February 6, 2016
After the butt-whoopings of Saturday and Sunday, and the deflating loss last night, maybe it’s best we take a step back and decide to process something other than how awful the last little while has been for Oilers fans. I’m content to let this stretch be a reminder of how far this team has to go, how badly it needs Darnell Nurse to become a star, and how enormous an impact goaltending has on team performance. But the trade deadline is only 19 days away, and it brings with it myriad questions to be answered, myriad decisions to be made.
Consider the curious case of Mark Fayne. At his best, he’s the epitome of a low-event NHL defenseman: low offense for and low offense against. And yet, he may hold the single most pivotal position on the Oilers’ blueline at present and especially in the future.
At the age of 24, Mark Fayne “burst” into the spotlight in the 2011-12 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. Then a member of the New Jersey Devils, Fayne played a substantial role in all 24 games of New Jersey’s Cinderella run, averaging 20:19 in ice-time, posting 3 assists, and sporting a solid +5. He was, in short, an unspectacular, top 4 defenseman on a Conference Championship winning team.
In the summer of 2014, Fayne cashed in on his success by signing a lucrative 4 year, $14.5M contract with the Edmonton Oilers. Heralded by many as an analytics based signing, the move was predominantly seen as a good one. With a cap hit of $3.65M, expectations were that Fayne, then a 27 year-old, would provide significant stability to the Oilers’ blueline throughout the prime of his career.
Year One (2014-15)
Fayne’s possession metrics fall off a cliff
Though the native of Nashua, New Hampshire had only ever posted positive (>50%) Corsi and Fenwick numbers with NJD, he posted a CF of 45.5% and a FF of 45.0% with the Oilers in his first season. His relative numbers in both statistical categories were particularly disappointing (CF -4.2, FF -4.0) and with 8 pts in 74 games, Fayne didn’t bring enough offense to give him a pass. The blueliner’s struggles brought the spotlight to his relative numbers in NJ, and speculation arose that both the Devils’ system and the ability of D-partner, Andy Greene, may have boosted Fayne’s numbers into mirage territory.
Year Two (2015-16)
I think it’s safe to say that Fayne has recovered from what really was a dismal first season. While there certainly have been some bumps in the road (including a voyage to Bakersfield through the uncertain waters of waivers), Fayne’s play has picked up; his CF jumped to 50.2% and his FF has risen to 49.5%. And it’s not simply because the team has gotten better either: relative to his teammates, Fayne is significantly better in both categories (CF-Rel: 3.0%, FF-Rel: 2.5%). Yes, he has been paired with an exceptional player in Andrej Sekera, but it’s Sekera’s numbers which have been boosted by Fayne (WOWY). In fact, a strong argument could be made that Fayne is enjoying his best year ever.
So, where’s the controversy?!
I said Mark Fayne’s is a curious case and here’s why: his increased performance gives Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan a really tough decision to make, and it has to do with roster make-up and where this team is headed moving forward.
Currently the Oilers blueline (when healthy) looks like this:
Scratched or Minors: Clendening, Nurse, Reinhart.
There are, as I see it, 3 decisions to make and they all involve the RHD. For Schultz, Fayne, and Gryba – who do you trade and who do you keep?
Well, every report available to us would make it seem like Schultz is a goner, even more so after speculation yesterday, so that’s dealt with. Gryba seems to fit well in that 5/6/7 slot, as long as he isn’t paid too much.
Then there’s Mark Fayne. If Fayne had been bad again this year, I’d be all for cutting bait and moving him along. If the Oilers’ decision to waive Fayne earlier this year is any indication, they seemed to agree. But now, with him playing fairly well, what will they do?
I think it makes sense to keep Mark Fayne if, and only if, the Oilers’ brass see him as part of their top 4, night in, night out, for the duration of his contract. You can’t pay a 3rd pairing defenseman $3.65M and afford to keep all of the top-end talent you have suffered so much for. It won’t work.
On the other hand, if Chiarelli does decide to move on from Fayne, he must have a plan for his replacement.
What if they land Hamonic? Great! He’ll be a first pairing guy with the Oil.
But that just slots Fayne down into Schultz’s vacancy. Who’s the next guy?
Tyson Barrie? Kevin Shattenkirk? Sami Vatanen?
A decision will have to be made on Mark Fayne soon and it will be a pivotal one – in my mind, the only reason to deal him is if two massive upgrades at his position are acquired.
What do you think?