For a smaller market NHL team, having that one player who is beloved in that town, yet virtually unheard of outside of that fan base, is almost cliche. For every Wayne Gretzky, there’s a Charlie Huddy.
For the Carolina Hurricanes, that player is Justin Faulk. He is a solid defenseman who, for a long time, was a regular call-up from Charlotte, and is beginning his first full season on the Hurricanes regular lineup, in addition to wearing the Alternate Captain’s “A,” in Tim Gleason‘s injured absence.
Faulk has been reliable to the team, good for more than his share of assists, skates in the plus and is generally well liked in the locker room and by fans. While the Hurricanes aren’t paying him $890,000 this season for being popular with the puck bunnies, he needs to do the things he is being paid for.
Faulk’s 2011-12 rookie season in Carolina was a grease fire. He was a liability, skated at a -16 on the season, and took close to double the penalty minutes he should have. A solid experience with the USA World Championships team and a cleansing stint with the Hurricanes AHL affiliate in Charlotte is just what the doctor ordered for Faulk, giving him a much needed boost in the lockout-shortened season last year.
Yet, it’s quite clear the Hurricanes are still not getting what they need out of Faulk.
He doesn’t take a ton of penalties, but when he does, it’s a facepalm moment for coaches and fans alike, wondering “what this kid was thinking.” 10 assists in 38 games in 2013 is nowhere near where an offensive defenseman like Faulk needs to be.
The Hurricanes are on shaky ground on their back end. Their defense is spread too thin in the way of talent. With Gleason’s concussion, it’s up to Faulk to lead the defense. Evidenced by the defensive implosion in last night’s season opener against the Detroit Red Wings, the Hurricane’s defense cannot rely on Cam Ward and happy thoughts. They need to step in, clear out the slot, get pucks out of the zone in the scramble and cut-off passing lanes.
This is what Faulk was born to do — and where he’s coming up short.
Faulk coming into his own isn’t what will bring a Cup to Carolina in and of itself, however, it’s one item on a short to-do list that the Hurricanes will need to start checking off if they’re to make the Playoffs. Having a talented defenseman who just isn’t producing to the level he is capable of, is one of those things that can make seasoned fans bang their heads against a wall.
Again, he’s not that bad a player. The problem Faulk and the Hurricanes have is complacency. They’re ready to accept mediocrity from a player who can and should be a Norris Trophy candidate on a regular basis.