Two seasons ago, I was early in noticing that Justin Faulk’s level of play defensively had fallen off. Initially, the decline in his play was overshadowed by this scoring and to some degree the fact that his trajectory was supposed to be that of a up and coming young defenseman.
With his contract due to end after the 2019-20 season and the off-season addition of two veteran defensemen, I predicted that Faulk would be traded this summer as part of a series of moves to revamp the roster. All indications are that the team tried to do exactly that. Faulk was a regular in the rumor mill all summer and seemingly was spared only because there was not a good return to be had.
Faulk started the 2018-19 season in his familiar position in a top 4 defense role except with a new partner in newly-acquired Calvin de Haan. Be it due to help from de Haan or due to Faulk just playing at a higher level, Faulk has rebounded nicely in 2018-19. His scoring has been modest, but significantly his defensive play has improved significantly such that he is back to being a legitimate top 4 defenseman.
Faulk’s improvement could swing someone one of two ways. First, one’s inclination could be not to trade Faulk now that he is playing well. But in my opinion, I think Faulk’s elevated play just represents the perfect opportunity to sell high on Faulk, relatively speaking at least.
Why I think this is the case is the subject of today’s Daily Cup of Joe.
Justin Faulk’s contract situation
Faulk is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2019-20 season. As such, if he is not part of the team’s long-term plans, he is on the clock for being traded to net something in return when he departs.
The Carolina Hurricanes’ salary structure
The primary reason that I figured Justin Faulk would be traded was his level of play defensively prior to this season. But the team’s moves last summer also had a big impact on where Faulk fits specifically into the team’s financial structure. With the addition of Calvin de Haan and Dougie Hamilton this past summer, the Hurricanes are effectively paying five top 4 defensemen. I actually debated whether the Hurricanes could make this blue line-heavy budget work recently, but especially if the team continues to spend less than the salary cap, it could prove challenging to build a strong enough forward group with some budget shifted to defense.
The logjam on the right side
Right now, the Hurricanes have four right shot defensemen in their lineup. Faulk is one of three top 4 defensemen with Pesce and Hamilton, and the team also has a solid third pairing veteran Trevor van Riemsdyk. Trading a right shot defenseman would only decrease the bottom of the depth chart but has the potential to make an addition for the top half of the forward roster.
Related to the logjam on the right side, trading Faulk or another right shot defenseman could help the Hurricanes get Adam Fox under contract this summer. Fox, who was obtained in the trade with Calgary last summer, is having a phenomenal year offensively with Harvard. Part of the reason that Fox was available in that trade was because the Flames had been unable to get Fox to sign an NHL contract. Fox seemed to be on a path to graduate from college and become an unrestricted free agent. Fox is a junior right now, so if the Hurricanes are going to get him under contract, it would probably be this summer. Because of the teams of the collective bargaining agreement, the contract for a prospect like Fox is mostly fixed, so the Hurricanes really cannot entice Fox too much financially (except getting paid sooner). Without the ability to change financial terms, the biggest thing for Fox is seeing a fast path to the NHL. With four proven NHL defensemen on the roster include three top 4 right shot defensemen, the situation does not look promising for Fox which could impact his willingness to sign an NHL contract with the Hurricanes this upcoming summer. Trading Faulk could have some effect on Fox’s willingness to sign with the Hurricanes.
The need to improve at forward
The Hurricanes are playing well right now and winning which overshadows most deficiencies, but I still think the team could benefit significantly from adding another top 6 forward, ideally a playmaking center. Adding top half of the roster players in the NHL is not easy. Competition is intense in the free agent market such that most of the players signed their are overpriced. And not many teams will trade a higher-end player without getting a good roster player in return. As such, Faulk’s resurgence gives the Hurricanes and extra right shot defenseman and with it the potential to use a right shot defenseman as a bargaining chip.
The risk with Faulk
As much as I like the way Faulk has improved during the 2018-19 season, the risk-averse part of me thinks that the team should pounce on this opening. In my opinion, the biggest issue with Faulk during his struggles the past two seasons was a decrease in his quickness, acceleration and short gap coverage. He looks a step quicker to me in 2018-19. That is a positive, but I still think that Faulk lives close to the edge of being a step slow quickness-wise especially as he gets older. That is what has him in a different category than the other defensemen in my opinion and is part of why I do not just lump all of the right shot defensemen with a willingness to trade any of them.
Trying to make a hockey deal
Based on his play so far in 2018-19, I would not be desperate to trade Faulk to the highest bidder if the bids are not great. I would only be looking trade him in a deal that nets a good return. Fortunately for the Hurricanes, we are reaching that point in the season when defensemen are at a premium and right shot defensemen usually even more so.
I would make Faulk the centerpiece of offers that aim to add a forward with term on his contract.
Toronto continues to be interesting. The Maple Leafs ideally want to add a power forward to their lineup for the upcoming playoffs. The team has also been trying to upgrade its blue line for a couple years now. Could the Hurricanes pull off a blockbuster that sends both Justin Faulk and Micheal Ferland to Toronto? Could something like Faulk, Ferland and 5th-round draft pick net Kasperi Kapanen, a first-round pick and a medium grade prospect?
If Jonathan Huberdeau is truly available, I call Florida with Faulk and a second-round draft pick and consider adding modest futures to this deal until it gets done.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been tied to the Hurricanes here and there for a couple years now. Could there be a deal to be had there?
What say you Canes fans?
1) Where do you land on selling high on Justin Faulk versus just keeping him and watching what happens down the stretch?
2) If you are willing to trade Faulk, who would you be targeting in such a deal?