Now 3 days from the NHL trade deadline, the rumblings, rumors and some amount of plain BS is picking up.
Long-time Edmonton Journal writer Jim Matheson just suggested on Twitter that Justin Faulk was available and that the Hurricanes wanted a center. As far as an Edmonton/Carolina connection, the next leap is obviously a deal with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Faulk as the primary components.
I wrote recently about the possibility of trading Faulk in the Matt Duchene context.
And I went on a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins rant at the beginning of last summer that had him near the top of my wish list. (That was also the post that called the Teuvo Teravainen/Bryan Bickell trade 1 week before it happened.)
And it is the season for trade speculation, so I am at least intrigued and curious.
For me it really comes down to evaluating and projecting Justin Faulk. I have been hard on Faulk all season, rightfully in my opinion. The offensive part of his game has been fine even though his power play scoring is down. But defensively, especially when pressed to play against other teams’ best players on the road, he has struggled defensively where is a massive minus 24 in only 26 games.
The hard decision and the reason Ron Francis is paid the big bucks is to look into the future and decide what is a reasonable estimation for Justin Faulk’s play going forward.
The 2016-17 version of Justin Faulk
Is is reasonable to believe that the 2016-17 version is what one should rightfully expect going forward? For me, the 2016-17 version of Justin Faulk is a good offensive #5 who ideally would be paired with a solid stay-home #6. He might be able to sub in the top 4 in the event of injuries, but the 2016-17 season version of Faulk is not even close to being a good regular in that role on a good team. And his salary (not cap hit because that does not matter much for the Canes) is $5.8 million per season for 3 more years. His cap hit is only $4.8 million because of his back-loaded contract which is irrelevant for the Hurricanes but would be appealing to a trade partner who is cap-constrained.
It hurts to say it, but if you told me that the 2016-17 version of Justin Faulk is what I should expect for the next 3 years of his contract, I would trade him in a second for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and even much less if necessary.
But does Justin Faulk have a higher gear?
But the burning question that Ron Francis must answer is whether Faulk has a higher gear going forward. There are reasons to legitimately believe that is possible. He is coming off a disjointed summer preparing for the season after missing the tail end of the 2015-16 and then about 2 months of summer training with a leg injury. Could a regular summer right the ship? He spent the vast majority of this season paired with Ron Hainsey who I think is just a step past his days in the top 4. Could a higher-end partner of the stay-home variety be just the support he needs? And still at only 24 years old, is it possible, he just simply needs to rebound?
Important to note with Faulk is that he is NOT a player trying to play up to a higher level that he has never reached. When paired with Andrej Sekera, Faulk, despite being only 22 years old, was very much a legitimate top 4 or even top 2 defenseman who importantly was solid on the defensive side of the puck. So it is not like he needs to find some higher level that might not even be possible. With Faulk, it is more a matter of putting it all together. If he could magically take his power play scoring from the 2015-16 season, add his growing game offensively at even strength from 2016-17 and pull in his defensive play with Andrej Sekera from 2014-15, Justin Faulk has the potentialt to be a top 10 defenseman in the entire league.
The hard evaluation point for Ron Francis
And therein lies the challenging situation for Ron Francis to evaluate. Right now, Justin Faulk is not a player with a clear value and role going forward. The range between the high end and low end of what is possible for Faulk is massive, so massive that there could be a significant profit or loss to be had on any trade that values him somewhere in the middle.
Getting even a fair return for Faulk right now could prove to be a horrible decision if he puts it all together and becomes the #1 defenseman that every team covets. At the same time, getting fair value for Faulk right now could prove to be brilliant if the defensive part of Faulk’s game never really returns, and the circa 2016-17 Faulk is what you get going forward.
Expansion draft makes this a June deal
As exciting as it is for people to throw out deals like this for the trade deadline, I think the vast majority of big deals for players with term on their contract are much more likely June events. In the case where a team will need to automatically expose another good player because of an acquisition, the value received in return is much less. Not saying this is the deal, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s consider a simple Faulk for Nugent-Hopkins deal straight up. In such a deal, Edmonton loses Nugent-Hopkins and gains Faulk but very significantly, there is a second transaction that happens in June. By losing Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton gets to protect another forward, so they basically add that player back to their lineup because of the Faulk trade. But they also have a problem on defense only being able to protect 3 of Larsson, Sekera, Klefbom and Faulk. (There is a possibility of protecting 4 defensemen, but then Edmonton would need to expose even more forwards, so that might/might not help.)
Shorter version is that I would be very surprised to see a team with 3 good defensemen make a pricey trade to add a fourth before the expansion draft comes and goes. This applies to Edmonton and also a good number of other teams with depth on the blue line.
Regardless, these are the kind of tough decisions that can catapult teams forward or cause the to lurch backward. And it also something to watch closely over the next few days and maybe even more so in June when a broader trade market opens up.