July 02 2014 10:47PM
Even in hockey crazed Edmonton, Mark Fayne could walk into a bar tonight and 99% of the people wouldn't recognize him. That will change very quickly, however, as fans become familiar with Fayne he likely will never receive a lot of publicity for his play, and that is a good thing, because it means he's excelling in his role.
Fayne isn't flashy. He is an old-school stay-at-home defenceman, who won't crush you physically, can make a quick, accurate outlet pass and admittedly won't bring much offence.
"I feel more comfortable starting in the defensive zone," said the 155th pick in the 2005 entry draft.
"It’s where I feel most comfortable. Over the past few years I’ve developed into more of a stay home, shutdown guy playing against tougher opposition on a nightly basis. I think I’ve done my best when I am challenged the most, and I have to be aware of who is on the ice at all times. It’s a good challenge that I like taking on," Fayne said in an interview on TSN 1260 two hours after being signed by the Oilers.
Fayne will have ample opportunities to challenge himself against the best forwards in the western conference. There is no debating that Fayne is the Oilers best right-shot defensive defenceman. Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry have struggled against top lines, and adding Fayne will allow them to improve their defensive zone coverage without having to face the best opposition shift after shift.
Fayne might end up being the Oilers most important off-season signing. The Oilers gave up a league-worst 267 goals, 3.26 goals-per-game, last season. Meanwhile Fayne was part of a Devils team that surrendered the 6th fewest goals, 195.
WANTS THE HEAVY MATCHUPS
The Devils play excellent team defence, so I don't expect Fayne to magically solve the Oilers defensive woes, but he enjoys playing defence, something many of the Oiler players have yet to grasp, and he is looking forward to battling against the big boys of the west.
"From the games that I’ve played against the west it is a different style from what I’m used to playing against back in Jersey. I think with my size and my ability to move (skate), the bigger forwards in the west won’t be as challenging for me, whereas small guys seem to give me the most difficulty," Fayne said.
Fayne is 6'3" and 215 pounds. He doesn't punish people physically, but he plays good angles and has an active stick. It is good that he feels confident against bigger forwards because he will get a consistent dose of Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Joe Thorton, Patrick Marleau, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, David Backes, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jamie Benn, Jarome Iginla and many other elite western forwards on a nightly basis.
The one aspect Oilers fans should be most excited about Fayne is that he knows his role, understand how to play his position and he won't try to do much.
"I think we are past the days of defensemen really skating [the puck] up the ice themselves. It’s a lot better when we can get the puck to the goal scorers. Hopefully we can follow the play up, and if there is an opportunity to jump into the rush we can do that, but mainly I just want to shut down the opposing team and get the puck back up ice and hope that something good can happen," explained Fayne.
I can't recall the last time I interviewed an Oiler who was this confident and understanding about his play in the defensive zone. It is exactly what this team needs.
You need forwards and defencemen who are confident they can score, and who want to be on the ice when you need a goal, but you also need skaters who want to be on the ice protecting the lead and facing the best players.
Fayne will never be a #1 D-man, because he doesn't possess the offensive ability of a Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty, but as the Oilers try to build a winner Fayne will be a solid piece of the foundation.
Ask the Hawks, Kings and Bruins how important Niklas Hjalmarsson, Willie Mitchell and Dennis Seidenberg were to their championships teams. You need players who are sound defensively, and Fayne played that role for the New Jersey Devils during their 2012 Stanley Cup run.
I don't expect Fayne to have the same possession numbers in Edmonton that he had in New Jersey, because the Oilers simply aren't as good of a defensive team, but I believe he will play a major role in reducing their goals against.
The Oilers were -66 in GF/GA against ratio (not including EN goals for or against). Only Florida (-69) and Buffalo (-86) had a worse ratio. I went back and looked at the first 25 games of the season, when the Oilers goalies really struggled, and I noted 21 goals that I'd say were due to bad goaltending. Over the final 57 games, when the goaltending was much more consistent, the Oilers were still -45 in GF/GA.
You can't simply blame the defensive woes on the goalies.
Last season, 15 of the 16 playoff teams had a + GF/GA ratio (excluding EN), while 13 of the 14 non-playoff teams had a - GF/GA ratio. The Detroit Red Wings and Fayne's Devils were the exceptions.
You can look at a team's Fenwick and Corsi ratings and there are more exceptions as far as making or missing the playoffs compared to GF/GA ratio.
For me, goals for and against are still the most important factor in winning games, and the focus in Edmonton over the past few seasons has seemingly leaned more towards scoring goals than preventing them.
It hasn't worked.
The Oilers need to produce more offence, but that should come when they start spending less time in the defensive zone. This team needs must improve inside their blueline, and Fayne should be one of the leaders in the pursuit of better defensive play.
His attitude, commitment and excitement towards defence is a welcome addition to an organization that has lacked defensive prowess for the past eight seasons.
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