Had it been Rod Brind’Amour’s call, Justin Williams would have been the Carolina Hurricanes’ captain last season.
It wasn’t Brind’Amour’s call -- not as a Canes assistant coach -- and Williams wasn’t the captain despite his experience, his leadership attributes, his three Stanley Cup rings.
But things have changed. Brind’Amour now is the head coach and on Thursday announced Williams would wear the “C” this season. Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk, who served as co-captains last season, have been named alternate captains.
“I’m very humbled and something I’ve very proud of and something that I don’t take lightly,” Williams said.
Brind’Amour told the team of the decision in a meeting before the Canes’ first on-ice practices of training camp at PNC Arena. Not that it came as a surprise to anyone.
“Leadership is a big part of any success of a team, I think,” Brind’Amour said. “and the best forms of leadership are earned and I don’t think anybody in here would disagree that he hasn’t earned the right to be the leader of this hockey club.
“This is the easiest decision I’ve ever had to make. He checks off all the list of things that makes a good leader. Comes to the rink every day, plays the same way, great person. And at the end of day he knows how to win.”
Williams, 36, returned to the Hurricanes in July 2017 as a coveted free agent, signing a two-year, $9 million contract. He was a tie to the Canes’ best moments as a franchise, the 2006 Stanley Cup run, and had earned a reputation as “Mister Game 7” in the Stanley Cup playoffs as a clutch performer in the Los Angeles Kings’ two championships.
After the trade of former Canes captain Eric Staal, Peters decided to use four alternate captains -- Staal, Faulk, Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask -- and not have a designated captain in 2016-17. Many, including Brind’Amour, expected Peters to name Williams the captain last season.
“That’s why we got him here,” Brind’Amour said Thursday.
Instead, Peters went with Staal and Faulk as co-captains, and Jeff Skinner as alternate captain, in an unwieldy grouping that Williams has acknowledged surprised him and one that Faulk said Thursday never felt right.
“I don’t know that we thought having co-captains was the best situation,” Faulk said. “I’m not sure many people did. That’s obviously a weird situation with how things normally work in the National Hockey League. I think it’s better to have one guy and a couple of assistants. That way it’s a clear message.”
Staal said soon after returning to Raleigh that he was willing to give up the “C,” if Brind’Amour wanted a change, and would remain a part of the team’s leadership core with or without being a captain.
Of Williams’ selection, Staal said Thursday, “There’s no more deserving player. Obviously he has been a great leader for a long time and had different roles throughout his career. I think he fit a great role here and will be a leader for a young group that can do a lot of great things.
“I know my role doesn’t change. Obviously the letter on the shoulder does but that doesn’t bother me. What I’m worried about is winning games and however best I can do that is what I’m going to do.”
Forward Teuvo Teravainen called Williams “the right person to lead us.”
“ He has the character and the work ethic and is a great guy in the locker room,” Teravainen said. “He can help our young team to move forward. A team needs a leader who can bring you together. ‘Willy’ is that type of person.”
Brind’Amour managed to chuckle later, saying, “The first decision I think I made is going to be one everyone goes, ‘Hey, good job.’”