July 01, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Mr. Game 7 is returning to the Carolina Hurricanes with the goal of leading them to another Game 1.

The Hurricanes opened free agency Saturday by bringing back 35-year-old forward Justin Williams on a two-year deal worth $9 million.

Williams, a key member of their 2006 Stanley Cup champion team, will make $5 million this season and $4 million in 2018-19.

The 2014 playoff MVP had 100 points combined the past two years with Washington, and after winning the Cup with the Hurricanes went on to win it twice more with Los Angeles.

Now Williams - who earned the ''Mr. Game 7'' nickname for his 7-1 career record in them - will try to help Carolina snap the NHL's longest active playoff drought at eight years.

''You have to go through trying years and failure before you get to your goal. ... It's time to climb the ladder and get relevant,'' Williams said. ''I really like this team, I like where it's going and I think you can ask anyone within the NHL. ... They are a tough, tough team to play against, and I experienced that playing for Washington, and I want to help in any way I can to get this team to where it should be.''

Williams certainly brings the voice of experience to a young group. The only player remaining from Williams' first stint with the team is presumptive backup goalie Cam Ward, while the captain of that team, Rod Brind'Amour, is now an assistant coach.

''I think he's still shown he can score goals, so we expect him to score some goals for us,'' general manager Ron Francis said. ''I think he's going to have a huge influence in the locker room and get those guys to understand what it takes to be successful.''

The unquestioned highlight of Williams' first run with Carolina came during that season. He played 82 regular-season games for the first time, established career highs with 45 assists and 76 points, added 31 goals and scored the most important goal in club history - the Cup-clinching, empty-net goal in Game 7 against Edmonton.

Carolina traded Williams to Los Angeles in 2009, and he helped the Kings hoist the Cup in 2012 and '14, earning a Conn Smythe Trophy in the process before signing with the Capitals two years ago.

''It's a fit for your family. It's opportunity to win. It's familiarity with players and coaches, and it's certainly your role on the team and how you fit in,'' Williams said, adding that Carolina ''hit all of them.''

The Hurricanes also handed out one-year, two-way deals to three lower-tier free agents: Goalie Jeremy Smith and minor-league defensemen Brenden Kichton and Dennis Robertson.

Smith will make $750,000 in the NHL or $225,000 in the minors. He played in 10 games last season with Colorado, going 1-6-1 with a 3.54 GAA. Kichton will make $700,000 with the Hurricanes or $235,000 in the minors. Robertson's salary will be $650,000 in the NHL or $100,000 in the AHL. Neither player skated in the NHL last season.

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