The Chicago Blackhawks top need this offseason still hasn’t been satisfied: acquiring a defenseman who can play in their top four. Reports surfaced last week that they were looking to trade for Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk, but wouldn’t accept the price of Brandon Saad in return.
Faulk remains on the Hurricanes and the Blackhawks still need a defenseman, so this trade remains a possibility. So, if it goes through, what exactly would Chicago be getting with Faulk?
For answers to that question and a few others, we turned to Brian LeBlanc, the managing editor at Canes County.
1. What would Faulk bring to the Blackhawks if acquired in a trade?
BL: You’d be getting a two-time Olympian, a three-time All-Star, and a player that for some inexplicable reason has fallen off his previous highs over the past two years. Not long ago, Faulk was the gold standard of Hurricanes defensemen, partnering with Andrej Sekera and later Ron Hainsey, players who shored up the defensive end and let Faulk roam free in the offensive zone. When Hainsey left, Faulk was cut adrift, and his play suffered as a result. Last season he was paired with any number of players: Haydn Fleury, Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin (to disastrous results) - and nothing seemed to work. It’s confounding, and yet...
2. It seems like Faulk has been the darling of the analytics community for some time, but has the eye test matched up with those numbers in the last few seasons?
BL: ...the numbers indicate a pretty good season, all things considered. But every time Faulk made a mistake last year, it seemed to end up in the back of the net. Faulk is a microcosm of what the Hurricanes were under Bill Peters: performances on the ice that belied the stats which said they should have been much better than they were. There were too many easy shots that didn’t really test opposing goaltenders, which inflated the numbers, drove shooting percentage down, and gave the Canes a ridiculously low PDO. True to form, Faulk sported a 96.8 PDO last year, a telling indicator that he couldn’t hit water from a boat - and that his goalie, whoever it was, did him no favors.
3. He’s Carolina’s captain, is just 26 and has a relatively friendly $4.83 million cap hit. So why would he be on the trade block?
BL: The reason he’s on the block is more to do with the feeling that the team needs a shakeup than anything else. The ill-conceived co-captaincy with Faulk and Jordan Staal was an experiment that should have never happened, and it went so badly that it’s likely neither will be a captain next year: Faulk because he’s no longer on the team, and Staal - through no fault of his own - giving way to Justin Williams, who Rod Brind’Amour has all but named the Canes’ next captain. The Canes know that Faulk’s reputation may precede him a bit, and it only takes one GM to get distracted by the big shiny things of his affordable contract and impressive CV. If you’re Don Waddell, there’s no reason not to dangle it out there and see what the offers are. And, like with Jeff Skinner, if you don’t get back what you want, then you simply hang onto him and move forward.
4. What is Carolina’s biggest need that they’d hope to satisfy in a trade?
BL: They need goals, in short, and doubly so if Skinner departs. A lot of hopes are being pinned on the shoulders of Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov, and understandably so, but the Canes could really use a playmaking center who can set up the likes of Necas, Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen and can also contribute a decent number of goals to boot. The Canes were reported to be sniffing around Ryan O’Reilly before his trade to St. Louis, and that fit made a lot of sense. There was a thought at one time that the Canes could move Faulk to pick up a goalie, but what the team has said over the past couple of weeks indicates that Scott Darling and Petr Mrazek will be the tandem next season. They certainly don’t need defensemen after signing Calvin de Haan. So that leaves forwards, and their most glaring weakness is at center. That’s what I’d expect the team to target in a trade.