The reigning Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues did very little to alter their roster over the summer. Most of the news out of Mound City was focused on local hero Pat Maroon signing a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Then, late into the preseason, came the “Joel Edmundson for Justin Faulk” trade. The Blues and Carolina Hurricanes swapped blueliners, with Carolina also receiving 2018 first-round pick Dominik Bokk.
At first, the move seemed a little odd, as the Blues had just settled an arbitration case with Edmundson for $3.1 million. His camp had pushed for $4.2 million, so clearly the front office won that battle. But with Edmundson reaching unrestricted free agent status in the summer of 2020, the Blues decided to make the move and acquire Faulk, the three-time All-Star.
They also agreed to a seven-year, $45.5-million extension with the Minnesota-Duluth product. He will be 34 when that contract expires. So, with half of the season over, who won the trade?
Career Year (Best) for Edmundson
At the time of writing, Edmundson has four goals and seven assists for 11 points. This projects to a 7/12/19 slash line, which would be career highs in points and assists for the Brandon, Manitoba native.
The 2019-20 season could also see Edmundson’s play surpass the most regular season games in his career– 69 games —and he’s on pace to rack up 89 penalty minutes, also a professional best. The change of scenery has done Edmundson good and he’s exactly what the Canes wanted.
“Joel is a big, physical presence on defense, who knows what it takes to win a championship,”
Don Waddell, President and GM of the Carolina Hurricanes, NHL.com
Career Year (Worst) for Faulk
No one expected Edmundson to put up better numbers than the offensive-minded Faulk, but here we are, with Edmundson going toe-to-toe, point for point. Averaging 2:32 more ice time per game, the right-handed Faulk is set to have his weakest offensive year of his career.
With three goals and nine assists for 12 points in 47 games, Faulk’s numbers will barely improve to a projected 5/15/20. Faulk was supposed to elevate the Blues’ power play, which fizzled during their historic run to the Cup. Long-time St. Louis Blues sportswriter Bernie Miklasz highlighted this in his assessment of the trade back in September:
The Blues’ chronic power-play ailment needed medicine; Faulk should provide a heavy dose. Over the past five seasons (since the start of 2014-2015), Faulk ranks fourth among NHL defensemen with 32 power play goals. The only D-men with more power play goals are Oliver Ekman-Larsson (42), Shea Weber (38) and Brent Burns (34.) And Faulk is 19th among NHL defensemen with 80 power-play points over the past five seasons.
Some impressive stats. Yet, Faulk has failed to live up to his reputation, notching zero goals and only two power play assists.
For those who want to dig into advanced stats, the players are putting up similar Corsi scores, with Edmundson at 49.9% and Faulk at 50.7%. Faulk does win out on the relative Corsi (CF% rel) where he sits at 1.1% to Edmundson’s -6.2%.
That said, with the short-term nature of Edmundson’s contract – the Canes can decide to re-sign or walk away – the nearly identical stats to this point, and the physicality he brings to the rink, the Hurricanes have won this trade.
For now. One look at the Blues’ cap situation tells you that perhaps general manager Doug Armstrong was plotting something more than simply exchanging a left-handed blueliner for a righty.
Captain Alex Pietrangelo will be a UFA in six months. The man who did what Al Arbour, Barclay Plager, Bernie Federko, Brett Hull and David Backes could not. Pietrangelo led the Blues to its first championship in franchise history, scoring the Cup-winner in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins. The vision of No. 27 holding Lord Stanley high above his head will forever be a part of the team’s lore.
But his contract demands may make his time with the Blues history as well. Closing out a seven-year deal that paid him $6.5 million per season, Pietrangelo is going to get a significant raise. He’s currently top five among defensemen in scoring and has won a championship at every level he has played. He is a rare talent and will certainly earn top dollar. Maybe not an Erik Karlsson contract ($92 million, eight years). But fair to say Pietrangelo has the value of a Roman Josi ($72.5 million, eight years).
So the question is, can the Blues afford to pay one player $9 million, or more, per season? Just as important, will they? It’s not difficult to know where Armstrong stands on this topic.
I don’t want to get into specifics as far as Alex himself. Our goal is to have a lot of good players. Our organization has been built not on the back of one or two guys. But the collective whole. We believe we have depth up front and depth on the back end. We have a lot of wealthy players but maybe no really rich players? And that’s the way we believe we can stay competitive in this market.
(from: LeBrun: Q&A with Doug Armstrong on building a winner and what the Cup means to St. Louis and the Blues, The Athletic, Oct 8, 2019)
To prove that point, Armstrong inked centerman Brayden Schenn to an eight-year extension ($6.5 million average annual value), just 10 days after the Edmundson/Faulk deal. Though lengthy, this deal typifies the commitment to the “winning by committee” philosophy that finally paid off for the Blues.
Considering everything that Pietrangelo has done for the team, this is a nearly unthinkable possibility for fans, especially when looking at how Faulk has performed so far. He is no replacement for Pietrangelo, neither in skill nor leadership. But he could stake a claim to the second defensive pairing, providing some offensive punch to the power play.
It also seems that Colton Parayko is being groomed to lead the defensive corps in the future. A Pietrangelo exit could hasten his ascension and redefine the back line for years to come.
As for captains-in-waiting, fan-favorite Ryan O’Reilly could easily assume the mantel. So, maybe the Blues do have options.
This is all conjecture about the future. Right now, the Blues sit atop the Western Conference and second overall in the NHL. The Hurricanes are struggling to find their game, clinging to the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. They may have won the Edmundson/Faulk deal, but Carolina would undoubtedly trade places with the Blues.