Justin Williams won't be with an NHL team to start the upcoming season, but he's also not officially closing the door on his playing career just yet. Williams announced Monday that he will "step away from the game" ahead of the 2019-20 season, citing uncertainty about his commitment to hockey.
"This is the first time in my life that I've felt unsure of my aspirations with regards to hockey," Williams said in a press release. "For as long as I can remember, my whole offseason until this point has been hockey and doing what was necessary to prepare for the upcoming season. Because of my current indecision, and without the type of mental and physical commitment that I'm accustomed to having, I've decided to step away from the game.
"It's important to me that the focus of attention is on the current, very talented group the Carolina Hurricanes have assembled, as they prepare to build on the momentum and growth we established last season."
Williams, who will turn 38 in October, has spent the last two seasons serving as captain of the Hurricanes. The veteran winger played all 82 regular season games last year, scoring 23 goals and adding 30 assists up front for the Canes -- his highest single-season point total since 2011-12. The team qualified for the playoffs for the first time in a decade before losing in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The star has spent 18 seasons in the NHL, playing for four different franchises -- the Hurricanes, Capitals, Kings and Flyers. He has tallied 312 goals and 786 points in 1,244 career regular season games while also establishing himself as a clutch performer in the postseason.
Not only has Williams raised the Stanley Cup three times (once with the Hurricanes in 2016 and twice with the Kings, in 2012 and 2014) but he also won the Conn Smythe in '14. He's earned the nickname "Mr. Game Seven" due to his timely performances in do-or-die playoff games, recording seven goals and 15 points in 15 career Game 7s.
Williams' contract with Carolina expired after last season and his future remained up in the air throughout the summer, though there seemed to be interest from Carolina in bringing him back for at least another season. The winger can clearly still produce at the NHL level, but he's also not ready to commit to another season just yet.
As such, he'll step away from hockey for the time being, but it certainly sounds like he may be open to a return down the line, whether it be during this upcoming season or ahead of next season.