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Williams: 'It's Time to Climb the Ladder and Get Relevant'

Canes make July 1 splash as Williams returns to Raleigh

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

On June 19, 2006, Justin Williams scored a Game 7 empty-net goal that sealed a Stanley Cup championship for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Eleven years later, he's returning to Raleigh.

As free agency opened at noon on Saturday, the Hurricanes made a splash by inking Williams to a two-year, $9 million deal.

"I'm thrilled to get the opportunity to come back," Williams said. "There are a lot of emotions. It's hard to describe every one of them. Excitement is one of the big ones. Once we were getting close to a deal, there was a smile on my face and my wife's face. We're excited for the opportunity. I'm excited for the opportunity to work with a coaching staff that I'm pretty familiar with and a team that's trending up in the right direction, for sure."

"He's still shown he can score goals, so we expect him to score some goals for us. He's won three Stanley Cups in his career," Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis said. "He's shown in the big games that he rises to that level he needs to get to to be successful. On a team with a lot of young players, we think he's going to have a huge influence in our locker room in getting those guys to understand what it takes to be successful."

Video: Justin Williams on the phone

Williams, 35 and a veteran of 1,080 NHL games, scored 24 goals and notched 24 assists (48 points) in 80 games with the Washington Capitals in the 2016-17 season. The Cobourg, Ontario, native was fourth in team playoff scoring with nine points (3g, 6a) in 13 games.

Earning the moniker "Mr. Game 7," Williams has totaled 94 points (36g, 58a) in 140 career playoff games and is a three-time Stanley Cup champion. He was also the recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2014.

"There are a lot of guys who want to be the guy in Game 7 but have a tough time rising to that level. This guy has done it time and time again. We had him in our organization, so we know him as a person. The character is outstanding, and the leadership qualities are there," Francis said. "I fully expect this guy to be a guy who can step into the locker room and drag the guys in the direction we need to be taken."

"In this league, you need to be confident in your abilities," he said. "I can help produce offensively. That's no secret. That's what I'm here to do, among other things. More importantly, being there and hopefully being a presence and helping this young, talented team take the next step."

After making moves to improve goaltending and defensive depth, Francis and his staff turned their focus to adding a top-six forward to the lineup. In Williams, they find not only that type of skill but also leadership on and off the ice.

"I'm a productive player. I'm a player who is able to fit in anywhere. I feel as though I'm a good complement to anyone I play with. I can help them be better, and they can help me get better as well," Williams said. "I'm 35 years old. I'm not coming in as a young, fresh-faced kid. I've been around the block and seen a lot of things. I've been fortunate to be on a lot of great teams and play with a lot of great players. I don't think it's any secret why I'm here. I'm here to get the most out of my linemates and teammates and just be me."

"I know what's he's about as a person, and that's really the important thing for me," assistant coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "He plays hard every night and all that, but it's the other stuff he brings and the kind of person he is. That's the kind of people we want in our locker room leading this group. That's what we need. I'm really thrilled he chose to come back here."

The Hurricanes were without a captain in the 2016-17 season. Whether Williams fills that void will be determined closer to the start of the season, but the team is well aware of the quality of the individual they are adding to the room.

"He doesn't change his game under the circumstances or pressure. It just doesn't matter. That's what we need," Brind'Amour said. "We have a lot of young kids, and they'll look to him. I also know he'll stand up and be a voice in that locker room, which is vital. It's the perfect package for us."

The perfect package for the Canes, and for Williams, the perfect fit for him and his family at this point in his career.

"A lot goes in to what you're looking for in free agency," he said. "It's a fit for your family, it's an opportunity to win, it's familiarity with players and coaches, it's your role on the team and how you fit in. … I really like this team, and I like where it's going."

With the additions they've made to their lineup, the Hurricanes are hoping their upward trajectory continues in the 2017-18 season.

Williams has already cemented himself in Hurricanes and Stanley Cup playoff lore. Perhaps his return to Raleigh will result in a return to the playoffs for the Hurricanes for the first time since 2009.

"We were extremely excited when he said today that we were the team he wanted," Francis said. "It's great that he believes in what we're building and what we're doing, the team we have and players we have and feels confident enough that we're close enough to win and he wanted to be a part of it."

"You have to go through trying years and failure before you get to your goal," Williams said. "We're done losing. It's time to climb the ladder and get relevant."

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