Carolina Hurricanes’ Justin Williams on 2018-19 season: ‘We played well, we played hard, we played for each other’
The Carolina Hurricanes’ oldest player, and their youngest, both talked about the future Monday.
Justin Williams, team captain, 37 years old, was freshly shaven and freshly energized, the wear and tear of three rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs no longer so apparent.
Andrei Svechnikov, 19 years old, again was fresh-faced, his meager attempt at a playoff beard gone as the Canes held their end-of-season media interviews at PNC Arena and packed up to leave.
Williams is not ready to answer the biggest offseason question: will he retire, or does he want to sign a new contract and return to a team he led so well wearing the “C.”
“I haven’t made a decision yet,” he said. “You don’t do those things irrationally. You put thought into it and put perspective. You find out inside whether you have the full capabilities emotionally and physically to do it.
“I put everything I had into this year. If I have everything again, I’m going to be here but I haven’t gotten that far yet. It will probably be a ways down the road before that decision is made.”
That’s what Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour wants. He has said he hoped Williams would wait a month or so before deciding if three Stanley Cup rings, 1,399 regular-season and playoff games and the personal and professional satisfaction of helping the Canes reach the playoffs and gain the Eastern Conference finals were enough for one career.
“Ultimately it will come down to a family decision and to me and I’ll see if I can give 100 percent,” Williams said. “You can’t go 85 percent. You can’t go 90 percent, You’ve got to go all the way in if you go.”
Williams has always played it that way -- with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Canes, the Los Angeles Kings and the Washington Capitals before returning to Carolina again in July 2017, signing a two-year, $9 million contract as a free agent.
Williams’ made his NHL debut for the Flyers in 2000, which happens to be Svechnikov’s birth year, a fact the two have jokingly discussed. While Williams was serving as a team captain for the first time this season, Svechnikov was breaking into the league at 18, with so much expected from the power forward, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft.
Svechnikov’s first season ended with 20 goals -- all at even strength -- and 37 points. He played 82 games and then made an immediate impact in his first Stanley Cup playoff game, scoring two goals in a 4-2 loss to the Caps in Game 1 of their first-round series.
“It was my first year, I thought it would be hard and it was hard,” Svechnikov said Monday. “Early in the year I had some good games. It was emotional. And then it was pretty hard. The game was faster, more physical. It teach me a lot.
“I felt pretty good in the last three months, four months. I felt I was able to play my game and just do my job. Now I want to get better.”
Asked about the next step in his development, Svechnikov said, “Improve everything. My shot, my skating, my stick handle. just trying to be faster, I’ll try to do that this summer.”
Svechnikov had a way-too-busy spring and summer of 2018. There was the NHL combine and then the draft in June, followed by the Canes’ prospect development camp after the draft. There were interview sessions and lot of travel and he did not spend as much time at home in Russia as he wanted.
Svechnikov noted he did take some boxing lessons last summer in Russia. He laughed when told he should ask for a refund given the way the Caps’ Alex Ovechkin knocked him out with one punch in their fight in Game 3 of the first-round series at PNC Arena.
“Maybe I need to change coach,” he said, smiling, before adding, “No, no, he was good.”
That’s the way things went Monday as the Canes, who have held their exit interviews in early April since 2009, were able to keep things light and discuss highlights of a season few expected. “It’s a lot better than talking about what went wrong again,” Jordan Staal said.
Sebastian Aho again said he hopes to sign a long-term contract with the Canes but offered no further comment on where the negotiations stand. Curtis McElhinney said he has not been told by management what their goaltending plans are for next year -- McElhinney and Petr Mrazek are due to become unrestricted free agents on July 1 if not signed.
Brind’Amour and general manager Don Waddell will hold a joint press conference Tuesday to answer those kinds of questions. That should be more pleasant than in past years. too.
“We expected to do good things,” Williams said of the season. “Maybe the outside world said, “Wow, where did they come from?’ but it’s a powerful thing when you can get everyone together and doing the same thing. I’m absolutely proud of where we were to where we are.”