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Acquiring Justin Faulk would be a coup for Montreal’s defence corps

Carolina’s unheralded defender may be on the market, and the Canadiens have the pieces to make a deal.

Carolina Hurricanes v Montreal Canadiens

Trade rumours and speculation have ramped up as the deadline approaches, and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman dropped a bomb involving the Carolina HurricanesJustin Faulk.

He mentioned that a deal between the Hurricanes and Detroit Red Wings, involving Andreas Athanasiou, could be a solid fit. If Athanasiou can land a defender of Faulk’s abilities, then the Canadiens have similar pieces that might be even more appealing in a trade right now.

Montreal has an asset that could likely be even more appealing to a young franchise like Carolina. That of course is the oft-maligned Alex Galchenyuk, a player who was nearly sent packing to Minnesota in the off-season in a trade for Marco Scandella.

While Athanasiou is an incredible talent in his own right, Galchenyuk is far more established in the NHL, and has the versatility to play both the wing and centre, due primarily to his mismanagement by the Canadiens franchise during his professional career.

Both are extremely young players by NHL standards, but in terms of being a more complete player, Galchenyuk currently holds that edge in most categories. This isn’t to say Athanasiou isn’t a valuable chip at his age, but rather that Galchenyuk is clearly a more valuable player.

Whether or not Carolina sees him as a winger or centre is rather irrelevant; much like Galchenyuk most of the Hurricanes'' listed centremen, including Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm, and Teuvo Teravainen, can all play the wing in addition to playing down the middle.

At just 24 years old, Galchenyuk perfectly fits the strategy that the Hurricanes have been using for the last several years, where they stockpile young talent through the draft and trades, and ease them into expanded NHL roles.

With several NHL seasons. including a phenomenal 30-goal campaign, Galchenyuk is a near perfect fit for a team of skilled playmakers and goal-scorers similar to himself.

While Galchenyuk has struggled through the early parts of this season, his partnership with Jonathan Drouin and Nikita Scherbak seems to have reignited his form. Even with the Canadiens struggling overall this year, the young forward’s play is still among the best on the team, especially on the power play.

At a cap hit under $5 million, Galchenyuk can easily fit into the Hurricanes' cap situation, as they have plenty of excess space to take on contracts, something they’ll need when some entry-level deals have run their course. As for the Canadiens, they have plenty of room to facilitate a trade, in fact they’d end up with slightly more cap space in a direct swap, as Faulk makes slightly less overall than Galchenyuk.

Justin Faulk

As for Faulk, he’s a 25-year-old defenceman, and an extremely good one at that, but he doesn’t quite grab the spotlight due predominantly to the market he plays in. Serving as team captain in an alternating role with Jordan Staal, he’s played a major role for the Hurricanes since coming into the NHL. And despite an abundance of quality defenders, he continually leads that unit in ice time.

The left side of the chart is Faulk’s teammates and himself. The red means that Faulk is usually number one in ice time on his team, and gets that assignment more than your league-average defenceman. But he plays against all competition relatively equally, once you adjust for the fact that a number one on the other team gets more time on ice than the number six, and therefore would naturally compete against Faulk more.

He’s primarily been paired with the rookie Haydn Fleury and Noah Hanifin about evenly this year. He did have a temporary partnership with Jaccob Slavin, but it was fairly short-lived.

The emergence of Slavin, in addition to Brett Pesce and Trevor van Riemsdyk has led to Faulk not being used much on the penalty kill. However, on the power play he mans the top unit as the lone defender in a 1-3-1 system for the Hurricanes. With double digit goal totals in three consecutive seasons before this one, he’s a consistent goal producer, an area that Montreal has struggled in, especially with Shea Weber on the injured list.

The sticking point in this trade is a fairly important one, in that Justin Faulk is listed as a right defenceman. In Montreal the top two right defence spots are claimed by Shea Weber and Jeff Petry, and it’s highly unlikely that either guy will be forced down the lineup to allow Faulk to take over. An extreme option is to trade one of the two defenders, with Petry thriving and being the younger and cheaper option, the Canadiens could explore a risky trade involving Weber. While he’s still an very good defender, Weber is on the downside of his career, while Faulk is in his prime.

Both are great first pairing options, but it’s clear that as time goes on Faulk’s advanced numbers will begin to outpace Weber’s. In fact as it stands right now Faulk is only trending upwards, while Weber has seen a noticeable dip, before plateauing slightly during his time in Montreal.

Replacing Weber isn’t the only option however. The Canadiens could shift Faulk to play on the left side of the top defensive pairing in Montreal alongside Weber, forming a potentially elite top pair. Faulk never left the right side as he was paired with a rookie defender for most of the year, pairing him with Weber on his off-side could be a shrewd move if they are serious about shoring up the defence in Montreal.

Faulk’s ability to move the puck is something that meshes well with Weber’s play style. Outside of a short stint with Victor Mete, Weber has been bereft of a puck-moving partner. Adding that dynamic frees up the currently red-hot Petry to take over his second pairing spot again, and possibly allow him to form a new partnership with the young Mete.

Speculation is a peculiar beast, despite some of the most well-informed hockey minds having their sources and information that’s no guarantees that anything comes of these rumours. While Friedman mentioned Athanasiou, and that makes clear sense, there’s no guarantee the Canadiens would leap at a chance and offer up Alex Galchenyuk for Faulk’s services.

But, if Montreal wants to improve their defence with a young, talented defender, they have to give up something decent in return.