I’ve long wanted to do an “What Could the Expansion Draft Look Like” article. It’s a lot of fun to play around with how things could shape up, especially after the Vegas theatrics following their own Expansion Draft. But it’s a tricky thing to do; finding a way to fit everything into one article without rambling on for over 2000 words.
But I keep seeing one idea circling around, an idea that I just can’t get behind: “If Faulk continues to struggle, the Blues can just expose him to Seattle”. Well, yes. The Blues could definitely leave him unprotected for the Draft. But that doesn’t mean Seattle would take him. In fact, there’s absolutely no chance they would with how things are looking right now.
Justin Faulk is Sticking Around
Why He’s an Unattractive Pick
We all know why a team wouldn’t want to gamble on Faulk. Most of us are still stuck questioning why the Blues chose to. He’s a D that only found past success because the Hurricanes focused their entire system around him, essentially dedicating their team’s effort into making life as easy as could be for Faulk.
That wasn’t possible — nor should it have been — for the Blues to recreate and Faulk cratered because of it. While he did have a great postseason, likely the best of any Blues defenseman, it was juxtaposed by the worst regular season of his career.
But... maybe things are looking up for the blue-liner. He seemed to find a groove in an awful, awful Blues playoffs. If he can stay in that groove for next year, he may earn his hefty price tag.
And I’m all for it. Let’s go Justin Faulk. But thinking that seems to be an iffy line between optimism and sheer-hope. Faulk had an absolutely terrible regular season and, even if he improves next year, that bad taste will stick around. I don’t want to rule out the idea that Faulk could bounce back next year. But to become an attractive pick for Seattle — the second-highest staffed analytics department in the league — Faulk would have to do a complete-180, reverting back to his old, blindly-successful ways. He checks in at a $6.5 million cap hit, right around the low mark what many teams pay their top-two defenseman. Seattle will only agree to that monster deal if Faulk drops jaws in 2020-21.
Don’t Bet on Any Incentives
A common reply to all of this is that the Blues could simply throw in a few sweeteners to bribe Seattle into taking Faulk. We saw this a bunch in the Vegas Expansion Draft, why wouldn’t we see it again here?
Well, there’s no doubt teams are seeing the effects of these 2017 trades. Shea Theodore was given to Vegas as a sweetener. Now, he’s one of the best defensemen in the league. Alex Tuch and Erik Haula were also given up as bribes. Now, the former is a fixture of the Golden Knights top-six and the latter was a pivotal part of the Vegas Stanley Cup chase.
So it’s a tricky field, for sure. Teams are undoubtedly worried about repeating history and giving up pieces that thrive to protect pieces that dive, or to give up plenty of assets to convince Seattle to take on a massive contract.
Even giving up draft picks is inadvisable. The 2022 NHL Draft has the best top-five since 2004, at least. Yes, that’s even including the 2015 Draft. Shane Wright is looking a lot like the next Sidney Crosby/Connor McDavid-type, setting records that have only been touched by the duo. Brad Lambert has the exact scoring finesse and European-sparkle that Alex Ovechkin had in 2004. And Matthew Savoie is on pace to end up in the likes of players like John Tavares and Taylor Hall.
The rest of the 2022 first-round is stacked accordingly. Simply put, it’s a draft that teams will not want to miss. While picks in 2021 are easy to give up, they surely wouldn’t be enough to convince Seattle to take on five years of Faulk’s contract.
So any sort of “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” trade would be hard to stomach for both teams. The Blues would need to walk a fine line of hitting Seattle’s surely-sky-high asking price without selling the lot. Needless to say, that’d be nearly impossible to do.
There Are Much Better Options
But the most damning reason Faulk is going to stick around is the fact that there are much better options to draft from St. Louis. To visualize this, we’ll make a mini-mock protection list right now. I don’t mean for this list to be conclusive in any way; instead just wanting to highlight the choices. For those that need a refresher, St. Louis can protect Seven Forwards, Three Defenseman, One Goalie. With that in mind, here’s my thrown-together list:
Forwards: Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, David Perron, Jaden Schwartz, Robert Thomas, and... uh... Sammy Blais?
Defensemen: Colton Parayko, Defenseman X (Whoever signs between Alex Pietrangelo and Vince Dunn), and... Marco Scandella?
Goalie: Jordan Binnington
Alright, I think this is a pretty fair list. The last forward protected and the last defenseman protected could be totally up in the air. Do the Blues protect Blais? Or maybe Zach Sanford, Oskar Sundqvist, or Tyler Bozak. And do they protect Scandella? Probably but maybe a rookie like Niko Mikkola or Mitch Reinke will steal the show next year.
No matter what, this leaves so many options for Seattle. If Blais is protected, the Kraken can pick between one of the best middle-six, defensive centers in the league (Bozak), one of the most efficient shooters of the last two years (Sanford), or one of the most flexible, reliable, and promising forwards in the West (Sundqvist). Or maybe one of these three is protected, leaving Blais — an injury-prone but highly competitive and highly-promising checking-winger — wide open.
Any of these four forward options would be a serious, serious pick-up for Seattle. All four have the potential to recreate the jaw-dropping success that players like William Karlsson, Alex Tuch, or Erik Haula did in Vegas’ first year. They’re all great talents that have been suppressed by low-usage. Being forced into a top-six role (or better special teams usage) could bring out a side of these already-good players that St. Louis hasn’t seen yet.
And needless to say, any of these options are much, much, much more attractive than taking on five years of Faulk’s $6.5 million struggles.
Maybe... But Not Likely
In the end, there’s really no reason Seattle would take Faulk. He’s struggled a lot in St. Louis so far and is on a very expensive contract.
I’m all for siding with optimism. I hope they take him too. But sometimes facing the facts is the hardest thing to do. Without an absolutely dramatic turn-around, Faulk simply isn’t an attractive pick for Seattle. And with trades already feeling unlikely, could the Blues manage to string together a package of players, prospects, and picks to convince Seattle to take Faulk? Probably not.
It’s a gloomy reality. St. Louis is simply stuck with Faulk. But at the same time, maybe it’s a forced reason to be hopeful. Faulk did show a lot of promise in the playoffs. While he’s probably not going to do enough to warrant another team wanting him, staying in playoff-form could be enough to make him a happy option for the Blues. With Pietrangelo’s contract negotiations looking iffy, a Faulk rebound would be more-than-welcome. So the Blues are stuck with him... but maybe — or... hopefully — that’ll be a good thing.