Back in May on Last Word on Hockey, an article was written discussing the relationship between St. Louis Blues fans and former Blues captain David Backes. That article prompted the discussion of a current relationship in the Blues organization, a rocky relationship between fans and Justin Faulk.
When the St. Louis Blues acquired defencemen Justin Faulk in late September, fans were shocked. Sure, Faulk was a three-time All-Star. He won a gold medal with the United States at the 2010 IIHF World U18 Championship. He earned a bronze medal at the same championship in 2013 and 2015, and became the youngest player to skate for Team USA at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Sure, Faulk’s offensive capabilities exceeded that of Joel Edmundson, who the Blues traded to get Faulk. Despite all that, the trade came as a surprise to many fans.
The bigger surprise was the announcement that the Blues had given Faulk a seven-year contract extension that would go into effect at the start of the 2020-21 season. The news of the extension has led some to believe that Faulk was brought in as a possible replacement for captain and fan favorite, Alex Pietrangelo, who is set to be a free agent at the end of the current season.
Then the season started. Despite Faulk embracing his role with the Blues, things did not start off well. Faulk did not get his first goal until late November, and his overall play did not equal the contract the Blues had given him. Because of the contract and the potential of losing Pietrangelo, a rocky relationship has been formed between Justin Faulk and St. Louis Blues fans.
Rough Start Between Justin Faulk and Blues Fans
Why Faulk Can Impact Pietrangelo’s Future
The reason the Faulk trade and subsequent extension surprised so many was the Blues cap situation. The Blues cap was already thin, but the $6.5 million cap hit on Faulk’s contract for next season only leaves the Blues $2 million to re-sign players, including Pietrangelo. Pietrangelo is expected to make at least $9,000,000. Needless to say, fans have noticed the possible roadblocks in re-signing Pietrangelo due to Faulk’s contract. It is likely the Blues will have to part ways with someone to have hopes of re-signing Pietrangelo.
Looking At The Past
History shows that Faulk is in for a rough time in St. Louis if Pietrangelo leaves. After the 2004-05 NHL Lockout and the introduction of the salary cap, the Blues traded fan favorite and captain (sound familiar?) Chris Pronger to the Edmonton Oilers. Defenecemen Eric Brewer came over from the Oilers. Then-general manager Larry Pleau stated that getting Brewer was a key part in the trade happening. Thus, Brewer was seen as someone who was supposed to replace Pronger. They did not like it and did not like Brewer. During his time with the Blues, Brewer never was a flashy player, but it can be argued he was given unrealistic expectations by the fans. The Blues traded Brewer to the Tampa Bay Lightning on February 19, 2011. When the trade was announced prior to the next day’s game, Blues fans cheered.
A Worse Case For Faulk
Faulk’s relationship with Blues fans would take an absolute plummet if Pietrangelo leaves. In fact, fans would dislike him more than they did Brewer. As popular and talented as Pronger was (with the accolades to prove it), Pietrangelo did what Pronger never could; won a Stanley Cup with the Blues. Pietrangelo is the first captain of the Blues to hoist the Stanley Cup. He is an idol to Blues fans, even more than Pronger for the sole reason of the Cup.
In addition, Faulk’s resume prior to coming to the Blues was far more impressive than that of Eric Brewer. Faulk was the top defencemen on the Carolina Hurricanes. He was one of the best defencemen in the league. He has struggled to say the least with the Blues. Faulk has failed to meet expectations so far. Should Pietrangelo leave, fans will expect Faulk to return to his previous success to replace Pietrangelo. They will not be forgiving if he does not.
How Faulk Can Improve The Relationship
In a recent interview in the Athletic with Jeremy Rutherford, Faulk acknowledged that he has not played well this season. “Inconsistent. I had shifts or games that were good, and I didn’t always follow that up. I wasn’t as aggressive as I needed to be. I probably sat back a little too much and let the game come to me. I tried maybe a little too hard to fit in and do my thing and not hurt the team and let things go, as opposed to just kind of stepping up and taking control … being a guy who can push the pace a little bit more like I have done before.”
Blues fans should appreciate Faulk owning up for his poor play. Any fan appreciates a player who can be honest about themselves. This is a good start for Faulk in improving the relationship with fans. If Faulk can be a plus player for the Blues and help them win the Stanley Cup again, then fans will really start being accepting of Faulk.
If Pietrangelo re-signs with the Blues, a lot will be taken off of Faulk’s shoulders. However, if Faulk’s play does not improve, a similar story could arise when it comes time for contract extensions for Jaden Schwartz and Colton Parayko, two more fan favorites. It is hard to tell at this point. Much can change in a few years, including the cap situation.
It is not fair that Faulk could end up being a victim of circumstance. The best thing he can do is be a productive player for the Blues. The relationship may be rocky, but the best cure for that is helping a franchise win a second Stanley Cup.