The St. Louis Blues made a big splash when they traded for Faulk just prior to the 2019-20 season. That made sense, but not much has since.
When the St. Louis Blues traded for Justin Faulk, there were a few murmurs of complaint, but it was mostly just shock. There were no whispers of any deals in the work, much less the Blues looking to part ways with Joel Edmundson.
The Blues did not seem to need any tweaks defensively, since they won the Stanley Cup based on good defending and stellar goaltending. Even so, most fans were intrigued or excited about the deal.
The Blues were acquiring a very good offensive defenseman. Other than an injury-shortened season, his rookie year had been the only season he failed to get over 30 points.
Faulk had reached double-digit goal totals in four of the last five seasons too. He was a top-10 vote getter for the Calder Trophy his rookie year and got some early Norris consideration in 2014-15, when he had a career high of 49 points.
The only qualm by fans at first was the imbalance of left handed shots vs. right handed shots. Surely that would not become an issue.
You could argue whether it did, but overall nothing has made sense regarding Faulk since that trade.
Originally, they paired him with Alex Pietrangelo. It made sense because you had two high-caliber players and were trying not to alter Faulk’s game completely by taking him off the top pairing, which he had been in for several years in Carolina.
It never seemed to click, but the Blues also did not give it a ton of time. There was no consistency with who was playing on their off side, so neither Pietrangelo nor Faulk could get used to it.
Faulk actually seemed to play his best when paired with Colton Parayko or Jay Bouwmeester. The coaching staff did not let that bear fruit, however, as they were reluctant to keep Parayko and Bouwmeester off the same line.
That basically left Faulk to be paired with Vince Dunn. Throw all the stats around you want but Dunn is not a defensive defender.
Faulk is not either. Pairing them together was always going to be a recipe for disaster defensively and we have seen it bite the Blues time after time. For whatever reason, mainly the other pairings working too well, they kept going to Dunn and Faulk.
Recently on the radio, it was suggested that the Faulk experiment just had not worked because he could not be what the team wanted, which was a defensive oriented guy who played from the neutral zone back.
If that is true, why in the world did Doug Armstrong make the trade in the first place? It does not matter if he was a top-pairing defender or not, few scouts would tout Faulk’s defensive prowess, so trying to change him makes no sense.
That’s a failure to realize what you were acquiring. If the Blues were always trying to force him to be a pure defender, that is the definition of trying to jam a round peg into a square hole.
Players can accept new roles. Brett Hull became a more complete player under Ken Hitchcock in Dallas. Even then, Hull was never going to compete for Selke awards.
Maybe the Blues wanted a player that would take care of the puck more than Edmundson, who had gotten bad at turning it over. That’s not true, because Faulk had 20 more turnovers than Edmundson the last two seasons.
Not even playing on a poor team can explain that. None of it made sense.
The immediate contract extension didn’t really make much sense, other than it being a demand of completing the trade. The Blues knew they were getting a good player, but you simply don’t know how a player that played their entire career with one team will fare in a new city. Faulk’s poor play during the regular season was proof of that.
Also, was there a real plan as far as Faulk’s role? Clearly they hoped he might fit on the top pairing with Pietrangelo, but there was no backup plan. You can’t pay a guy $6.5 million to be your third-pairing right handed defender.
Speaking of no sense, the special teams issue has made less than any sense, if that’s possible. Faulk was a regular on the Hurricanes power play, but has received almost no power play time with the Blues. Instead, they take a defender who hasn’t looked great defensively and use him on the penalty kill. Most fans are completely on board with Berube’s decisions, but that is one that nobody can really explain.
Then, you have to take in the fan reaction. Fans are notorious for giving new players absolutely no time to adjust.
Nobody wanted to hear about Faulk playing his entire career with Carolina and feeling like an outsider. All anyone wanted to focus on was the contract extension and the usual nonsense of nobody having excuses when you’re getting paid millions.
Of course, Faulk made it easy for those people to pile on. Even taking the pandemic shortened year into consideration, Faulk was always going to set a new record for fewest points in his career. His five goals were the fewest since 2013-14.
But we should not be so quick to judge, lest we forget another whipping boy that became Mr. Steady.
When the Blues picked up Jay Bouwmeester, it was almost a mirror image of this. Fans had visions of his 15 goal seasons or 49 point season.
They wanted the offense. They did not get it other than one 30-plus point season and the vocal minority or majority, whichever the case may be, made Bouw public enemy number one (other than a goalie) for much of his career here.
It took a lot longer than anyone expected, but Bouwmeester became one of the Blues primary shutdown defenders. So, not all hope is lost regarding Faulk.
But the Blues needed to know what they were getting and not expect that change to come overnight. Fans needed to be more lenient when a man’s life had completely changed.
On the flip side, Faulk will have to tune it out, if he’s hearing any of it. He is basically the hockey equivalent to Dexter Fowler right now.
A change of scenery did not help him and he has not lived up to expectations. Like Fowler, even a decent season in 2020-21 might not be enough to change fans minds.
Nevertheless, Bouwmeester is a good comparison to how you can change and still have a good career here. Or perhaps there won’t be much change, but he’ll find his offensive groove again.
Any of that would, at least, make some sense of the deal. Right now, even those that are not on the Faulk-hate bandwagon can’t make much sense of what is going on.
Faulk was quite poor the entire regular season, despite getting a raise. Then, seemingly out of nowhere and a long layoff, Faulk was one of the team’s best defenders during the 2020 playoffs. The basis for comparison might have been low, but he finally showed why the Blues acquired him.
The entire thing made little sense, no matter how you slice it. Hopefully the deal makes more sense in the future.
A good indicator will be whether the Blues keep Pietrangelo or not. If he walks, there is absolutely no way Faulk will be dangled to Seattle. If Petro stays, all bets are off and then we have even more things to question.