The St. Louis Blues had had a very quiet offseason as defending Stanley Cup Champions through the early part of training camp. But that all changed Tuesday when news broke that they acquired right-handed defenseman Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes.
Though Faulk was a frequent feature of the rumor mill, the trade still shocked many, as no one expected the Blues to be in the market for a right-handed defenseman. But while the trade opens questions about the future, it is a terrific move for the immediate present of the Blues.
Faulk Fits Perfectly
The Blues already had a potent defensive group, led by right-handers Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko. Now, Faulk joins and makes the threesome probably the best right side in the NHL.
But Faulk is far from a carbon copy of his two new teammates. Where Pietrangelo and Parayko are defensive stalwarts, Faulk is an offensive creator. The trio complements one another well because of their differing styles.
More importantly, they are well-equipped to play different roles, and Faulk will fill a role the Blues have desperately needed: power play quarterback. In each of the last two seasons, Faulk has averaged 2:58 in time on ice per game on the power play, something neither Parayko nor Pietrangelo could match last season. And Faulk’s statistics suggest that he is one of the most consistent blueline producers in the game.
While Pietrangelo has done an admirable job as the team’s primary power play quarterback since the Blues traded Kevin Shattenkirk in 2017, he has never been well-suited for the role. He is a decent creator but can struggle with puck control, particularly at the blue line. Metrics suggest Faulk is much better in that category, and they also indicate that Faulk controls the puck better on the rush than either Pietrarngelo or Parayko.
Taking all of that into account, the Blues are a much better team in the immediate aftermath of this trade than they were before completing it. Pietrangelo, Parayko, and Faulk are ideal complements to each other, as the defensive reliability of the former two should provide the newcomer the leeway to excel in an offensive role. But is the improvement worth the cost?
Bokk and Edmunson Depart
To acquire Faulk, the Blues surrendered defenseman Joel Edmundson and highly-rated prospect Dominik Bokk. The teams also swapped inconsequential draft picks.
Edmundson has been with the Blues since they drafted him in the second round in 2011. The Manitoba native is Faulk’s polar opposite. He is a big, physical, grinding defenseman who provides little in the offensive zone.
Many wondered whether Edmundson was a longterm fit for the Blues, particularly because he is a pending unrestricted free agent after the season. The Blues have depth on the left side with Jay Bouwmeester, Carl Gunnarsson, Vince Dunn, and the recently arrived Andreas Borgman. So despite Edmundson’s popularity with both fans and teammates, he seemed like an expendable piece even prior to this trade.
Bokk is an interesting prospect. The Blues selected him in the first round in 2018; in fact, he is the team’s most recent first-round selection. He was among the strongest prospects in the St. Louis pipeline, arguably the second-best forward prospect after the graduation of Robert Thomas last year.
He is one of the most skilled players in the draft. His puck handling is elite for a player his size and, when I’ve talked to management from his German national teams, they specifically point to his skill as his best attribute.Corey Pronman/The Athletic (From: “Why Dominik Bokk, the next Deutschland Dangler, is Worth a High Pick in 2018 NHL Draft, January 31, 2018)
Bokk is notable for his high skill level and flashy playmaking and joins an embarrassment of riches on the front end in the Hurricanes’ pipeline. But the young German is expected to play the entire season in Europe, and likely isn’t a serious NHL consideration until the 2021-22 season.
Extension for Faulk
That would be close to a fair price for the Blues to pay for a player of Faulk’s caliber on a one-year deal; however, he is no longer on a one-year deal. General manager Doug Armstrong refused to make the trade unless Faulk signed an extension, and sign one he did.
Faulk will be part of the Blues for the next eight seasons, counting the final year left on his current deal. That will keep him in a Blue Note until the age of 35.
That means that the newcomer is actually the longest-controlled player on the Blues’ roster. That alone is a sign of the front office’s faith in the offensive defenseman from South St. Paul, Minnesota. And with the ink already drying on the extension, the price the Blues paid makes perfect sense.
This trade raises plenty of questions, particularly about the future of Pietrangelo, who is in the final season of his contract. But those are best left for another discussion. Analyzing the immediate impact of this deal, there’s no question that the Blues get stronger by assembling perhaps the best right side in the NHL.
An NHL defenseman and a top prospect is a solid return for the Hurricanes. The Blues will miss Edmundson and, in the long run, may live to regret trading Bokk. But for the defending Stanley Cup Champions, it’s a win-now move that makes them dramatically stronger in the short term.