This season hasn’t gone as planned for the Carolina Hurricanes. Their offense has been one of the worst in the league, one of their best players got hurt before the season began and is only now returning to form and they are tied for the fourth worst record in the NHL. Even in the worst season though, usually there is one or two bright spots that gives the future seasons hope. For the 2014-15 Carolina Hurricanes the brightest spot this season has been the play of fourth year defenseman Justin Faulk.
Faulk is entering his fourth full season with the team and he is having a career year. The part of his game that has improved the most is his scoring touch as he has already set a new career high with 10 goals. The timing of Faulk’s goals have helped Carolina as four of his goals have been the deciding goal. Faulk has been getting more time on the power play as he has 10 points (four goals and six assists) on the man advantage. At the rate he is going, Faulk should be setting a new career high in assists as he needs eight more. His play was good enough to earn him a spot on the All-Star team this season.
Often times when a defenseman starts scoring more, their defense tends to dip a little. Faulk is among his team leaders in both blocked shots and hits as he is making it harder for opposing teams to enter the zone and score. Faulk’s play on the penalty kill has helped the Hurricanes become the NHL’s best as they are successful 87.4% of the time. They have allowed the fewest power play goals in the league with 16 and Faulk is getting most of the time on the penalty kill. Faulk has been one of the best defenders on the team and has the only two shorthanded goals on the team.
Having a good defenseman who can help put the puck in the net is becoming even more valuable in the league. For one thing they can really help elevate the play of the forwards on the team. Faulk’s 19 assists lead the team and he has been involved 29 of their 104 goals on the season. That is more than a quarter of the goals have had Faulk involved somehow. For a team that is struggling as much as Carolina is, they can’t afford to be choosy where their scoring is coming from. He has also done a lot to improve the game of forwards like Eric Staal. Staal is the leading scorer on the team and the majority of his goals have come from Faulk.
Faulk provides a long term option for the Hurricanes as he is signed for the next five years. He turns 23 in March so Carolina will have control over him for the majority of his prime. While his salary will increase every year, his cap hit will remain the same. Right now the cap hit is more than what they are paying him, but in a few years the situation will be flipped. Assuming the salary cap continues to increase, this will allow Carolina to bring in some more players. Carolina will be able to rebuild a team and restore it to the contenders that won the Stanley Cup 10 years ago.
The emergence of Faulk may help the Hurricanes make a couple of moves this trade deadline. They have an expiring contract in defenseman Andrej Sekera who is unlikely to resign with the team. After Sekera, they have defensemen John-Michael Liles and Tim Gleason whose contracts are up over the next season or two. Carolina has some experienced defensemen who could help playoff teams expand their depth with the idea that a solid defense wins championships. This would also help by letting the Hurricanes bring up some of their younger prospects to start making a name for themselves.
The Carolina Hurricanes won’t have many bright spots this season, so it is important for the team to make the most of them when they find them. Faulk has been the brightest spot all season and Hurricanes fans should be happy that they have a promising young defenseman to build their defense around. Carolina may be another year or two from being in contention in a very tough division, but their long term picture is starting to look brighter with the play of people like Justin Faulk.