Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports

Why not Mark Fayne?

Mark Fayne could be forgiven for wondering what it would take for him to find his way back into the Edmonton Oilers’ lineup. He has been very good in the AHL. His internal competition has been less good of late in the NHL.

The first time Fayne was waived, those factors were cited as reasons for his demotion to the minors. Yet now that they work in his favour, he remains trapped in the minor leagues.

Fayne should in theory be competing for the right-shot role on Edmonton’s third defence pairing, opposite second-year blueliner Darnell Nurse. The other contenders for that job are rookie professional Matt Benning and veteran No. 6/7 defenceman Eric Gryba.

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Of these three players, the 22-year-old Benning has the most long-term importance to the organization. Like Brandon Davidson, Martin Marincin and Tom Gilbert before him, he had a relatively low profile as a prospect before delivering a varied and valuable skillset immediately upon arrival in the NHL. That he was recruited on Peter Chiarelli’s watch and from Chiarelli’s old organization should help him avoid the fate of his predecessors, all of whom were victims of change in Edmonton’s front office.

Of more immediate concern is the way Benning’s play has slipped over the last two months. All successful rookie defencemen are vulnerable to either injury or the training wheels coming off, and Benning has been hit with both at once.

As the excellent Darcy McLeod points out, the drop-off in Benning’s play began after a hard hit from then-Carolina forward Viktor Stalberg knocked him out of the lineup:

We might also point to usage as a complicating factor here.

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Early on, Benning was carefully sheltered. He spent a lot of time with Andrej Sekera (58 percent Corsi with; 51 percent Corsi without) and started a lot of shifts in the attacking end (three offensive zone draws for every two defensive zone draws). Now he’s being tasked with tougher minutes, starting more shifts in the defensive zone than in the opposition side, even as he tries to find his footing post-injury.

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Speaking of potential Benning issues, background may also play a role. He certainly wouldn’t be the first college skater developed on a schedule of 40-odd games to hit a wall at midseason early in his pro career.

The fallback option is Gryba, who has sat out three straight wins after playing in eight of the previous 10 games. It’s debatable whether Gryba is even an upgrade on a struggling Benning; over the same time period and in a similar role, his 48 percent Corsi rating is almost a perfect match for Benning.

There should be an opening there. Moreover, Fayne looks like he deserves a chance to grab it.

Yes, that’s Mark Fayne selecting the breakaway pass from multiple options open to him and springing Jaedon Descheneau for the opening goal of a recent game against the Stockton Heat.

Fayne, known as a pure shutdown defenceman at the NHL level, has seemingly used his time in the minors to work on his game with the puck. He now has 15 points in 29 AHL contests, meaning his points-per-game rate is behind only Jordan Oesterle among Condors defencemen.

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Griffin Reinhart, whose increased confidence with the puck has been praised in multiple locations, is doing basically half as well as Fayne in terms of even-strength scoring:

  • Reinhart: 44 games, six goals, four assists, 10 points (0.23 points/game)
  • Fayne: 29 games, two goals, 10 assists, 12 points (0.41 points/game)

In a late-January interview with 630 CHED’s Bob Stauffer, Bakersfield coach Gerry Fleming pivoted from praising Reinhart’s ability with the puck to the way that playing with Fayne had helped him:

Absolutely fantastic [attitude], he’s a real pro. He’s made guys better, no doubt about it. I think he’s helped Griff, like you mentioned, but not only Griff but he’s helped our team. We’ve got some young guys this year and his voice in the dressing room, his leadership on the ice, the way he approaches practice, nothing but great things. He’s come down here and he’s worked hard. He understands his role and he’s accepted his role. He’s really made a difference on our back end.

Those comments are of particular interest given the emphasis on veteran savvy in Edmonton the last little while. The Oilers are obviously a younger team, without a lot of NHL playoff experience. How much that matters is debatable—the idea that Jordan Eberle can handle representing Canada at the World Juniors but not the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs strikes me as insane—but it does seem to be something the coaches value, which is presumably why Matt Hendricks still plays most games.

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With that in mind, Fayne is the only defenceman in the organization who has ever played in the Stanley Cup final, doing so as a 20-minutes/game man for the New Jersey Devils in 2012 (Adam Larsson played five playoff games that year, but none in the final.). Among Edmonton defenders, only Kris Russell has more career NHL playoff games.

He has also, at times, been a pretty decent NHL player. Last year his on-ice shot and goal metrics were middle of the pack for the Oilers, even as he played tougher minutes than the majority of the team’s blue line. Some of the credit for that should go to partner Andrej Sekera, but nevertheless Fayne is a legitimate major-league option.

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His contract virtually guarantees that the Oilers will buy him out this summer. In the meantime, though, he’s still available to a team that has a sudden weakness on the right side of its blue line. It would be a shame not to use him if he can help.


  • MacT's Neglected Helmet


    I’m not as enamoured with Mark Fayne as the stats guys (sidenote: it’d be cool if we had some women that were into advanced hockey stats) but I also have no beef with Mark Fayne at the NHL level. That said, I doubt the difference between a Mark Fayne and a Eric Gryba/Matt Benning is very big, positive or negative wise. So, if there’s not much difference, why disrupt the “team chemistry” by demoting Gryba/Benning? Just doesn’t seem worthwhile.

    PS: For his own sake, I hope Mark Fayne can get back to the NHL next year. Maybe Vegas?

  • dsanchez1973

    The org makes judgments on certain players and seems unwilling to ever change them. In some cases, it means “you’re an AHL’er” (Lander, Fayne), and in others it means “You’re an NHLer” (Caggulia) even when current performance indicates otherwise. These inflexible judgments are to the detriment of the team, in my opinion.

    • Shameless Plugger

      I would argue the judgments made by the management/coaching staff have played a part in (hopefully but surely) ending our ten year playoff drought. It’s the mindset of forcing players into roles or positions they aren’t suited for that got the Oilers into the decade of darkness to begin with. Im on board all the way with the decisions made by this staff. So far so good.

    • gongshow

      Re: women into advanced hockey stats check out JenLC on wordpress and twitter. She’s disappeared since late 2016 but she had some interesting takes on exits, entries and other stuff.

  • Burns14

    I could see him as a call up for when the playoffs start, but I’m not sure the Oilers brass would put him in a game unless it was an emergency. By the looks of it, they have Oesterle slated above Fayne in the depth chart. (could be because of waiver exemption)

  • Explicit

    Never was a fan of Fayne. good to have depth tho. I’d much rather play Benning and gryba depending on the need. They each bring a different element that fayne can’t.

  • Oil9744

    Only spot he might fit in is obviously the bottom 9 right side but it just comes down to Benning and Gryba are better players, even a “struggling” Benning is a better option then Fayne

  • madjam

    Why Fayne , when he is not physical enough like Gryba or fast enough like Benning ? Like Lander , he is reduced to a fillin or callup . Speed of todays game reduces Fayne’s effectiveness at NHL level , but not at AHL level .

  • Oilerz4life

    Nice try, thanks but no thanks, pass on Fayne. Benning and Gryba doing fine, if it aint broke JW, don’t know what you spiked the punch with but it’s numbed your noggin.

  • TKB2677

    Does anyone know if Jon Willis and Mark Fayne are cousins or brothers or related somehow? I don’t think I have seen a Oilers media guy advocate so hard for a very marginal dman. Fayne is doing really well in the minors. Oh wow!!! The AHL is a DEVELOPMENT league filled up primarily with players new to the pros, players who have things they need to work on to have a chance at the NHL or guys who will NEVER play in the NHL but aren’t ready to go to Europe. He’s got 389 NHL games, if he wasn’t playing really well in the AHL, that would be a massive concern.

    Can Fayne be a 6-7 dman on a bunch of NHL teams? Sure. If he is playing a regular shift for your team, it probably means your defense isn’t very good. But in the grand scheme of things, he’s not better than Benning when Benning is playing well. When the playoff start and turns into tight checking, battling, refs put the whistles away, nasty hockey, I’d take a Gryba over a Fayne. I know the “spreadsheet” might not say that but if you actually watch the game instead of worrying about what your spreadsheet says, playoff hockey is a war. Defending your paint is important. So having a big, tough, physical, nasty, clear the net type of dman in Gryba has more value than value who doesn’t touch anyone and will lose the one on one battles in front of the net or in the corner when Gryba probably won’t.

  • TKB2677

    My issue with Fayne is he’s got no dimension.When you watch him play, he doesn’t really bring anything to the game at the NHL level. If to justify Fayne’s existence, you have to pull up a spread sheet and explain to someone that according to the advanced stats, he can at times do this and that to a person watching the game because for most people it’s difficult to see, is that not a problem?

    To the naked eye at the NHL level Fayne:
    – Isn’t the greatest of skaters.
    – Doesn’t score or generate any offense.
    – Doesn’t move the puck overly well.
    – He’s got good size but he doesn’t use it. He loses puck battles or hit anyone.
    – He’s not tough or makes like miserable for the opponents.
    – He doesn’t break up the cycle or clear the front.
    – Defending wise. Provided he keeps this gaps properly and keeps things in front of him, he can be an OK defender but he’s not elite.

    So again what does he do on the ice other than being an adequate defender sometimes. When Gryba is in the line up, you can see what he brings. Skating, puck moving, offensively and defensively he’s very similar to Fayne. But he’s got good size and he uses it. He’s nasty, tough and physical. He makes like tough on the opponent, he breaks up the cycle and clears the net. He has a usable dimension. When Fayne is really on his game maybe he defends slightly better than Gryba but Gryba has all those other things that Fayne doesn’t.

  • StephLee

    Honestly, im pretty sure it’s just cause the organization is over him. He’s like that nice guy ex that you could stand to be with, but aren’t head over heels for

  • k.r.c.

    There is no “potential benning issues” . He has good hockey IQ, is young, physical, and is always looking for sticks when shooting. Next year he will be proving himself to be a great PP defense like he has in every other level he has played in.

  • @Hallsy4

    “the idea that Jordan Eberle can handle representing Canada at the World Juniors but not the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs strikes me as insane”.

    I somewhat mostly disagree.. He scored one big goal, around 8 (?) years ago, playing for a Canada team that IMO generally should be better than the opposition, and future NHL players like EBS are better than the opposition. He was actually very lucky to get that chance, as the Russian player clearly should have cleared the puck and ended that game…. However, awesome goal. Anyways, I’m sure Ebs can “Handle” playing in the playoffs, in the sense that he will play like he has all season… I hope I’m wrong but I think we should let go of the fallacy that he’s a big game player. I’ve never seen it, and he hasn’t really done much in his Junior (aside from WJ’s) or Pro career to make me think otherwise whatsoever. Hopefully he has a playoffs like Fernando, but I’m not holding my breath. It will be nice to finally put this debate to rest though!!