Williams’ absence, trade rumors loom over start of Hurricanes camp

Carolina is looking to build on its trip to last season’s Eastern Conference Final

Last week’s signing of defenseman Jake Gardiner to a four-year contract has left the long-term future of Hurricanes blueliner Justin Faulk in doubt. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — Last Wednesday’s Carolina Hurricanes media day wasn’t so much about who was there but rather who wasn’t.

Justin Williams, the team’s 37-year-old captain, had announced two days earlier that he was still unsure about his future on the ice and would “step away” — but not officially retire — from hockey.

So, naturally, he was a big topic of discussion.

“He’s going to be missed,” goalie Petr Mrazek said. “He’s a great teammate for us, and I know we’re going to miss him. But he knows what’s best for him … and I wish him luck.”

There is, however, still a chance Williams could return later in the season if his fire to play is not yet fully extinguished.

“We leave the door open for him,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Certain players, I guess, earn that right to have that little bit of freedom and he’s definitely one of them.”

Jordan Martinook added: “When you lose a guy that was a major part of turning the culture in here, every guy in this room might have to take a baby-step forward.”

Also missing from Wednesday’s festivities was defenseman Justin Faulk. In and of itself, that wasn’t all that alarming — plenty of the team’s players were not at PNC Arena as they trickled into Raleigh from across the globe. But with contract talks stalled between the 27-year-old and the Hurricanes, trade talk that has seemed to follow the free-agent-to-be throughout his career again simmered.

Then last Friday’s surprise signing of defenseman Jake Gardiner to a four-year contract brought those Faulk rumors to a boil.

Suddenly Carolina’s defense — which seemed set after Calvin de Haan was traded to Chicago this offseason — was again crowded. The addition of Gardiner, the type of power play quarterback the team has lacked in recent seasons, made Faulk’s future with the team even murkier, and the team’s intention of dealing him floated to the surface Monday.

Team sources confirmed there is a deal in place with Anaheim that hinges on Faulk waiving his no-trade clause — the Ducks are among the 15 teams the Minnesota-born defenseman had blocked per his contract. Faulk’s decision could come down to whether or not he will sign a contract extension with Anaheim.

Faulk, now back in Raleigh, participated in player-led skates Tuesday, but declined to comment on the trade talks, the News & Observer’s Chip Alexander reported.

With the official start of training camp set for Thursday with physicals and testing followed by Friday’s first on-ice session, the Hurricanes are certainly hoping they can push the latest off-ice distractions into the background and get back to the business of building off last season’s trip to the Eastern Conference Final.

“The run was great, but now it’s over,” Mrazek said. “You have to look forward and it’s going to be, I believe, a special year for everyone.”