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Hurricanes 'in good place' moving forward without Williams, coach says

Brind'Amour has plan to fill leadership role, doesn't rule out return by former captain

by Kurt Dusterberg / Independent Correspondent

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Justin Williams' decision to take time away from the NHL has left the Carolina Hurricanes without a captain, but coach Rod Brind'Amour said he's prepared moving forward.

"I'm going to think about [the captaincy] a little more, but I do have a plan," Brind'Amour said at Hurricanes media day Wednesday. "I've talked a lot with a lot of people, and [Justin] is one of them, on how we will move forward here. We're in a better place leadershipwise because of the legacy he has left."

Williams, who will turn 38 on Oct. 4, was captain of the Hurricanes last season and helped them qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009 and advance to the Eastern Conference Final, where they were swept by the Boston Bruins. Williams said Monday he would be taking some time away from the NHL, saying it was the first time he felt unsure of his "aspirations with regards to hockey."

Forward Jordan Staal, who last season was an alternate captain with defenseman Justin Faulk, said the Hurricanes are well stocked to make up for the loss of Williams.

"Regardless, as a core, we've got a lot of good kids and a lot of good leaders," Staal said. "Usually, as a captain, there's a lot of guys beside him that are helping him out. There were a lot of guys who showed up every day ready to work."

Video: 31 in 31: Carolina Hurricanes 2019-20 season preview

Brind'Amour said the Hurricanes' acquisitions of forwards Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel this offseason were made with the knowledge that Williams may not return. Haula was acquired in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights on June 27 for forward Nicolas Roy and a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Dzingel signed a two-year, $6.75 million contract as a free agent July 12.

"We picked up a couple guys we think can provide offense," said Brind'Amour, who is entering his second season as Hurricanes coach. "Somebody's going to have to step up and fill those shoes on offense. As far as the leadership side, you're not going to replace Justin Williams, but somebody else will emerge and lead by their style. [Justin] helped create this culture. I think we're in a good place."

Forward Sebastian Aho, who led the Hurricanes with 83 points (30 goals, 53 assists) in 82 games last season, is one of the players Brind'Amour would like to see round out his game.

"[Williams] was a very positive influence on [Aho], and he's going to have to step up his overall game, leadership, all that," Brind'Amour said.

Although Carolina is prepared to proceed without Williams, who was second on the Hurricanes with 23 goals last season, Brind'Amour didn't rule out him returning later in the season.

"If we're in a great battle in a playoff race and we can add a Justin Williams, then sign me up," he said. "We will leave the door open for him. Certain players earn that right, that little bit of freedom, and he's definitely one of them. But today, we're moving forward. He's not part of it."

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