It was a signing that was supposed to be a turning point of sorts for the Edmonton Oilers. After years of struggling to get their hands on legitimate veteran NHL talent to play on the backend, the club signed defenceman Mark Fayne to 4-year/$14.5 million deal on July 1, 2014. Fast forward three years and unfortunately things have not played out in the fashion either the club or player had hoped.
While the organization’s previous front office team was responsible for inking the former New Jersey Devils rearguard to his current pact, the hope was Fayne could help fill a spot on the roster over the course of the final three years of his deal and help buy Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan some time to transition the roster from old to new.
Fayne Hasn’t Fit in Edmonton
However, upon taking over the reins behind the bench, it became evident early on the Oilers new coach wasn’t a fan of the player’s overall game. Fayne became less and less of a central figure in McLellan’s lineup with each passing day and before you knew it, he was on the outside looking in. So much so that he essentially spent the entire 2016-17 campaign in the AHL, though injuries did not help his cause.
In the blink of an eye, the 30-year old went from playing a key role in New Jersey to an afterthought in Edmonton. The argument could be made that he is a better all around option than Eric Gryba but the head coach clearly sees things differently. However, with Andrej Sekera set to miss at least the opening few months of the upcoming season, the Oilers current depth on the backend is close to non-existent.
As of this moment, the active roster includes five names that should be considered everyday regulars: Matt Benning, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse and Kris Russell. There is no question Gryba is an NHL player but using him in anything other than a depth role, aka a No. 7 defenceman, would be a mistake and could cause the Oilers quite a bit of grief early in ’17-’18.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) July 13, 2017
Chiarelli’s decision to bring in Yohann Auvitu was an interesting move to be sure and a bet worth taking. The addition of the soon-to-be 28-year old won’t help soften the blow of losing Sekera in any way but he could push Gryba for playing time. Though let’s not forget the Devils made little effort to re-sign the Frenchman after his 25-game audition, despite being paper-thin along their backend. Something which cannot be ignored.
With nothing resembling a guaranteed option for the No. 6 spot along the blue line, one can’t help but wonder if Fayne will be given a shot at grabbing it. After all, he is the one who has a resume to fall back onto and is still a relatively young man. At his best, he was a top two pairing guy in New Jersey who excelled when partnered with Andy Greene and was able to turn that into a tidy little payday from the Oilers.
Oilers Need More Depth on Defence
No matter what happens from here on out, that signing will always be viewed as nothing other than a blunder by the Craig MacTavish regime. And yet it would appear as if Fayne could still find a way to make a positive contribution to the club who has paid him so handsomely. We heard whispers of conditioning being an issue with the American blueliner in recent years and that can’t continue. But the door is still open
There is no question he would have to earn back the trust of his coach but if Fayne can do that and McLellan is open to afford him the opportunity to show what he can do, Edmonton would be better off for it. When you take Sekera out of the equation, the only defencemen on the roster with 300+ career games under their belt are Larsson and Russell. Like it or not, that could prove problematic and the 2005 fifth-round pick would certainly help in that area and also bring something else to table.
With unrestricted free agency staring him squarely in the face and coming off a year in the minors, Mark Fayne is fighting for his NHL career. In order to have any hope of another organization even look his way next summer, the seven-year veteran is going to have to prove he can still contribute at this level. That should be motivation enough and the Edmonton Oilers would be wise to give him said platform to sink or swim.
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.