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Williams undecided on future with Hurricanes

Forward, who will turn 38 in October, can be free agent this offseason along with Aho, Mrazek, Ferland

by Kurt Dusterberg / Correspondent

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Justin Williams has not decided whether he will return to the Carolina Hurricanes for a 19th NHL season.

The Hurricanes forward, who will turn 38 on Oct. 4, had 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games this season and can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"I haven't made a decision yet," Williams said. "You don't do those things irrationally. You put thought into it. You find out inside whether you have the full capabilities emotionally and physically to do it. I put everything I had into it this year. If I have everything again, then I'll be here."

Williams had seven points (four goals, three assists) in 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games, including the assist on Brock McGinn's goal in the second overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round to eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. 

Carolina went on to sweep the New York Islanders in the second round before being swept by the Boston Bruins in the conference final.

Williams has won the Stanley Cup three times (Carolina in 2006; Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014), potentially making him a sought-after veteran leader in free agency. However, after agreeing to terms with the Hurricanes as a free agent before the 2017-18 season, he spoke passionately about making the team "relevant" again. He was named captain by coach Rod Brind'Amour before this season and helped the Hurricanes advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

"I've set up shop here and I'm very comfortable here," Williams said. "I'm not quite sure where anything else would go."

After the Hurricanes' elimination to Boston in Game 4 last Thursday, Williams sat with his son and daughter at his locker in PNC Arena, taking in the final moments of the playoff run.

"The last Stanley Cup I won in Los Angeles, I always ask my kids, 'Do you remember that day?' And they're like, 'Not so much,'" he said. "There were a lot of good times they don't remember, but there were a lot of great times this year that they will remember, and I'm proud of that. Just being a parent, you want your kids to be proud of you, you want them to see what dad does. That's a huge bonus for me because a lot of professional athletes don't get that opportunity."

Hurricanes management will have decisions to make on several other free agents as well, including pending UFA goalies Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney. Mrazek signed a one-year contract July 1 and McElhinney was claimed on waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 2 after an injury to Scott Darling.

Video: After their ECF loss, what's next for the Hurricanes?

In the regular season, Mrazek went 23-14-3 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 40 games. McElhinney played 33 games and went 20-11-2 with a 2.58 GAA and .912 save percentage. 

Mrazek started in the playoffs for Carolina before he sustained a lower-body injury in Game 2 against the Islanders. He returned at the start of the conference final but was replaced again by McElhinney for Game 3 after allowing 10 goals on 52 shots.

"I would love to stay," said Mrazek, who is 27. "We will see what happens in a couple weeks, but I hope we're going to find a way to work (it) out."

McElhinney, who is 35, said, "It's certainly tempting to see yourself in different situations and to look for opportunities, but I had a great opportunity here this year and I certainly enjoyed it. I'd be very happy if it were to occur again next year."

Forward Sebastian Aho, 21, who led the Hurricanes with an NHL career-high 83 points (30 goals, 53 assists) in 82 games, will be a restricted free agent after completing his entry-level contract and has previously said he would like to sign a long-term contract with Carolina.

"That's the case, yes, but I have nothing to say at the moment," Aho said.

The Hurricanes will also have a choice to make on forward Micheal Ferland, 27, who had 15 points (11 goals, four assists) in the first 21 games of the season before being sidelined with various injuries. He finished with 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists) in 71 games, but didn't score in the final 17 games of the regular season and had one assist in seven playoff games.

"I definitely would love to come back, but I know there is a business side to everything," Ferland said.

Defenseman Justin Faulk is entering the final season of a six-year, $29 million contract. At the end of last season, he anticipated he might be traded. A year later, he is hopeful of signing an extension.

"It's a conversation that's going to be had at some point," said Faulk, 27, who is the longest-tenured Hurricanes player. "I'm sure they're not looking to do a ton of changes after this year. I just think we're a little more comfortable with each other at this point than we were last year."

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