At 35, Justin Williams would say incentive and inspiration come in different forms.
Rejoining the Carolina Hurricanes offers incentive. The forward won a Stanley Cup with the Canes in 2006 and has returned intent on getting them back in the Stanley Cup playoffs after a frustrating eight-year absence.
Roger Federer is a source of inspiration. When Federer won the Australian Open earlier this year, Williams marveled at how well the 35-year-old tennis legend had played, tweeting out congratulations.
Now, Federer has won at Wimbledon.
“I think a lot of people wrote him off and said, aw, he’s not going to win a major again, and now he’s won two this year,” Williams said Monday. “It certainly is inspiring. I think you keep yourself in good shape and you’re in good spirits and you’re healthy and you still have that drive to be successful and be the best, then the possibilities are endless.”
Again, Williams was talking about Federer. But he’s also in good shape, in good spirits. He still has that drive to be successful.
A two-year contract worth $9 million was an incentive to come back to Carolina and sign as a free agent after spending the past two years with the Washington Capitals. Williams acknowledged that some outsiders wondered why he would sign with the Hurricanes rather than a team with a more loaded lineup that’s considered a Cup contender.
“One of the funny things is when you tell people outside the hockey world that you’re going to Carolina they may be like, ‘Aw, man, why?’” Williams said. “But when you talk to people in the hockey circles, when you talk to NHL players, they know exactly what I’m talking about.
“It’s a fun time, I think, to be a Carolina Hurricane and I want to be a part of something good.”
Williams’ comments Monday came in what he said was his first visit back to the Hurricanes’ locker room in PNC Arena since being traded by the Canes to the Los Angeles Kings in March 2009. The memories in the room, he said, are good ones.
Williams once sat next to Rod Brind’Amour, then the team captain, and now will have Brind’Amour as an assistant coach who handles the forwards and the power play. That’s comforting. So is having goalie Cam Ward as a teammate again after all the years away.
But Williams is eager to get to know players he has only seen on the other side the past few seasons – Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm, Jaccob Slavin and Noah Hanifin, Sebastian Aho and Victor Rask. He’ll gladly wear No. 14 as Jordan Staal wears No. 11, Williams’ old number with the Canes.
One person who may not be around much longer is owner Peter Karmanos Jr., who is considering an offer to sell the franchise he has owned since 1994. Williams noted he also played junior hockey for the former Plymouth Whalers, owned by Karmanos.
Williams, smiling, said he was not privy to any inside information about a potential change in team ownership. “Whatever happens, happens,” he said. “As far as the team, we know where we’re going to be and know where we’re going to play.”
Williams shrugged off a comment about possibly serving as team captain. He again said he will come into the locker room only as a veteran player who knows the league and can help.
Williams also has three Stanley Cup rings and the reputation as “Mr. Game 7” for performing at his best in the big games. He won’t have to tell anybody about that – the players already know.
“I’ve been on successful teams, so I’m going to try my best to see that happens,” he said. “The best thing is to let the playing speak for itself. You don’t want to come and spout off and make guarantees and all those things. You just want the play to speak for itself.
“I’ve seen this team play the past couple of years and seen them be successful and seen them kick my team’s butts a couple of times. You wonder why they can’t do that all the time. I know the potential’s here and we, myself, just like everybody on the team, wants to see it expose to its full.”
After the offseason moves made by general manager Ron Francis, the Canes believe they can make a push for the playoffs. Williams is a major new “piece,” as Francis likes to say.
“The margin for error in the NHL for playoff teams and non-playoff teams, to winning a (playoff) series versus winning a Stanley Cup, the margin of error is very small,” Williams said. “You might think it’s big, but from top to bottom it’s showing up at big moments, it’s getting those little goals at the right times.
“I’m not going to say this team is going to win a Stanley Cup right away but this team has a lot of ingredients. You never know where it’s going to go and that’s the good thing about the NHL. You can get on a roll and look good and mentally you feel great, and then anything is possible.”