When word broke yesterday morning that the Edmonton Oilers had decided to place defenceman Mark Fayne on waivers, it was rather difficult to not raise an eyebrow at the move. While the former New Jersey Devil has struggled mightily over the opening two months of the 2015-16 campaign, one would think he is still good enough to slot in front of a player like Eric Gryba on an NHL roster.
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Clearly, the fact Fayne does not play a style of game that either his general manager or head coach prefer has left him on the outside looking in. If you have a tough time moving the puck or do not play with an edge to your game, the chances of you seeing time on a blue line put together by Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan are not very good.
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Add to that, the fact it has taken less than 30 games for the former Boston Bruins GM to essentially remove all of Craig MacTavish’s attempted fixes at improving this team’s defence and goaltending and suddenly Wednesday’s decision becomes even less surprising. While it may be hard to fathom, Edmonton currently has $13.675 million in cap dollars tied up in four players who are no longer part of the equation in the Alberta capital.
Burying MacT’s Blunders In the AHL
When Fayne clears waivers on Thursday morning, his $3.625M cap hit will join those of Nikita Nikitin ($4.5M) and netminder Ben Scrivens ($2.3M) in the AHL. While Nikitin will likely be the one taking Fayne’s spot on the Oilers roster. he will ultimately be joining Andrew Ference and his $3.25M hit in the press box on a nightly basis. Can you say house cleaning?
In the minds of nearly everyone who follows this team, most of these moves were longer overdue but swapping Fayne for Gryba could certainly be viewed as a step backwards. In the grand scheme of things, is the No. 6 defenceman on the roster really that big of a deal? While that should not be the case, on a team with a defence as inexperienced as this one, it could prove to be rather problematic.
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There is no arguing the fact Gryba brings an element to the table that no other blueliner in this group has but is it worth the risk? Anyone who has watched the 27-year old play with any sort of regularity, be it with the Oilers or during his three seasons with the Ottawa Senators, knows there is chaos in his game. While he struggles to move the puck, his knack to consistently make one poor decision after another is something which cannot be overlooked.
Fayne Was Not A Chiarelli Acquisition
And yet, at least for the time being, that is exactly what this organization has decided to do. Could the reason for that possibly be because Chiarelli went out and acquired Gryba via trade during the summer? In my mind the answer to that question is rather obvious but again, his willingness to play a physical style of game is something that will keep him in this lineup. Like it or not, the new Oilers regime values a player with his skill-set.
With that said, the most puzzling aspect of all this is Fayne’s contract status. With two year’s still remaining on his current deal and the organization clearly unhappy with the state of the 28-year old’s game, where is this supposed to go? With Ference already a likely buyout candidate next summer, my guess is upper management would not be looking to add a second buyout to the books during the same off-season.
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Perhaps they are looking at moving Fayne and retaining part of his salary in a trade but something tells me trying to sell another team on a guy who can’t even crack a blue line as paper-thin as this one could turn out to be a tough sell. If the plan is deal him between now and the Trade Deadline, would it not make more sense to have the veteran rearguard playing regular minutes in NHL? Again, the answer seems rather obvious and yet here we are.
After last night’s 4-3 overtime win over the San Jose Sharks, all is good in the world of the Edmonton Oilers. They are on a four-game win streak and just three points out of the third and final playoff position in the Pacific Division. While that may be all well and good in the here and now, the fact of the matter is this group still has a number of issues to deal with and the decision to eliminate Mark Fayne from the picture could prove to be a mistake that comes back to bite them.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.