Today’s Daily Cup of Joe continues building the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes roster by making a couple of the difficult decisions facing the team this summer.
Despite crediting Justin Faulk for have a pretty strong 2018-19 season, I would trade him this summer. I make this decision not because Faulk is not a good player but rather simply based on risk versus reward and also the team’s broader roster and needs.
Risk versus reward
Faulk is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2019-20 season. Based on continued escalation of prices in the free agent market and scarcity of available quality defensemen especially who are right shots, I would expect Faulk’s contract to cost $7-8 million per season and likely for at least four years, quite possibly more. Faulk will be 28 years old when the contract starts and 32 or 33 years old when it ends. Even in the midst of a strong season overall, Faulk still had a few games in which he struggled defending speed. In an NHL that is speed above all else, I think Faulk teeters right on the line of being mobile enough to defense top-tier forwards which makes his next contract more risky than most realize.
The roster situation
As noted above, higher-end defensemen are hard to come by in the NHL. So even given the risk that I suggested above, if the Hurricanes were short on top 4 defensemen, they might be inclined to take that risk for lack of better options. But the Hurricanes are five or arguably even six (if you want to count Trevor van Riemsdyk) deep on the blue line. The team is not desperate for help on the blue line — quite the opposite actually. There could be short-term issues with the long-term injuries to Calvin de Haan and Trevor van Riemsdyk, but once healthy the Hurricanes have five top 4 defensemen, another good #5 who could fill in higher in van Riemsdyk and then two young players who seem capable of contributing in different ways in Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean. Especially with budget issue maybe only two years out when Andei Svechnikov must be re-signed, I think the time is now to make the difficult choice and cut salary on the blue line by parting ways with Faulk.
Some will legitimately point out that the Hurricanes could be shorthanded early in the season if de Haan and van Riemsdyk are not yet available, but that can be dealt with by adding an inexpensive depth defenseman who can fill out the bottom part of the blue until de Haan and van Riemsdyk return.
Why Justin Faulk and not someone else?
Over the past year and a half or so, every time that Faulk’s name comes up in trade rumors, a contingent immediately suggests trading one of the other defensemen. Quite often, Brett Pesce and Justin Faulk seem to be discussed as if they are equal, interchangeable parts. I do not see that as even remotely close to being true. First, if one assumes that Faulk’s next contract comes in at $8 million per year, that is double Pesce’s $4 million salary.
But more simply than the financials, Pesce is just a better defenseman than Faulk and also three years younger.
More directly, I would not consider swapping Pesce in Faulk’s spot. Pesce’s contract is just too advantageous, and he is just a better defenseman too.
The potential return
As a player who is an unrestricted free agent next summer, it seems unlikely that Faulk by himself would return a higher-end forward. More likely, I could see the Hurricanes packaging Faulk with some futures to land a higher-end forward with term on his contract.
The burning questions are twofold. First, is General Manager Don Waddell looking to unload Faulk why he still has value? What is the accessible value for Faulk in a trade?
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which you consider trading Justin Faulk? And if so, how aggressively would you be pursuing a deal?
2) Would you instead consider trading a different defenseman and then keeping Faulk?