In 2019-20, it was talk du jour in St. Louis Blues country of the laughable deal general manager Doug Armstrong made in September 2019, trading fan favorite Joel Edmundson (with youngster Dominik Bokk) to acquire journeyman defenseman Justin Faulk.
Who? That was the question Blues fans were asking. Talk radio was ablaze with chatter of how the Blues missed the boat on this deal. Why would they send their beloved champion, Eddy, to the hinterlands of Raleigh? For … Justin Faulk?
Faulk’s journey to St. Louis came after the Blues won the Stanley Cup and cut a deal with the Canes, sending Edmundson and Bokk to the Canes. Edmundson was integral in the team’s Stanley Cup run, and was very popular with fans. He had scored some key playoff goals and was also a steadying influence on the defensive line – as much as a player can be expected to. Faulk, a relative unknown to the St. Louis fan base when he arrived, suffered some growing pains his first year playing behind then-captain Alex Pietrangelo.
The Blues coaching staff understood Faulk’s dilemma and, if anything, were patient with him. They knew the quality of the player they were getting. What they didn’t know, however, was how crucial Faulk would be to the defense this season – which saw devastating injuries to Carl Gunnarsson, Jay Bouwmeester, the forechecking Alex Steen, and later, Colton Parayko decimate their corps.
“Listen, when you come to another organization after you’ve been in one for a long time, and you’re slotted a certain way in one organization, it’s not easy a lot of times to come to a new organization and jump right in,” Berube told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of Faulk in July 2020.
“We have a real good D-corps here and he knew that coming in. But he’s fit in nicely. I think that his play’s gotten better and better all year. Sure, he’s not happy with his points. That’ll improve, for sure. His power-play time will improve for sure.
“But when you have a team that’s already set and you get a new guy coming in, it’s not an easy situation. I think he’s done a good job, I really do.” (‘No excuses from Blues’ Faulk over his play,’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 7/22/20
Faulk learned how to navigate the highs and lows of NHL life early in his career, he told the Post-Dispatch. He’s also had his share of good puck luck and bad puck luck. He doesn’t sugarcoat his missteps and admits to the learning curve in St. Louis.
“Appearing in 69 of the 71 Blues’ games before the pandemic pause, Faulk scored only five goals — matching his career-low from his second and third seasons in the league,” the Post reported last season.
“When informed of Berube’s comments about bad puck luck, Faulk replied: ‘He was probably being nice. I just didn’t play well at times. I’m not scared to admit that. It would’ve been nice to get a couple (more) goals.’ “
“And just because you knock in a few goals doesn’t always mean you’re playing well,” Faulk told the Post.
“That’s not always the case,” he told the paper. “I’ve been on that side where I’ve scored goals and also not played well at the same time.”
“So I personally just think I didn’t play all that well. And like I said, I’m happy I get a nice chance to rebound here, finish off this season and then keep going forward. Obviously, I’m supposed to be doing this for a long time here (with the Blues). So I want to do well.”
What Went Right
Faulk’s stat line is nothing to get excited about, however, if you look at the number of games he played this year – all 56 of them – and the amount of time he averaged on the ice for the Blues – 24:16 this season, it’s impressive. He scored 7 goals and added 18 assists this season. Two of his goals were game-winners.
According to a story about Faulk in The Hockey Writers, the St. Paul, Minnesota native signed a seven-year, $45.5 million contract extension after a trade from Carolina to St. Louis. His contract has an annual average value of $6.5 million, which began in the 2020-21 NHL season. He previously signed a six-year, $29 million contract (average annual value $4.83 million) with Carolina in 2014.
Both Berube and Armstrong liked what they saw in Faulk, who keyed the blue line in Carolina for his first eight years in the league. So they pulled the trigger on the Edmundson deal, to the surprise of many – most notably Edmundson.
“Faulk is a highly motivated guy,” a confident Berube told the Post-Dispatch.
“Justin comes with a very deep and strong resume, a player that’s played in the league for a number of years,” Armstrong told NHL.com at the time of the signing. “He’s (at the time) 27 years old, in the prime part of his hockey career. We feel he’s tailor-made to today’s NHL, a skater, someone that can transport and move the puck, touches both ends of special teams and has logged a lot of minutes over the years.”
His play this year gave Blues fans hope that the next six years of his deal won’t be painful to watch. This is often the case with high-priced free agents who flame out early and do not have a perceptible impact on their new teams. A six-year deal can quickly become an albatross in NHL salary parlance.
What was painful to watch was the hit laid on Faulk by Colorado’s Nazem Kadri in the first round of the Blues-Avs playoff matchup. Faulk did not return to the series after the hit, and Kadri received an eight-game suspension.
Faulk played in all 56 games this season – tied for second in the league.
He was seventh on the team in points this year.
His 24:16 average time on the ice led the team. Torey Krug was second at 22:31 per game.
His 35 giveaways were most on the team.
Faulk played 1,700 shifts this season with 30.4 shifts played per game, according to NHL.com.
Final Grade: Justin Faulk: A
There was not much more you could have asked of Faulk this season. And, in a season marred by injuries and losing streaks, Faulk was usually the calming force on the ice. This was important as the Blues dropped Jake Walman, Niko Mikkola, Dakota Joshua and Nathan Walker into the lineup. None of them had any extensive NHL experience.
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Faulk led by example. He never missed a shift, and led the team in time on the ice. While his flaws were exposed in due time by the fast-paced games played by division rivals Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, and the Minnesota Wild, Faulk still delivered quality minutes. For that, he earned a well-deserved A.
He made St. Louis fans love him after he avenged a nasty hit by Vegas’ Mark Stone on Tyler Bozak. The hit knocked the versatile leader Bozak out for more than 20 games, and Faulk was the man on the spot. He challenged Stone to a fight in defense of his teammate.
“It’s just some things you do for your teammates,” he told Fox Sports Midwest following that January game against the Knights. “I just stepped up and tried to do my thing a little bit. Well, not my thing, but… that.”
Berube, known for his tough-guy approach in his own playing career, credited Faulk right away.
“He does everything for the team,” he told Fox Sports Midwest following the hit that knocked Bozak out.
Fans were very critical of Faulk in particular, after Edmundson walked away in the trade following the Stanley Cup season. Faulk struggled in the pandemic-shortened season with the Blues, but in the bubble seemed to have found his footing. Yet the heavily favored Blues did not, exiting the bubble after a first-round loss to the Vancouver Canucks.
He redeemed himself by being one of the most reliable D-men the Blues had this season. With the loss of Pietrangelo, expectations were high on Faulk, and he was able to deliver on the promise of his career. He has played in three All-Star games already in his 10-year career.
Faulk most certainly will be a part of the Blues’ “near-future,” as he signed the deal with the club that runs through the 2026-27 season. Given his play this year, Blues fans have reason to hope Faulk will continue to be a stalwart on their blue line for years to come.
This season, he proved that he is up for that challenge.