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What Does Signing Justin Williams Mean for the Canes?

When will Williams play his first game? Will he be a captain?

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / CarolinaHurricanes.com

Justin Williams is back.

Four words that elicit countless joyous emotions and perhaps even more questions about the how, the why and the what's next of it all.

Let's sort through what we can, then, as we analyze what this signing means for the Carolina Hurricanes.

How did the contract come together, and why now?

Williams has been skating and working out for the last few months, and eventually, he was both mentally and physically ready to take the next step and begin the process of returning to the National Hockey League. So, the ball got rolling on the business aspect of his return, which involved his representation plus President and General Manager Don Waddell and Majority Owner Tom Dundon.

"This has been an ongoing dialogue," Williams said. "They gave me the opportunity and time I needed to decide what I wanted to do."

Video: Justin Williams Inks One-Year Contract with Canes

As negotiations picked up, rumors of interest from other teams floated around, but his final destination seemed a foregone conclusion.

"My heart has always been here," he said.

Will Williams be a captain?

I don't get the impression that will be the case. Jordan Staal was named captain prior to the start of the season and should continue to wear the C. So too will Jordan Martinook and Jaccob Slavin remain in their roles as alternate captains. That in no way means Williams won't be counted on as a leader. After all, he's one of the most respected voices in that locker room. I just don't believe he will wear a letter.

"That room knows me, and I know myself," Williams said.

This is Staal's team, but Williams will undoubtedly be a vocal, supportive component.

"They've done a great job this year, and they did a great job last year growing as leaders," he said of the captaincy group. "It's great to see."

When will Williams play his first game?

That's still to be determined, but head coach Rod Brind'Amour will likely want to work him into a handful of team practices first. Does Williams make his season debut before the end of this seven-game homestand this weekend? Probably not. I'd look ahead to the last three home games before the All-Star break and bye week as a much more likely scenario.

"I'm just going to work my way back to where I feel comfortable, when Roddy feels I'm comfortable to play," Williams said. "You can't put a time on it. Whenever it happens, it happens."

RELATED: WILLIAMS RETURNS TO CANES READY TO COMPETE

I asked Williams how he would feel when career game No. 1,245 (and 430 with the Canes) does happen at some point in the near future.

"A lot of emotion and a lot of adrenaline," he said. "Hockey is so unique in that you're never going to have the same situation twice. This is a very unique situation for me and the team, but one that I'm going to jump into. There's obviously going to be a lot of emotion behind that."

When Williams draws into the lineup, who comes out? And where does Williams slot in?

That's one of the most intriguing questions of the bunch, I think. The Canes have been fortunate on the injury front this season, so there has been a good deal of consistency in the lineup. And, when you look at the group of 12 forwards, it's tough to single out one player who - for lack of a better word - "deserves" to come out.

But, someone will have to, and then that someone will be challenged to push to get back in the lineup. Competition is never a bad thing. Neither is depth. The Canes have added both to their lineup with the signing of Williams, who makes the roster better. It's a trade deadline-type acquisition without the trade or deadline attached to it.

Video: Justin Williams Returns to the Canes

"Depth is a great thing to have and something you need for championship teams," he said. "We've got a great forward corps, and hopefully I can find a hole somewhere."

So, where might that hole be? Williams spent time on the right wing of both Staal and Sebastian Aho last season, but as he eases back into game action, perhaps his minutes are limited on Lucas Wallmark's line. This will ultimately be something Brind'Amour and his coaching staff will suss out, and they might have to try a few different combinations to find what works best.

How will the locker room react to his return?

It's a fair question, especially considering the handful of new faces that weren't around last season, but this is also a unique acquisition. The Canes didn't trade for an unknown player. They didn't sign an unfamiliar veteran. In essence, they're simply re-adding an already respected presence.

"There's no adjustment because we know what he is," Brind'Amour said on Tuesday night. "He's been here. He's a Hurricane."

And, in some ways, this felt somewhat inevitable. The door was never closed; it remained cracked, ever so slightly, for a possible return. Now, the locker room will welcome in an old friend and teammate.

"Familiarity is very important, not just knowing the players but knowing management and the coach. He's the one who puts players on the ice," Williams said. "It's an easy situation, and it should be an easy transition for me."

Will this be Williams' last season?

Maybe. We'll see. That's a question and an answer for a later time.

"I'm focused right now on these next four," Williams said and then paused, as he counted out the months through June on his fingers, "these next five months of my career."

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