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Williams talking with Hurricanes; Carolina optimistic captain will return

Forward is unrestricted free agent, mulling retirement

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

Justin Williams has yet to decide if he will play next season, but the Carolina Hurricanes expect to hear from their captain soon and they're optimistic he could be back.

Williams, who turns 38 on Oct. 4, has been contemplating retirement after playing 18 seasons in the NHL. The forward became an unrestricted free agent Monday after the two-year, $9 million contract he signed with Carolina on July 1, 2017 expired.

"We've been in contact with Justin here recently," Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said Tuesday. "He hasn't given us 100 percent yet which way he's going to go. I think he potentially could be leaning toward playing, but I think in the next few weeks it will shake out."

A Stanley Cup winner with Carolina in 2006 and with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014, Williams helped the Hurricanes reach the Eastern Conference Final last season, getting 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists) in 82 regular-season games and seven points (three goals, four assists) in 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Williams told the Hurricanes after the season that he needed some time to figure out what he wants to do next and said at the 2019 NHL Awards on June 18 he wasn't in a rush to make a decision.

Video: Carolina to match offer, sign Aho to five-year deal

"I'm going to take my time and make sure I make the right one, right?" Williams said. "Because if I'm all in, I'm going to be all in. If I'm not quite all there, then I have to reassess the situation. I'm not going to be good if I'm 85 percent all in. I've got to be all in. That's the only that's fair to me, fair to the teammates, fair to everybody."

Williams has stopped short of saying it will definitely be with the Hurricanes if he does decide to play another season but has acknowledged that is the most likely scenario.

"We built a house and I'd prefer not to move my kids again," Williams said. "But, listen, anything can happen. I've known that in this world, certainly the hockey world. You don't really make plans. You just live it."

Waddell said he believes Williams will remain with the Hurricanes, who on Tuesday matched a five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet given to forward Sebastian Aho by the Montreal Canadiens.

"If he's going to play, we feel he's going to play here in Carolina," Waddell said of Williams. "He built a house here, his family's here and he said all along this is where he wants to play. I don't see anything happening in the very near future, but I think over the next period of time we'll know for sure."

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