Some minor-league stints are longer than others. Less than
24 hours after clearing waivers and being assigned to the Bakersfield Condors,
veteran defenceman Mark Fayne is on his way back to Edmonton.
Mark Fayne clears waivers & is assigned to the @Condors.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 29, 2016
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 30, 2016
Fayne clearing waivers wasn’t a surprise. He still has this
season and one more left on his $3.625 million/year contract, and there are precious
few teams in the league capable of taking on that kind of money at this point
in the year without also sending dollars back the other way.
It also wasn’t a surprise that the Oilers sent him down. Head
coach Todd McLellan showed last season that he had some issues with Fayne’s
game, and given that with injury the defenceman has played only 2:27 this
season giving him some time in the minors to find his legs undoubtedly seemed
like a logical choice. It’s something that another player in similar circumstances—Drake
Caggiula—might have benefited from.
Nevertheless, Fayne will have to make do without an
adjustment period. There would seem to be a window of opportunity here for him
to reclaim a steady NHL job, and it’s not one that he can afford to waste.
On the right side, Adam Larsson is pretty close to
bulletproof in his position on the team’s top pairing. Left-shooting Kris
Russell is a more polarizing figure, but the guy he has to convince is McLellan
and he seems to have done so. That leaves one job somewhat open.
Brandon Davidson should have it, but he’s hurt. Eric Gryba
now joins him on the injured list, but the truth is that he seems to have been
pegged for a reserve role anyway—he hasn’t played since November 17, and when
Russell’s injury opened up a second-pairing job earlier on it wasn’t Gryba who
Instead, Matt Benning has taken over that spot, and he’s
generally played pretty well. Unfortunately for him, the last few games have
seen the Darnell Nurse/Benning pairing get lit up by opponents, culminating in
a particularly unfortunate play on Toronto’s game-winning goal Tuesday night:
At his best, Fayne can be a stabilizing influence.
Fayne’s 2015-16 performance is generally remembered for him
getting unceremoniously dumped in the minors after an ugly PDO run, but what’s
really telling is what happened after his return: From December 20 on, Fayne
played on the shutdown pairing with Andrej Sekera (meaning against both the
best opponents and with a lot of shifts starting in the defensive zone) and the
unit worked brilliantly, holding the opposition to a draw in terms of both
goals and shots.
That’s a hard thing to do. Even this year’s tandem of
Klefbom/Larsson isn’t particularly outperforming that Sekera/Fayne run—the shot
metrics are better, but on a better team and in less severe usage, and they
certainly aren’t breaking even on the goals side of the equation (though that
should come around).
Unfortunately for Fayne, last year’s post-Christmas success
doesn’t really matter. If and when he gets his shot at a spot in the lineup he’ll
need to deliver. If he can’t, he’ll be looking forward to a longer stint in