It seemed likely that there were only two real possibilities for free agent forward Justin Williams at the start of the offseason: Either a return to the Carolina Hurricanes for another season, or retirement.
For now, he seems to have met in the middle.
The Hurricanes announced on Monday that Williams is “taking a break” from hockey and that he will not play at the start of the 2019-20 NHL season.
This is not a retirement announcement and does leave the door open for a potential return at some point, either with the Hurricanes or someone else.
“This is the first time in my life that I’ve felt unsure of my aspirations with regards to hockey,” said Williams in a statement released by the Hurricanes. “For as long as I can remember, my whole off-season until this point has been hockey and doing what was necessary to prepare for the upcoming season. Because of my current indecision, and without the type of mental and physical commitment that I’m accustomed to having, I’ve decided to step away from the game.
“It’s important to me that the focus of attention is on the current, very talented group the Carolina Hurricanes have assembled, as they prepare to build on the momentum and growth we established last season.”
Added general manager Don Waddell: “We appreciate Justin’s honesty and openness throughout this process, and respect his decision. He’s been an important part of our team, but we did prepare our roster with the understanding that he might step away. We are confident in the group we’ve assembled.”
Williams, 37, was still an excellent player this past season with 20 goals and 53 total points in 82 games for a Hurricanes that went all the way to the Eastern Conference Final. Even as his career went deeper into his 30s he remained as reliable and durable (missing just three games over the past eight seasons) as any player in the league.
In 1,244 games over 18 seasons Williams has 312 goals and 786 total points for the Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, and Los Angeles Kings.
He also owns three Stanley Cup rings, including one with the Hurricanes during the 2005-06 season, and has developed a reputation for being one of the best big-game players in the league.