Right before Justin Williams joined a Zoom call with the media to discuss his new role as special adviser to Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell, he was talking to former teammate, longtime friend and current Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour.
In a way, Williams — who retired last in October after a 19-season NHL career that saw him win three Stanley Cups and carve out a place as one of the game’s top clutch players — had just leapfrogged Brind’Amour in the organizational hierarchy to a position at the side of the coach’s boss, Waddell.
“I’m certainly not his boss,” Williams said of Brind’Amour with a laugh. “He’s definitely still mine.”
In truth, Williams’ standing in the organization — his close relationship with owner Tom Dundon, the respect he has among current and former players, his status as one of the fanbase’s favorite sons, and his bond with Brind’Amour — will allow him to transcend a slotted position and role with the team. He will do a bit of anything and everything. And that’s exactly how he wants it.
“Building a hockey team is something I feel like I have some pretty good interest in, so I’ll be keeping my ears open and my eyes open at how these decisions come about,” Williams said. “And, as I said, I’ll be learning as much as I can.”
Waddell quickly interjected that perhaps he could throw Williams right into the deep end.
“I want to put them into the first contract negotiation I can, show him all the pain he and his agent put me through,” Waddell joked. “So we’ll get him broken in right away.”
While Williams officially stepped away from the game nearly four months ago, he hasn’t been out of touch.
“I have a very good relationship with Tom Dundon and Don Waddell,” Williams said. “We chat quite frequently, so I don’t think too much is going to change other than obviously having the title and being employed by the Hurricanes. … I’m just going to do my best to learn from the guys that are very, very well experienced.”
Waddell made clear that one way Williams can be an immediate asset is by using his reputation around the league to be a go-between with other players.
“If Justin Williams picks up the phone and calls a player, he’s going to get called back, for sure,” Waddell said. “So there’s just a lot of things that he can do for us that will be something that we’re missing right now.”
Williams started his career in Philadelphia, where he was a first-round pick in 2000, and was traded to Carolina in January 2004, winning his first Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Hurricanes. He won two more titles in Los Angeles — including winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2014 — and then made a two-year stop in Washington before closing his career with the Hurricanes the last three seasons.
That return to the Hurricanes was made, in part, because of the desire of Williams and his family to make Raleigh their home after his playing career was over. Now, he can start his post-playing career in the same city.
“This is where it is,” Williams said. “This is where I call my home for now, and this is the team that I want to help.”
Williams will still have some of the pleasures of retirement — he’ll continue to help coach the youth hockey teams on which his son and daughter play, and added that he won’t be “punching in the hours that Don Waddell punches in.” That said, his “end game” is bringing another championship to Raleigh.
“I’m excited just to be a little bit a part and learn, learn as best I can.”