It’s fair to say that Mark Fayne is a limited hockey player. He’s big but not a bone-crusher. He’s a defensive specialist, and lacks either high-end mobility or a robust passing game. He’s often cited as an example of Craig MacTavish’s poor contract work as general manager.
Despite those flaws there is at least one point in his favour. As he did in New Jersey, he’s shown of late in Edmonton that he can be an effective part of a shutdown pairing that plays brutally tough minutes, as long as his partner is a capable puck-mover. That’s something that has value on the Oilers’ blue line.
Playing with Andrej Sekera
Andrej Sekera has played all 18 games since Oscar Klefbom got hurt, and he’s generally been matched against the toughest available opposition, even in contests where other players have gotten more ice time. He’s played with three different partners, and we can look at his results with each.
Sekera played five games on the right side with rookie Darnell Nurse. With that pairing on the ice at even-strength, the Oilers managed 54 shot attempts and surrendered 101 from the opposition. Basically, the other team fired two shots at Edmonton’s net for every one the Oilers managed. They got killed, because as it turns out Sekera on his off-side and a 20-year-old rookie shouldn’t be used as a shutdown pairing.
Sekera also played three games with Brandon Davidson, another rookie but a more polished and experienced defender than Nurse. In none of the three games did the pairing manage a 50 percent Corsi; the Oilers were on the wrong end of the shot clock in all three contests.
That brings us to Fayne. In 10 games with Fayne, the duo has had an edge on the shot clock six times. Overall, the shot attempts are 136-134 in favour of Edmonton; that’s a slight advantage, which is pretty impressive given who Sekera/Fayne have played against since Klefbom got hurt.
If we look over the season as a whole, the trend holds, both in the goals department and by Corsi. The following are Sekera’s numbers with the three defencemen he’s spent more than an hour with at five-on-five:
- Fayne: 48% goal differential, 49% Corsi
- Nurse: 38% goal differential, 44% Corsi
- Davidson: 25% goal differential, 43% Corsi
Sekera/Fayne have basically broken even in tough minutes on a not-great Edmonton team this year. Sekera/anyone else have been crushed in the same role.
A Virtue of Necessity
Fayne is under contract for two seasons after this one; he’s the only right-shooting defenceman on the team who is. His limitations, his non-trivial salary ($3.625 million cap hit), the term left on the deal and the likelihood of no cap growth this summer mean that he’s going to be very hard to trade. In all likelihood, Edmonton would have to take a bad contract back.
Unless I’ve misread Fayne’s value, that leaves the Oilers with a choice. They can keep a guy who we’ve just established is useful in a very tough role under the right conditions, or they can trade him at a loss.
To me, the answer seems clear. Edmonton has a bunch of mobile, puck-moving, left shot defencemen—Sekera, Klefbom, Nurse, perhaps even Davidson. All of those guys fit the basic mold of player that Fayne has had success with. I think it makes sense to hang on to him for another season. Sekera will probably move to his off-side, but Fayne might play a secondary shutdown role with the surprisingly smooth Davidson or he might play a mentorship role with the raw but obviously skilled Nurse.
He’s under contract and he can play. He’s a better fit on the right side than a bunch of the Oilers flashier young prospects. He probably can’t be traded except at a loss because of his contract.
It seems sensible to plan for Fayne to stay with the team for another year. This isn’t Nikita Nikitin or Andrew Ference, two players who have reached a point where they are on-ice liabilities. Fayne can legitimately contribute in a tough role, and since he’s under contract the Oilers might as well just make the best of it.