “We know how good of a player he is, person, leader, everything. It’d be awesome if he came back.”
“It’d be great,” said forward Warren Foegele Tuesday. “So much he brings to this dressing room. He works so hard on the ice, and it would be great to add more depth to our lineup for sure.”
Looking forward to the future, team general manager Don Waddell said the team has $5-6 million available to pursue a player at the trade deadline after signing Williams. There are a few other contract bonuses the team has to consider as well as potential call-ups, but as of now, the team is projected to have plenty to add depth come February.
When asked if there ever would have been a scenario where owner Tom Dundon would not have looked to re-sign Justin Williams, he replied with a simple, “No.”