A 25-year-old defenseman just entering his prime seems like an unlikely asset to sell, right? The possibility became more concrete after Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman theorized that Carolina Hurricanes captain Justin Faulk could possibly be included in a deal for Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou. That specific deal is unlikely to come to pass, but what would a Faulk trade in general mean for the rest of the Hurricanes’ defense?
To start, the premise of trading Faulk is not absurd on its face. Faulk has heavily regressed from previous performance in the 2017-18 season.
Justin Faulk By Year
Faulk is at an interesting crossroads in his career. The Canes have an important need in which they need to fill: that of a first-line center. But putting Faulk on the block to make that pickup raises a big question: is moving Faulk, the Canes’ most experienced defenseman, to fulfill that need worth the hit to an already relatively green corps?
It’s no secret the Canes are a young team on the back end. After Ron Hainsey’s departure to Toronto, Faulk became the veteran of the group in terms of NHL service time, and now has 457 games of NHL experience under his belt. The player with the most experience behind Faulk is Noah Hanifin, who is in his third season and has less than half of Faulk’s experience, with 216 games played in his career. If Faulk was to be moved, a logical choice would be to use WHL standout Jake Bean to fill a roster spot or add a veteran defenseman to fill the void - and Bean does absolutely nothing to improve the experience level.
Experience on the back end pays dividends for playoff-bound teams. For example, in last year’s conference finals, all four teams involved had at least one defenseman with 600 games of NHL experience, and three of the four conference finalists had four players who were approaching or just sbove 900: Trevor Daley (894) and Hainsey (907) with the Penguins, Dion Phaneuf (902) with the Senators, and Kevin Bieksa (749) with the Ducks. Each played great complimentary roles in the playoffs and were vital in their team’s success. The Predators were led by P.K. Subban at 500 games, but still had a top-four that averaged 396 games played.
While the Hurricanes may not be destined for a conference finals appearance, any playoff run will need a veteran force on the back end. As of right now, Faulk is still that guy. For a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in eight seasons and doesn’t want to make it nine, leadership is a hot commodity. Outside of Cam Ward, Jeff Skinner and Faulk are two of the longest tenured members of the team. Keeping a familiar face who has been around the franchise as the Canes push for a playoff spot is much better than replacing him with a rookie defenseman or a journeyman from Charlotte. Moving Faulk in a panic move after a rough season is uncharacteristic of Ron Francis and would hurt the franchise in the immediate future.
Trading a captain doesn’t happen often in the NHL, but it has happened recently to defenseman that are captains. The infamous Shea Weber for Subban trade and Phaneuf being sent to the Ottawa Senators stand out as two examples. Those trades, however, were made for cap reasons and to enable the growth of young players. Faulk is at a very reasonable $4.83 million cap hit for the next two seasons and the Canes are second in the NHL in terms of cap space. There’s no reason Faulk would be pushed out for financial reasons, especially with new owner Tom Dundon apparently ready to open the checkbook.
The only way in which Faulk is moved is for a first-line center and with none on the block, a trade doesn’t seem inevitable at this point. If that opportunity opens up in the summer, Francis will certainly take a harder look.
The Canes signed Justin Williams last summer to provide veteran leadership among the forwards. For better or worse, Faulk is that player for the defense corps at the moment. A trade might make sense from a hockey perspective, but the Canes need to be careful to replace Faulk’s experience somehow if they do pull the trigger. Otherwise, that lack of experience will be exposed in short order come playoff time.