Suddenly, the Carolina Hurricanes find themselves deep on the blueline. Rookies, Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin, and Brett Pesce each played significant minutes in all situations and each performed at a high level in most cases last season.
When head coach Bill Peters was asked at his end of season press conference, when was the last time three rookies stepped in and played so well and so often for an NHL team, his answer was "never".
"It's never been done."
In addition to those three rookies, highly rated prospects Haydn Fleury, Trevor Carrick, and Roland McKeown will each be making a case for themselves in next fall's training camp. And while Ryan Murphy has been slow to develop, the former 12th overall pick in the 2011 Draft should not be counted out as being the team's part-time powerplay specialist or puck-mover as a seventh defenseman.
Add in veterans Ron Hainsey and James Wisniewski, who are each signed for one more season, and the Carolina blueline for the 2016-17 season is not looking too shabby.
Did I forget anyone?
Oh yes, of course there is also Justin Faulk, who led the team by averaging over 24 minutes of ice time each game he played last season. That was almost a full two minutes more than any other teammate.
The alternate captain, who many say might very well be the future captain here, has been the team's only representative in the NHL All Star Game the past two seasons. He led all Carolina defensemen with 16 goals and came in fourth on the team overall with that total.
His 12 powerplay goals led the team in that category. Next closest was Jordan Staal with six.
Faulk was able to rack up those numbers even though he missed 18 games due to injury.
It's not surprising that one might hear rumors and rumblings from around the league about other teams wanting to acquire Carolina's top blueliner and there has been plenty of that, especially coming out of Edmonton. But you do not hear much of that coming from anyone in Carolina, where some might figure the defenseman is on the no-touch list.
Over the weekend, columnist Luke DeCock wrote a very long, but interesting "State of the Canes" piece with some questions and answers.
In the article, he starts out explaining his previous column about the Karmanos lawsuit and it seems he pretty much confirms what I mentioned in my previous article, that the lawsuit does not necessarily mean doom and gloom for the franchise, but it is hard for an outsider to tell for sure.
Later in the article, he was asked if he would trade Faulk for a 30 goal a year forward and he followed up with this.
He's 24 and is probably close to maxing out his game – which is very good. If he continues playing like this, he's going to be a perennial Norris Trophy candidate, and if he does continue to improve, he may win the thing before his career is over. He's likely to end up somewhere between a No. 1 defenseman for a bad team and a No. 2-3 defenseman for a good team, and he may still have untapped reservoirs of leadership we haven't seen from him yet.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have Slavin and Pesce with Hadyn Fleury and Trevor Carrick not far behind.
All of which is a long way around to this point: If you had to give up Faulk as part of a deal for an impact, All-Star caliber forward, you could do it as long as you got a 20-minute defenseman coming back the other way.
Could you, say, package Faulk and Elias Lindholm, whose development has stalled, and Ryan Murphy and a first-round pick for an elite center and a workhorse defenseman? Like, and I'm just spitballing here, Evgeni Malkin and Olli Maatta? Sign me up. (And Murphy's just a throw-in there; his only trade value is so some GM can say "he's a former first-round pick.")
I must say that with all due respect to DeCock, I could not disagree more. I think if this trade happened, it would set the Hurricanes back for years, much like the Jordan Staal trade did.
First of all, at age 24 I think there is still room for Faulk to improve and I believe he will do so. But most importantly, in my opinion the writer is placing way too much value on Malkin, who has missed an average of 20 games a year the past three seasons due to various injuries and who has not cracked 30 goals in over four seasons.
If anyone is maxed out it might very well be Malkin, who at age 29 is guaranteed $9.5 million per year until the 2021-22 season. On top of it, DeCock wants to throw in Elias Lindholm, Ryan Murphy, and a first round pick, if Pittsburgh includes Olli Maatta.
Granted, Murphy would be considered a throw-in, but I think it's too soon to give up on Lindholm and trade him at a low point in his production.
Anyway if we do want Malkin, Pittsburgh might be happy to drop his contract for a much lower price.
Another thing about Faulk, it does not seem practical for a goal-starved team to trade their top offensive threat on the blueline as well as their top overall weapon on the powerplay. You better make sure you replace those goals.
Personally, I would be much more open to one of Edmonton's hypothetical offers. For instance, Taylor Hall and their fourth overall for Faulk and our 13th overall?
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl's names are also brought up but I think you need more than one of them to replace the defenseman.
It's an interesting topic for conversation. What do you all think?