In August we asked if Fayne could make the jump to a pairing with Sekera. The Oilers had added to their potential top four defenders by signing
Sekera in free agency but the gaping hole on the right side left by the Petry
trade meant someone had to step up. How’s it going so far? Well…
First, let’s revisit the logic behind pairing Fayne with
Sekera. The fit seemed natural enough that the new coaching staff put the two
of them together to start the year. Fayne’s resume has suggested that he could
have been a solid foil for another top four defender. In the very recent past he
was a regular partner for some of New Jersey’s best defensemen.
He had spent a significant amount of time as a Devil playing
with Andy Greene in a pretty substantial role. Still, I wrote this about the
potential pairing of Sekera-Fayne:
Fayne with the Devils had a solid track record in regards to
possession and he played with some talented defenders. But even still his coach
wasn’t playing him step for step with them. If we assume that New Jersey was
competently deploying their defense over that period of time then we should
also assume that Fayne likely won’t play in lock-step with Sekera. Given what
we know about Fayne’s offensive shortcomings it is probably safe to assume that
in certain situations the Oilers might find it more beneficial to spot in
Sekera with someone like Schultz when they feel they need to score. That might
not be a sound idea, but it would be understandable.
What I was expecting from Fayne was competent but
unspectacular play as the number four defender for the Oilers. After what I had
seen a year ago and what he had accomplished in the past I was comfortable
believing he could do that. What I’ve seen so far has not been satisfactory,
and it’s hard to imagine that the coaching staff doesn’t feel the same way.
I say that because right now Mark Fayne has fallen to dead
last among Edmonton’s eight defenders in average Time On Ice (TOI) per game. Sure, he’s
played in all of the games so far while Reinhart, Ference, and Davidson have
been rotating in, but the coaching staff doesn’t trust him very much.
Even with the third most minutes on the PK (1:58
per game) he is only averaging a total of 14:56 per game in this young season.
At Even-Strength he has only been trusted out there to the tune of 12:54 per
game. For reference, Rookie Griffin Reinhart is averaging almost 17 minutes a
night at Even-Strength.
Fayne and Sekera are still getting a heavier percentage of defensive zone starts than the other pairings, but they continue to lose the
possession battle to a much larger degree than the other pairings. The
fancystats community acknowledges there’s a link between zone starts and
possession, but it’s not as big as one might expect. Fayne and Sekera just aren’t
getting the job done well enough.
If this trend continues then it won’t be long before Mark
Fayne finds himself in the rotation for the 6th defenseman and off
of the pairing with Sekera.
From where I sit, the Oilers need to find a better option in
the 4D spot. Reinhart has played the right side in the past. Sekera too has
played on his off-side. The Oilers have internal options to replace Fayne but
it will require someone to play in their unnatural position.
I was hoping for more from Mark Fayne to start the year. I haven’t
been underwhelmed, I’ve been shocked at just how poor he’s been. He has a
difficult time exiting his own zone via any other means than up the boards and
out in an uncontrolled hope-for-the-best area pass. In his own zone it was
pointed out to me (and now I can’t un-see it) that he has extreme difficulty
taking away passing options. Whether it’s in 2v1s or any other scenario cross
seam passes go right by him on a very regular basis.
I expect difficulty from the new faces to the Oilers early
in the season. This is Fayne’s second season with the Oilers and he should
ideally not be struggling this badly.