With the new season starting soon - training camp for the Blues begins Sunday - it’s worth it to look at the probable lines for opening night. And they probably look pretty good (depending on Hoffman’s signing):
I have Clifford on 4th line instead of Kyrou, who gets little benefit from playing on a grinding line. MacEachern & de la Rose also in that mix. Can flip Faulk & Parayko for argument's sake. Gunnarsson will also get his opportunities, could see time as RD switching with Bortuzzo. https://t.co/9XNYTUMjJL— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) December 28, 2020
There are two things about those defense lines that may raise an eyebrow amongst fans. Both of them, Bortuzzo instead of Carl Gunnarsson and the placement of Faulk, are what Korac had to go back and clarify. Blues fans don’t necessarily trust Justin Faulk on the top pair, and that’s something that’s been in the making since the 2019-2020 season began.
When this is the top-asked question about a player, that means that somewhere along the lines, fans have lost faith in that player’s ability - or didn’t have it to begin with.
Obviously, it doesn’t matter if fans like Justin Faulk, or if pundits like him (Dan Buffa, in the article in the screenshot, does a solid job of breaking down Faulk’s mid-season struggles). What matters is if the coaching staff and front office believe that he’s a useful asset.
Doug Armstrong brought him in with a trade that saw Joel Edmundson head to Carolina, and then he promptly signed Faulk to a seven year deal with an AAV $6,500,000 (the contract is structured so that Faulk’s salary is around $9 million through the end of next season, then it drops off). Faulk’s contract also has a no trade clause with a modified NTC the last two seasons.
Faulk’s play in Carolina sold the defenseman to Armstrong, and Army paid with a contract that some have pointed to as a reason that re-signing Alex Pietrangelo did not happen. Couple that with a shortened season that saw the power-play specialist finish with just five goals and 11 assists, along with play that was certainly not at the level that the Blues were paying him for, and it’s pretty clear that Blues fans are turning Faulk into a defensive whipping boy that hasn’t been seen around these points since Eric Brewer. They may not be wrong; if Faulk turns in another season like he did last year, expect the frustration from some fans to continue.
Again, it doesn’t matter if fans are upset; what matters is if the team feels like they’re getting peak production out of him. If he starts the season playing with Torey Krug, especially on a power play unit, there’s no reason that he can’t rebound from a rough season. He’s had a year to get used to how the Blues’ systems work versus Carolina’s. He’s had a lengthy off-season to prepare. If Faulk feels like he needs to bounce back, now is the time.
Even if he doesn’t wind up proving himself to Doug Armstrong, Faulk isn’t going anywhere. Hopefully he believes in success for success’s sake, because intrinsic motivation might just have to be the thing to turn this ship around.