After a fun of shorter, mostly lighter daily articles, today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at a bigger, more complex issue — the potential for a Justin Williams return, whether it makes sense and what it means.
Did I miss some news related to Justin Williams?
In a word – no. An important starting point is to note that there is nothing to suggest that a Justin Williams return is imminent or even possible. There were reports awhile back that he was skating, but I have heard nothing substantive to suggest he is even considering a return or that the Carolina Hurricanes are entertaining the possibility. It could well be that he is thoroughly enjoying his first holiday season at home with his family minus the 11 days of travel for work that his former teammates are in the midst of right now.
So at this point this article is just a fun ‘what if’ that might not ever have any substance to it.
My stance on Justin Williams during the summer
During the summer, I was a strong advocate for the return of Justin Williams for one more year.
At a basic level, I thought the team could use his leadership through what would be a different set of challenges as a team expected to do well and taking on the pressure that comes with that especially during downturns. And to be frank, I just was not high on the other options on the roster to wear the ‘C’. So up until the start of the season, I was 100 percent on board for a Justin Williams return.
An update after 34 games of the 2019-20 season
At the simplest level, the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes have performed well. They started strong and encountered only minor adversity during some ups and downs that followed before the latest launch upward. There is room to move up the standings, but one really could not ask for the Hurricanes to be in a much better place heading into the second half of December.
The results are obviously good but so are some underlying characteristics. Despite a reasonable amount of personnel turnover, the group again seems to be tight such that they legitimately play for each other. And though it is not measurable, my sense is that this team has the right kind of confidence that it expects to win and be successful. I believe that attitude manifests itself in the run of come from behind wins early in the season and the team’s resiliency recently such that it can quickly bounce back from rough stretches in a game.
There are many elements to the team’s success, but leadership has to be credited for some part of it. As I said above, the team has not faced a really tough bout with adversity. I suppose that leaves some uncertainty, but being a team that is good enough that such tests are skipped is obviously a positive thing in its own right. So however much discredit one wants to give to a team when it struggles, that same amount of credit should be given to the Hurricanes current leadership during the team’s success.
The first and biggest question on Justin Williams
The first and biggest question stemming from the situation and debates over the summer is whether the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes really need Justin Williams.
A team can always use more character and leadership, so in that regard Justin Williams could be a positive addition to the Hurricanes or also many other teams. And it is possible that the Hurricanes just have yet to face the storm that requires Justin Williams’ leadership. But could be’s and maybe’s aside, there is no evidence to suggest that this team requires Williams’ leadership.
I actually think that is a huge testament to what he did during the 2018-19 season. Some might argue that the team just became better and maybe even caught a few breaks, but I stand firmly behind my belief that what happened during the 2018-19 season was transformational in terms of attitude, and I also believe that Justin Williams in partnership with Rod Brind’Amour is what drove this transformation. The team in total experienced what it takes to win in the NHL and what role leadership plays in that. In that regard, I think the formal leadership including Jordan Staal are better equipped to fill Justin Williams’ role but maybe more significantly, the entire locker room now knows that it takes.
So interestingly, Justin Williams might have been so good at his job that he essentially created a path forward that did not need him anymore.
The second question on Justin Williams
Even if one believes that Justin Williams is no longer required to lead the team, I do not think that is the end of the story. The second question is whether the team would significantly benefit from the addition of Williams even if he is maybe not a necessity. As I said above, a team can never have enough leadership. The 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes benefited immensely from adding a couple veterans in Mark Recchi and Doug Weight. Obviously with Rod Brind’Amour wearing the ‘C’ and the team thriving, there was no deficiency in leadership prior to the additions. But they still helped.
And beyond leadership, Justin Williams’ production in 2018-19 was underrated. Though he was not going to win any races in the later stages of his career, he still possessed a combination of skill and smarts that made him a productive player. He was the first line right wing down the stretch playing alongside Sebastian Aho as the team surged late in the season. And he finished second on the team in goals behind only Aho and third on the team in scoring behind only Aho and Teravainen. So as of only seven or eight months ago, Williams was a very productive forward regardless of what he brought to the team leadership-wise. So putting aside an assessment of fit and specific skill sets needed, Justin Williams could definitely be an upgrade for the forward group.
But is it more complicated than that?
So there seems to be a pretty decent suggesting at a minimum that Justin Williams could represent an upgrade to the middle or bottom part of the forward depth chart.
But based on his previous role, is it possible that a Justin Williams return could in some ways upset an apple cart that is cruising along right now?
On the con side, one could possibly argue that pulling Williams back in at this juncture would be a vote of non-confidence in the current leadership group and could even upset whatever is going on the locker room that is working.
On the pro side, Justin Williams has never been a ‘me’ type of player/person and very much gets the personal dynamics of an NHL locker room and the Canes group. Interestingly, he spent the vast majority of his career in a secondary leadership role not wearing a letter on his jersey such that he gets this role. And he was very much a liked teammate. So in that regard, he definitely seems capable of stepping into a new situation, meshing instead of upsetting and adding value in a different role.
Where do I land?
When considering Justin Williams last summer, I did not think I would be here, but I actually lean slightly against a Justin Williams return. As I said above, I think he is the type of player and more importantly person who could step into a different situation and provide leadership value without upsetting the apple cart. But at the same time I feel like the team has moved on (and to Williams’ credit as noted above) and that maybe it is time for the current group to chart its own course.
When considering Justin Williams as simply a trade deadline type addition at forward, I do think Williams would be an upgrade. But in that regard I question whether Williams is the best option. First, I think there is some risk in trying to parachute into the middle of an NHL season after not playing the first part of it. Second, my preference would be to add a center if the expectation is that Erik Haula could be limited or a risk in the second half of the season.
I am not against a Justin Williams return. Williams is a good player and a good teammate. But I do not think his return is necessary anymore and at that point, I lean toward charting a course with the current group.
But more than anything, I think this is one where you have to trust Rod Brind’Amour to determine if his leadership is need, potential affects on chemistry, etc.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Where would you stand if a Justin Williams’ return was possible?
2) What do you think of the leadership he would bring? Is it still needed? Is it not needed but still helpful? Is it potentially a distraction upsetting the current trajectory midway through a season that is going well?
3) Leadership aside, would you consider bringing Williams back simply as a veteran addition and upgrade to the forward group?