For anyone not away from hockey preparing for the arrive of Florence, it should not be new news that Justin Williams has been named the captain of the Carolina Hurricanes.
I could and probably will (electricity permitting) over the next few days come at this announcement from about a dozen different angles, but in the aim of not losing the most important points in the details, this article will focus on only a handful of points that I think are most significant.
First…deja vu back to last October
But I still would have preferred Justin Williams
But I still would have preferred Williams, and here is why…
I just think the team needs a sudden and stark shift in mindset. A significant part of it is simply personality and communication style, but Francis and Peters tone very much strikes a ‘working to get better’, ‘doing it the right way’, ‘in it for the long haul’, ‘not looking for short-term fixes’, etc. type of style.
I think a shift in mentality is in order. The Hurricanes are NOT ‘hoping to be in the mix in March.’ They are not ‘getting better’ or ‘on the right path.’ The Carolina Hurricanes need to make a meaningful shift to something along the lines of ‘We will make the playoffs this year.’
Justin Williams is the embodiment of that shift. When a 34-year old veteran with Cup wins and other options chose to come to Raleigh, he made a personal statement that he thought this team as ready to win. And Francis making a $9 million investment in a 34-year old similarly was a marked shift toward ‘win now.’ And Justin Williams’ initial press conference did not disappoint in terms of turning the dial aggressively toward ‘win now.’
Whether toes would have been stepped on or not, I think the team missed an opportunity to amplify the shift in mentality that is a critical part of the next step in the team’s rebuilding program. And even if feathers were ruffled, the goal is not to make everyone as happy as possible. The goal is to win. And in that regard, I think the spark would have been a positive.
When I re-read that almost a year later, I think that Williams as captain along with Brind’Amour as coach and a fairly sizable personnel changeover represents the shift that is needed.
The term I took to using last summer was “jolt.” I said both with respect to Justin Williams as a candidate for captain and more generally that the team needed a jolt to reset and carve a different path forward from a long run of failures.
The claim that the team needed such a jolt in terms of leadership, locker room, character or whatever you want to call it could not have been more clearly validated than it was when the team fell out of the playoff chase in February and March and did so not with a ‘goind down fighting’ mentality but rather with a nearly catatonic whimper.
That sent the team into the current offseason in an eerily similar situation needing to somehow do something significantly different. The changeover in personnel started early but initially was primarily a changeover of bottom half of the roster players and you who more so failed at being led than leading. Out were depth players like Marcus Kruger, Joakim Nordstrom and Klas Dahlbeck and young players who had not panned out in Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. But as I said early on, you cannot remake a culture and/or reset by skimming changes from the bottom of the roster. The top half of the roster and the leadership needed to be held accountable and change too. The trade of Jeff Skinner was a step in this direction. The trade of Justin Faulk which I still think is inevitable even if delayed into the season would also be a step in this direction. And naming a new captain in Justin Williams is also a huge step in this direction.
So almost as much as I think Justin Williams is the right choice in terms of being a strong leader, I think the jolt to the system that says emphatically that the recent past is not good enough is almost as significant.
While I do think Jordan Staal will be a significant part of building the next playoff team, I do not think he is the right leader for it. Similarly, even if he stays, I do not see Justin Faulk as the next long-term captain. And of course Jeff Skinner is already gone.
So that begs the question of who the next long-term captain of the team is. With the team still trying to transition to winning, the sands could shift, but right now I would bet heavily that the next long-term captain of this team will be either Jaccob Slavin or Sebastian Aho. But at a young age, with no formal leadership experience at the NHL level and possibly not the greatest of leadership models in the locker room during their NHL time, I think Justin Williams builds a necessary bridge to one of these players.
Much will be made about Williams being a short-timer at 36 years old and with only one year remaining on his contract, but I actually think his situation is ideal. First, I think he plays and leads for as long as appropriate in a Hurricanes uniform. He and his family bought a house in the Raleigh area BEFORE he signed with the Hurricanes. After a good run of time in Raleigh 10 years ago and experience living in a few other players, he is making here home. As such, I think it is reasonably safe to say that his next deal if appropriate can be worked out without a ton of risk. Further, with Aho and Slavin likely to take on apprentice roles watching Williams lead, I think something between one and three years is appropriate anyway.
You heard it hear first…
1) Sebastian Aho and Jaccob Slavin will share an ‘A’ as soon as Justin Faulk is traded.
2) One of them will the team’s next captain for the 2020-21 season, and that could see but does not require Justin Williams to retire. The team will not say it publicly, but between Rod Brind’Amour, Justin Williams and a few others in the inner circle, part of the assignment that Williams knowingly took today was to groom the next leader for the team.
And oh…The leadership thing
While there is the need for a jolt and a bridge, that is not to say that there is not also a very simple, direct initiative to give the team the best chance to win in 2018-19. The team that is young and could start four rookies and is mostly minus players who have lived the journey through the long 82-game season and up into the playoffs quite simply needs the best locker room leader possible.
Ironically, Justin Williams has never worn a ‘C’ in his career, but he is a bona fide winner who knows what it takes, and he is also an experienced leader even if not formally so.
So while there are other things in play too and while Brind’Amour’s comfort level and relationship with Williams do matter, there is also a ‘best person for the job’ element that should not be overlooked.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What is your initial reaction and opinion on Justin Williams being named captain of the Carolina Hurricanes today?
2) What do expect for Justin Williams tenure as captain, and who, when and how do you see the next long-term captain situation playing out?
3) Free for all/other discussion about today’s news.
Those in the Carolinas, stay safe y’all.