The Carolina Hurricanes needed to extend their promising 22-year-old defenseman all along and it came at a competitive price. However, GM Jim Rutherford's successor ultimately won't be judged on Faulk's price tag - he'll be judged by how he builds up the weakest part of his roster.
When it comes to the Carolina Hurricanes, the problems start with the defense corps and go from there. Sure, their offense this year has dropped to its worst post-2004-05 lockout level, which has been a heavy drag, but the defense has consistently been at or near the bottom of the league in terms of shots against since 2010. This year their 30.9 shots against per game mark is ninth-worst in the NHL and if not for the stellar play of Anton Khudobin, Carolina would surely rank among the truly awful teams.
Five of Carolina’s defensemen were up for contract renewal at the end of this season, leaving GM Jim Rutherford, or his successor, some wiggle room to shake up the weakest position on his roster. But one player they needed to extend at all costs was Justin Faulk.
The Canes did that today by signing the American Olympian to a six-year deal with a cap hit of $4.83 million.
At a glance, the deal was a must-have for the Canes, who lack a proven and experienced top-pair defenseman and need Faulk to develop into that player. Faulk is second among Carolina defensemen in ice time (23:21) and points (24) behind only Andrej Sekera in both categories. The 27-year-old Sekera is having a career season that blows all of his others out of the water and is unlikely to duplicate this form next year.
So, Faulk stands as Carolina’s best defenseman now and they’re banking on him becoming their needed blueline leader and difference-maker of the future. If he becomes that over the life of this contract, he will be a steal. If not, he’ll still be a contributor worth the $4.83 million yearly cap investment, because, as with most deals, as the cap goes up, it will become more palatable.
But the cost of signing Faulk is interesting when you look at a few other notable defensemen who got less, while also coming off their entry-level contracts.
Ryan McDonagh, who is in the first year of a six-year extension he signed after coming off his entry-level deal last year, is earning $4.7 million against the cap. St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk, a more similar player to Faulk, got a four-year extension after his entry-level deal expired last season and he’s only making $4.25 million against the cap. Both of these players were drafted three years before Faulk and are more polished players overall. In that sense, this extension cost the Hurricanes a pretty penny.
But it was a deal the Canes had to get done and it was signed a year after the cap dropped, so the team didn’t need to compensate. You can’t be more optimistic about any other defenseman on that roster than you can be for Faulk. The puckhandling, strong skating defenseman is a solid contributor now at age 22 and should only become more comfortable and productive with a more well-rounded game over the next six years. At least, that’s what Carolina needs him to accomplish.
The Faulk contract sets no hard standards for his position (it basically follows the price and inflation of other high-end defenders coming off an entry-level contract) and isn’t a particularly high or low price tag. But it locks into place the player Carolina is perhaps counting on most to develop into something significant over the life of the deal.
In the end, though, Rutherford or his successor won’t be judged on the length or cost of this deal with Faulk. He’ll be judged by whatever other pieces he can or can’t acquire to help a blueline that has sorely needed it for too long.
UPDATE: Shortly after this post, the Raleigh News and Observer's Chip Alexander reported GM Jim Rutherford was expected to step down at the end of this season. His successor is believed to be Ron Francis.