For anyone catching up, a menu of previous player (and also coaching and GM) report cards can be found at the bottom of the article.
Justin Faulk’s starting point for the 2016-17 season
During a 2015-16 season that saw the transformation of the Hurricanes’ blue to youth accelerate rapidly with the drafting of Noah Hanifin and then the early rise of Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk was suddenly the young leader of an even younger group. His individual season was somewhat separate from the transformation. He had a limited run with Jaccob Slavin and logged a few shifts here and there with Noah Hanifin, but for the most part Faulk was in a familiar role as a first pairing defenseman and with a familiar partner in Ron Hainsey.
Faulk’s 2015-16 season was one of multiple story lines. Out of the gate he launched into a torrid power play goal scoring run, scoring 12 power play goals (all of his goals to that point) in his first 30 games. His even strength play was mixed. He and partner Ron Hainsey were just ‘meh’ defensively. The second half of the season was even more of a mixed bag. Faulk’s scoring finally slowed in February and then an injury, attempted return and trip back to the injured list made for a disjointed second half of the season.
Faulk entered the offseason having added ‘big power play goal scorer’ to his list of achievements as he looked toward the 2016-17 season aiming to put it all together and be the #1 defenseman for a young and improving blue line.
He also had an injury to put behind him. Midway through the summer, Coach Bill Peters’ made comments to the effect that Justin Faulk had recovered and was on course for training camp. Most newsworthy about the comment to me was that it highlighted the fact that Faulk’s leg injury recovery was slow and that his summer had been impacted.
Justin Faulk’s 2016-17 season with the Carolina Hurricanes
Faulk entered training camp for the 2016-17 season on schedule, without physical limitations and expected to be the #1 defenseman who was leading a young group. He started the season with Jaccob Slavin but was quickly reunited with familiar partner Ron Hainsey in a shuffle when the team, the blue line and Faulk himself all started slowly. In an article on October 17, 2016 entitled, “Breaking down the Carolina Hurricanes’ breakdowns,” I detailed some of Faulk’s early-season struggles.
The front half of Faulk’s 2016-17 season resembled the same chunk of season from 2015-16 in that he was playing well and producing offensively but having issues defensively. During the run of schedule stretching through the holidays when the Hurricanes fell in the standings, the Hainsey/Faulk pairing was too often in the middle of goals against especially on the road where opposing coaches preyed on them with their top scoring lines. At the point when Faulk was out of lineup with an injury in late December, he was already minus 18 in only 18 road games. If you measured Faulk for winning and losing at even strength, at that point he was 2-13-3. Faulk did offset some of that with a plus 7 at home where Coach Bill Peters’ could more strategically pick match ups and situations for the Hainsey/Faulk pairing and steer them away from the other teams’ best.
The second half of the season was a monthly mixed bag for Faulk. After returning from a short injury layoff, he played somewhat better in January and February. He had his best month of the season in March after the Ron Hainsey trade when the team surged. During that stretch, he played with a mix of Hanifin and Slavin and looked better. April was rough again as it was for much of the team who seemed to run out of gas and collapse after more or less being eliminated from the playoff hunt.
When all was said and done for the 2016-17 season, Faulk had had another impressive season offensively with a big 17 goals and decent 37 points in 75 games. Interesting was the source of the goal scoring. Somewhere along the way, Faulk’s big slap shot went astray, and he struggled to hit the net and score with the man advantage down the stretch. Only 4 of his goals were power play tallies. But he generated offense and scored in bunches adeptly joining the rush and finishing with well-placed wrist shots often off the rush. But just like in 2015-16 the defensive half of Faulk’s game left much to be desired. He was not a leader defensively. He was too often sub-par even for a scoring second pairing defenseman as evidenced by his minus 18 that paled in comparison to the plus 23’s posted by Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce.
Grading Justin Faulk
Graded as: Veteran top 4 defenseman and leader of a young blue line.
Grade: B-. When I net it out, I give Faulk a B- in total based on significantly different grades offensively and defensively.
Offensively, Faulk nets an A. He actually was not that productive on the power play and left some points on the table there, but he was so incredibly good offensively at even strength. I wrote an article on March 28, 2017 that asked if Justin Faulk could challenge other-worldly Brent Burns for the defense scoring title in 2017-18 if he put it all together. If Faulk could pair what he did on the power play in 2015-16 with what he did at even strength in 2016-17, it is not inconceivable.
As detailed above, defensively was another story. Hainsey/Faulk just did not really work but because of lack of options or whatever else, they muddled through a big chunk of the 2016-17 season together. Important to note is that while a better partner might have helped, Faulk should not get a free pass while Hainsey is a scapegoat for the entire thing. Gone was Faulk’s quickness to the puck and aggressiveness that helped him initially establish his game in the NHL defensively. The result was too regularly allowing good players too much time and space, and put simply that led to too many goals against.
So when I average the good with the bad, I get a B-. The goal scoring was elite level for a defenseman. The offense in total was good. But the Hurricanes needed Faulk to anchor and drive one of the team’s top 2 defense pairings in 2016-17, and in my opinion he was unable to do so.
Looking forward to 2017-18
After a mixed but generally ‘not good enough’ 2016-17, Faulk will return for the 2017-18 season in a very similar role. He will again be asked to be a solid two-way top 4 defenseman who contributes offensively. With Ron Hainsey traded at the deadline, it is unclear if his partner will be Noah Hanifin rising up, Jaccob Slavin being split from Brett Pesce to balance the blue line or someone else added over the summer. Regardless of who he plays with, the goal for Faulk will be to put it all together. He has stretches of being more than good enough defensively, on offense at even strength and on the power play, but it takes all three together for him to find a higher gear and realize his potential of being one of the best on a good young blue line.
What say you Canes fans?
Am I being too hard on Justin Faulk defensively, or do you rate his 2016-17 season similarly at least on the defensive side of the puck?
To what degree would you attribute Faulk’s defensive struggles, especially on the road, to his situation including his partner Ron Hainsey versus simply his own play?
Finally, who would you like to see Faulk play with in 2017-18? Hanifin rising up? Slavin after splitting Slavin/Pesce to balance the blue line better? Or maybe a stable veteran added via trade or free agency to support Faulk and in the process solidify the second pairing?
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