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Game #68 – Hurricanes vs. Hawks Spotlight: Is This All There Is, Justin Faulk?

Four years ago, Justin Faulk was something of a surprise inclusion on Team USA in Sochi. We got it, of course. He had been a young, dynamic puck-mover simply plying his trade in anonymity in Carolina, which as far as hockey coverage is concerned might as well be Narnia. While the Hurricanes have always been a metric-lovers delight under Bill Peters, for the most part Faulk had stayed above the team-rate and pushed the play the other way. It’s why you heard rumors of him being the name exchanged for Taylor Hall once upon a time, and he would have been a great improvement on Adam Larsson. Then again, so would dozens of players, but we’ve done the Chiarelli post before.

Now we sort of wonder if Faulk missed the point where he was supposed to take THE LEAP. And if it’s going to come around again for him to jump off.

On this Canes team, and last year’s, Faulk has essentially been skating second-pairing shifts. Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin take the hardest shifts in terms of both zone-starts and competition. They do the mine-sweeping. Faulk and rookie Haydn Fleury (and his missing “e”) or Noah Hanafin are next up. Everything is basically set-up for Faulk to mimic what Brent Burns does in San Jose, to at least be the poor man’s version of that (or the Carolina version, if you will. And you won’t). Simply slaughter the competition below the top lines of the opponent.

And yet, Faulk comes into this one with just 26 points. That’s not horrible, of course, but given Faulk’s skillset you can’t help but wonder if he shouldn’t be pushing 50 or 60 points when the season is over. And he’s never really come close to that. His career-year was three seasons ago already when he managed 49 points.

Faulk still pushes the play at a clip of 54% Corsi and that’s above the team-rate. But his scoring-chance percentage is below the team rate, and while some of that can be attributed to the growing pains of Fleury when they’ve been paired, considering they’re getting second and third lines you have to figure that should be better.

Faulk has also been undone by a 3.6% shooting-percentage, almost half his career-rate. And he’s firing more attempts than he ever has, and getting more scoring-chances per game than he ever has. Clearly bad luck is playing a huge role in this.

Which makes one wonder if a team couldn’t get Faulk this summer at a possibly lower rate than they should if they’re looking at those numbers. After this season, even if they’ll both be RFAs, both Pesce and Slavin are going to be due big raises. After next year so will Fleury. Elias Lindholm up front is due one after this season, and Teuvo is up after next. While the Canes have plenty of cap space, they’re something of a budget team, at least for right now, though that could change with their new nutcase owner. And they have to make room to find a #1 center, and probably a goalie if Scott Darling can’t find reverse on a Russian tank anytime soon.

So you know what we’re thinking. Justin Faulk would solve a lot of problems around this town, though what the Hawks have to offer is unclear. The Canes would certainly ask for Schmaltz or DeBrincat, and for the Hawks that might just be running in place. You can be sure the Leafs, Oilers, Canadiens, Sabres, and a host of others will be bothering Ron Francis at the draft if he puts Faulk on the market. Faulk has two years left on his deal that pays him a mere $4.8 per, so his value is through the roof. The Canes won’t get any more for him than they will this summer.

But is he the unlucky player who will start finding the net and assists with regularity next season given what his chances are? Or is he the one who just quite can’t break through? It’s probably worth finding out for someone.

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