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Notebook: Hurricanes Restructure Defense

Canes' blue line evolves with additions of Gardiner, Edmundson

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

The Carolina Hurricanes have long boasted one of the top blue lines in the National Hockey League, and like anything poised for sustained survival, the Canes' defensive corps has evolved.

The latest transformation began in early September with the signing of free agent defenseman Jake Gardiner and culminated on Tuesday in a trade with St. Louis, which brought defenseman Joel Edmundson and forward prospect Dominik Bokk (and a seventh-round draft pick in 2021) to Raleigh in exchange for Justin Faulk (and a fifth-round draft pick in 2020).

In Gardiner, the Canes scooped up an offensively strong defender who figures to fit in the team's top four, and they did so with a four-year, $16.2 million contract.

That signing clouded Faulk's future in Raleigh, especially since the two sides had previously discussed a contract extension for the unrestricted-free-agent-to-be and weren't milling about in the same neighborhood.

"We didn't feel like we could get where we needed to be," Hurricanes President and General Manager Don Waddell said. "We felt at this point we were getting good value and we should make the decision to move on."

"It's business. That's really what it came down to. We wanted to keep him, and I thought we made a good effort to try to keep him, but it didn't happen," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said on Wednesday. "He was a big part of the group, for sure, but we've got to move on."

The Canes found a willing trade partner in St. Louis, one of 15 teams on Faulk's approved trade list. Talks first sparked last week, ramped up over the weekend and were then finalized early this week, Faulk's long-term extension in St. Louis (seven years, $45.5 million) being an integral piece of the transaction.

In the immediate return, the Canes add Edmundson, a 26-year-old, left-shooting defenseman who recorded seven points (1g, 6a) in 22 playoff games to help the Blues capture the Stanley Cup. With a physical, stay-at-home style of play, Edmundson helps add nuance to the Canes' defense and complements Gardiner and Dougie Hamilton especially, who can be point producers from the blue, both at even strength and on the power play.

"As a defensive defenseman, we're not looking for him to score goals," Waddell said. "We need a guy who can stop the rush and kill penalties."

"We needed that kind of player," Brind'Amour said. "He's going to be a huge addition for us."

Perhaps an underrated aspect of the trade, simply because he won't make an immediate impact, is the acquisition of Bokk, a German-born, right-shooting forward who the Blues selected 25th overall in the 2018 NHL Draft. As an 18-year-old in the Swedish Hockey League last season, Bokk totaled 23 points (8g, 15a) in 47 games, ranking second in scoring among all under-19 skaters and third among all U-20 skaters (in a league in which the overall leading scorer had 50 points in 46 games).

"He's a player we liked in his draft year," Waddell said. "We felt that the return was going to help our hockey club not only today but down the road."

So, taken as a whole, this month's roster tinkering boils down to adding Gardiner, Edmundson, Bokk and a draft pick in exchange for Faulk and a draft pick.

Not a bad haul.

"I think we're in pretty good shape. We addressed some of the areas we felt needed addressing," Waddell said. "Now, we've got to get on to business. I would say the group you see right now is the way we'll probably start the season."

Happy Trails

Sometimes, the business aspect of this business can be a bummer.

And that's the case here.

Both on and off the ice, the Canes are losing a good one in Faulk.

On the ice, even at just 27 years old, Faulk etched his name into franchise record books as the all-time leading scorer among defensemen with 85 goals and 258 points in 559 career regular-season games with the Canes.

It was after that 558th career regular-season game that Faulk finally punched his ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, only fitting that he scored what would be the game-winning goal in order to do so.

Faulk added eight points (1g, 7a) in the postseason, certainly cementing himself in Canes' playoff lore with the goal he scored in Game 3 of the Second Round - "Out of the box, and into the net," as TV's Mike Maniscalco called, Faulk exiting the penalty box, catching a flip pass, settling the puck and burying a backhand on a breakaway to give the Canes a 2-1 lead in the second period.

Video: NYI@CAR, Gm3: Faulk scores after exiting penalty box

Faulk was also a three-time NHL All-Star and represented Team USA at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

One of Faulk's most impactful off-ice contributions was the True Defenders program, which he created in 2015 along with fellow American-born defensemen John-Michael Liles and James Wisniewski. Faulk continued to support and enhance the program, even after Liles and Wisniewski (and, subsequently, Noah Hanifin) departed the organization, as it developed into one of the team's player-led community initiatives.

Video: Thank you, Justin Faulk

"He's a good guy," Waddell said. "He's just one of those guys you like to be around."

"It's always tough to lose a guy who has been around here and had such an impact on your group," Brind'Amour said.

Best of luck, Justin.

Camp Roster Down to 40

Speaking of roster movement, the Hurricanes made their biggest round of training camp cuts yet on Tuesday.

Forwards Jacob Pritchard, Spencer Smallman and Hunter Shinkaruk (AHL contract) and defensemen Fredrik Claesson, Alex Lintuniemi, Cavan Fitzgerald (AHL contract) and Derek Sheppard (AHL contract) will report to the Charlotte Checkers, who opened their training camp this week.

This leaves the Hurricanes with 40 players on their roster, a number that will still need to nearly shrink in half in the next week.

"The problem is you have too many games, so you're managing how many games you want to play guys," Brind'Amour said on Tuesday. "At some point here real quick, we'll have to get down to our group and get to the nuts and bolts of it."

It's worth noting that, in addition to Claesson and Lintuniemi passing through waivers to be assigned to Charlotte, forward Brian Gibbons and defensemen Roland McKeown and Kyle Wood also cleared waivers on Tuesday. That trio will remain in Raleigh for the time being, but the Canes can now assign them to Charlotte without waivers for 30 days; it's shrewd roster management given that it's easier for players to pass unclaimed through waivers now than it will be in another week when rosters are being finalized around the league.

The Road Ahead

The Canes will play three preseason games in five days to close out their exhibition slate. The practice schedule has the team down to just one group by the end of the traditional work week.

In order to get a different read on the players left in camp, the Hurricanes staged an intra-squad scrimmage on Tuesday.

"It's just sloppy right now," Brind'Amour said. "Guys came in ready to go. It just feels like you're prolonging it. You're trying to get better and trying to work on some things, but you can just feel it's not quite where it needs to be. We'll get there."

Wednesday's game in Nashville, then, could be a last chance for some fringe players to state their cases.

"There are a few spots open, and there are guys we're looking at, for sure," Brind'Amour said.

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