I’m not sure you would call it a blockbuster of a deal, but the Hurricanes and Flames did engineer the biggest deal on draft weekend.
The five-player trade saw Dougie Hamilton, Michael Ferland, and Adam Fox to Carolina in exchange for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin. There’s little doubt that the Flames gave up the best player in the trade in Hamilton – he’s the type of blueliner that can soak up huge minutes for any team and should move to the top-pairing immediately in Carolina. The Flames, meanwhile, are hoping that Lindholm (entering his fifth year) and Hanifin (entering his fourth year) can take another developmental jump in 2018-19.
What’s fascinating to me though is how a deal like this can actually facilitate further transactions down the road.
Consider Carolina’s position here. Hamilton is a top-pairing guy and another right-shot defender – one of four on Carolina’s roster. And their top four – between the aforementioned Hamilton, Jacob Slavin, Justin Faulk, and Brett Pesce – are soaking up nearly a quarter of the expected $79.5 million cap next season. There’s no doubt that Carolina’s roster strength is on the back end, but that’s a lot of money for four guys. Doubly so when you remember that unless one of these guys plays on their off side, you are going to have a situation where a $4 million to $5 million defenceman is playing third-pairing minutes.
So you can see how the Hamilton trade may reverberate further down the lineup. One of these guys is probably going to get pushed out and the general sense is that if someone goes, it’s probably Faulk. He’s unlikely to play ahead of Hamilton, could have some of his minutes absorbed by Pesce and has a no-trade clause that kicks in on July 1. That means Carolina has a little under a week to unconditionally shop him around the league. On our Trade Bait board, he currently holds the No. 5 slot.
As tends to be the case with most Carolina skaters, it can be difficult getting a feel for how impactful Faulk has been because the goal differential numbers are so ugly. The Hurricanes have had abysmal goaltending for years now. Their save percentage over the last three seasons is around 91.1 per cent at 5-on-5 and 89.9 per cent in all situations. Both are dead last. If you were a player playing big minutes over those years, like Faulk was, there’s a great chance your “plus-minus” or any goal-based measure is going to look horrific.
And make no mistake, they do. At 5-on-5, Faulk is 67 goals in the red. His 44 per cent goal percentage is the second-worst of any regular defender in the league, beating only Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen (41 per cent), and driven in large part by leaky defensive zone play.
What clouds the issue is every non-goal-based measure takes a bit of a liking to Faulk, which is also true of a number of other Carolina skaters. For example, the Hurricanes have outshot their opponents 7,551 to 6,680 (+871, or 53 per cent) over that same stretch with Faulk on the ice. The same is true for similar measures, be it scoring chances, dangerous shot attempts, or expected goals.
Normally you would look at something like this and say that Faulk has just been a good player in a bad or unlucky situation. After all, generating that degree of shot volume – and getting outscored the way Carolina has – is tough to do. But Faulk has now seen terrible on-ice save percentages for six seasons now. And in each of those six years, Carolina’s stopped a higher proportion of shots with him off of the ice than him on the ice.
I’m not sure yet what to make of this just yet, but consider the below numbers. It shows (a) Carolina’s save percentage, 5-on-5; (b) Carolina’s save percentage, 5-on-5, Faulk on ice; and (c) average save percentage, league-wide.
Carolina has had some questionable goaltending over the years (save 2013 and 2015). If they just received average goaltending over this timeframe, they would have been about 75 goals better – and that’s substantial.
But Faulk’s numbers are even worse. Faulk’s on-ice save percentage is 90.7. That means that in the minutes Faulk has been on the ice, Carolina is 52 goals worse than league average and 27 goals worse than what Carolina could have reasonably expected with their goaltending talent.
About that 90.7 save percentage: It’s the worst number of any defender in the past six years, true by a considerable margin:
Now let’s put aside the math for a moment. What any interested trade partner has to answer is whether or not Faulk is having a detrimental impact on his team’s goaltending performance, or a victim of circumstance.
Carolina’s had bad goaltending for years but it certainly appears exacerbated with Faulk on the ice. And although we know that defenders appear to have very little control over the save percentages their team realizes, Faulk’s numbers stick out because (a) they are objectively bad; (b) have been objectively bad for a considerable period of time; and (c) are an exceptional outlier even in comparison to other players with poor numbers.
If you think Faulk is a big-minute, point-producing blueliner who has been hampered by the play of his goaltenders and/or teammates for years now, then he’s a no-brainer add this summer. He has a diverse skill set and is suited for today’s speed game. Perhaps that’s why Carolina, historically, has lived in the offensive zone whenever he’s on the ice.
But if you think he has any control over the save percentage his teams have realized over the last six years, then this is quite the red flag. Again, no other defender has seen this type of foul stop rate for such an extended period of time. And at the age of 26, he’s probably hit the apex of his development curve. He’s either tremendously unlucky or a top-four blueliner who has significant difficulty in his defensive third.
Not an easy question to answer considering the craziness that’s enveloped Carolina for years. I imagine some team will roll the dice here though, and it will be a great storyline to follow in 2018 and beyond.