On Tuesday night, Justin Faulk was a non-attendee for a season ticket holder event. On Wednesday morning, he was mysteriously not on the ice for practice though he had not been noted as injured. And then a couple hours later it was announced that Justin Faulk and a fifth-round pick had been traded to the St. Louis blues for forward prospect and 2018 first-rounder Dominik Bokk, physical defenseman Joel Edmundson and a seventh-round draft pick.
The trade closes the book on the longest-tenured player on the Hurricanes roster, and I think finally completes the intended restart that the team tried to effect last summer.
What follows is a look at this deal on multiple levels
The final piece of work for effecting a restart
After Tom Dundon’s acquisition of the team early in 2018, the changeover was rapid and at times tumultuous. Before the 2018 NHL Playoffs were completed, the team had relieved General Manager Ron Francis and Head Coach Bill Peters of their duties. They were replaced from within by Don Waddell and Rod Brind’Amour respectively.
On June 8, 2018 before the 2018 NHL Draft, I wrote an article that used the term ‘harsh realities’ in discussing a number of key players. I stopped short of calling this a potential trade checklist for shaking up the culture for a restart, but that is what this article was. By the end of the summer 4 of 6 players discussed (Ward, Skinner, Hanifin, Lindholm) had been traded. Faulk would have been the fifth with only Jordan Staal remaining.
The changeover on the roster were even more significant. Added over the course of the summer were Jordan Martinook, Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, Petr Mrazek and Calvin de Haan. Add in waiver acquisition Curtis McElhinney and rookies Andrei Svechnikov, Warren Foegele and Lucas Wallmark and very nearly half of the roster changed over. Along the way, the roster climbed to five top 4 defensemen which seemed unlikely to be intentional for a team on a budget.
And those changes were not only at the depth level. Jeff Skinner was dealt for what the team could get given his full no-trade clause. And along the way, Justin Faulk’s name made repeated rounds through the trade rumor mill. He was discussed heavily leading up to the 2018 NHL Draft, intermittently throughout the summer and then again late in the summer. Out of decency, the team will never discuss it now, but there is significant evidence to suggest that a Faulk trade was part of the restart but that the team pulled up short when unable to get a fair return for Faulk.
Faulk deserves as much credit as the next guy for the team’s success in 2018-19, so theoretically the evaluation of his role on the team going forward was in a significantly different place entering the summer of 2019. But in the end, I think the initial assessment that he was not a necessary core part of the team coupled with what would be a risky long-term contract that started when he was 28 years old pretty quickly put management back on the same track as the previous summer.
Once again Faulk’s name arose leading up to the draft with some mention of team meeting with Faulk’s agent. But likely pretty quickly, the team made a more general decision not to commit to 5-7 years on Faulk’s next contract that starts when he turns 28 years old. Then just when it seemed possibly that Faulk would stay aboard for a team that needed him to play ‘win now’ hockey, the team signed Jake Gardiner to again push to five top 4 defensemen and set the wheels in motion to finish last summer’s work. From the point when Gardiner was added as a fifth top 4 defenseman, management seemed to chart a course quickly toward moving on from Justin Faulk.
The trade itself
In netting only a lower-tier defenseman who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, the return for Faulk seems modest. Some are comparing it to the Jeff Skinner trade under duress last summer. I do think the trade return was modest, but I think there are two key differences as compared to the Skinner trade. First, whereas the Skinner trade seemed to yield just a random pile of stuff in terms of futures, the Hurricanes obtained a higher-end prospect in Dominik Bokk. His mixed bag of a 2018-19 season and development in general might knock him off the high flier list. But he still has legitimate first-round potential, and Corey Pronman from The Athletic has him at #50 overall for NHL prospects which is not too far below the Canes 2019 first-rounder Ryan Suzuki. In addition to receiving a higher-end prospect, the Hurricanes also received a useful NHL roster player in Joel Edmundson. Edmundson averaged nearly 20 minutes of ice time during the regular season on a good (at least second half of the season) Blues team. I view him as a proven #4 maybe somewhat similar to Calvin de Haan and even with some of the same skill set. In deals like this no-trade clause issues and some time pressure, it can be hard to get maximum return. But at least in this case, the Hurricanes did net two useful components in the deal.
Justin Faulk and why it (in my opinon) was best to move on
As noted above, Justin Faulk had a strong rebound season in 2018-19 and every bit deserves his share of credit for the team’s success. But a key phrase there is ‘rebound season.’ In my opinion, Faulk was sub-par in both 2016-17 and also 2017-18 defensively. I was hard on Faulk two years back well before it became more commonplace and well before the rounds of trade rumors. I know we are not supposed to talk about plus/minus but matched with the eye test, the fact that the team was losing with Faulk on the ice was not random statistical bad luck. The struggles on the defensive side of the puck were overshadowed a bit by some goal scoring.
In my opinion and I think management’s too, I think Faulk’s ups and downs over the past couple years made for a poor risk/reward ratio for Faulk’s next contract. Faulk will be 28 when that contract starts and will be 35 when it ends. Especially for a player whose struggles in my opinion were in part to playing right on the edge of the quickness/acceleration line for an ever faster NHL, I think the risk that too many of those seven years are bad is just too high for the cost and term. While I do agree that the team would be better with Faulk than without him specifically for 2019-20, I just would not be willing to commit to seven years after that.
At a simple level, Joel Edmundson is a proven, veteran top 4 defenseman. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, so there are no guarantees on his longevity in a Hurricanes uniform, but he is actually a pretty good fit for some of what the Hurricanes need on the blue line with Faulk’s departure. Edmundson is not relevant for replacing Faulk on the power play but with Faulk’s ratio to volume of shots and focus to actual goals, better might be to go a different direction anyway. Jake Gardiner brings more of a puck distribution/playmaking component for the point, and the team does still have Dougie Hamilton and a decent group of forwards as potential trigger men. But what Edmundson can do is replace Faulk on the penalty kill. He can also add a bit of snarl and toughness that in general the team is lacking based on the summer’s personnel changes. Edmundson reminds me a bit of Calvin de Haan as a defense-leaning, scoring-lite defenseman who maybe will not wow with highlights but is proven and capable in a top 4 role. In short Edmundson, fills a couple needs and gets the Hurricanes back up to five top 4 defensemen even with Faulk’s departure.
I know only what I have read about him, so I will not pass detailed judgment. As a first-round draft pick in 2018, Bokk adds another higher-end prospect to the Hurricanes’ group. He is a right shot who has skill that easily projects to the NHL. He gets mixed reviews for consistency, constant effort level and other things that often plague young prospects. There are no guarantees with players at his age or stage of development, but Bokk has a high ceiling and is a higher-end addition to the Hurricanes prospect pool.
Reconsidering the blue line for the 2019-20 season
Even with Faulk’s departure, the Hurricanes blue line is deep. I would expect the team to start with Slavin/Hamilton and Gardiner/Pesce as the top 4. Each pairing has a mix of a solid stay-home type with a player who can be more of a rover. Edmundson adds another option for a top 4 defenseman in the event of an injury or just the need to reinforce the group. With veteran van Riemsdyk also in the mix, the team can ice a very capable and experienced third pairing if it chooses. A potentially rising Fleury makes those last two slots a competition and Forsling and Bean make for great depth.
Some might think that there could be one more trade coming with the volume of depth on the Hurricanes’ blue line. I do think it is possible that the Hurricanes deal someone like Forsling to clear out a player who could fall below the NHL depth chart but must clear waivers to go to the AHL. But my best guess is that the Hurricanes will not be in hurry to trade Edmundson. Rather, I think the team gained an appreciation for being deep on the blue line in 2018-19 and is now set to go the same route in 2019-20.
With Justin Williams stepping away from the game and Justin Faulk gone via trade, the Hurricanes now only have Jordan Staal remaining from the 2018-19 leadership team. I was in the minority per the poll in the article in believing that Sebastian Aho is ultimately destined to lead this team and that given the circumstances maybe starting now. The logical choice would seem to be Jordan Staal. Faulk’s departure now has two open spots that could be filled by next-generation leaders like Aho or Slavin or maybe just one of those and someone like Martinook.
Regardless, the team that showed heart, resiliency, guts and whatever other intangibles you want to list in finally fighting through adversity to make the playoffs will almost start anew leadership-wise. I do not see Justin Faulk individually as necessarily as tough to replace as Williams, but the lack of experience in a formal leadership role is significant.
The brutal part of the business
The thing that hit me first a couple weeks back considering a possible Justin Faulk trade in detail was how seemingly unfair it was. Faulk endured the down years for the franchise and did so in a way that was admirable. He was easily one of the most deserving players when the team finally returned to the playoffs last Spring. And other than wanting market value or close for his next contract there were no indications that his preference was to leave. Yet, the team seemed to make it pretty clear recently that he was not intended to be part of the long-term core. So after seven years of waiting for the team to improve and finally realizing it, Faulk is gone just like that. I guess it comes with the territory in the hockey business, but it still seems unfair.
As I post this there are already about 30 comments below. I look forward to reading everyone else’s opinions on the deal over the next day or so.