The Edmonton Oilers have been one of the busiest franchises in the NHL this summer with a flurry of moves. You wouldn’t expect anything less from a team that finished 29th overall, and 17 points out of the last wildcard spot in the Western Conference playoff race. The biggest overstatement this summer was that change was needed.
Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli has been busy all summer. Since the trade deadline in February, Chiarelli has moved out some significant pieces of what were once considered cornerstones of the Oilers rebuild; Justin Schultz, Taylor Hall and now Nail Yakupov. The Oilers GM has brought in several notables including; Adam Larsson, Milan Lucic, Jesse Puljujarvi, Drake Caggiula and now Kris Russell to add some balance and depth to the roster.
Related: Zach Who? Meet Yakupov’s Replacement
Now, the team is sitting at roughly $64 million in salary without considering potential deals for Kris Versteeg and Eric Gryba, both at camp on professional tryouts (PTO’s). If you include those two, that’s a maximum 50 contracts, not to mention they’ll take a chunk out of the current $8.9 million the team has in cap space. Sure, Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear are both sliding contracts (don’t count because they aren’t expected to play pro), but Edmonton suddenly needs to find some wiggle room. Thus, there might be another player on the way out, defenseman Mark Fayne.
Fayne Potentially a Cap Casualty
Fayne, 29, is entering the third year of a $17.5 million, four-year deal with the Oilers, but his spot on the Oilers defense is in question now that the team has signed Russell to a $3.1 million one-year deal. Russell, 29, is expected to fill a top-four role on defense, a spot Fayne has held through his first two years with the Oilers.
Edmonton’s defense is already becoming a logjam. Larsson, Russell, Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera, Darnell Nurse and Brandon Davidson are expected to be regulars on the Oilers defense. That leaves Fayne battling for a No. 7/8 role with Gryba, if the team signs him. Still, it’s fiscally irresponsible to pay someone $3.62 million to sit in the press box, especially when the player can still play in this league.
At his best, Fayne is a decent shutdown defenseman that’s looked good playing with Sekera. There’s still value in the player, but the contract is a bit of an albatross.
OILERS PROJECTED 2016-17 BLUELINE
Eric Gryba (PTO)
Note: Although Matthew Benning is still on the roster, I do not have him projected to be one on the opening night roster with the Oilers neglecting to place Fayne on waivers or making an official decision on Gryba at the time this was submitted.
Where Do We Go Now?
As stated, Fayne is still a decent NHL defenseman that who’s at his best when he plays within the boundaries of his game. He’s at his best moving the puck with smart first passes on the breakout and sound positional play defensively. That said, last season was a long year for the 29-year-old veteran of 385 NHL games. He’s never been a highly skilled offensive guy; his skating is starting to slow, and his overall game is starting to regress. What complicates the matter is that Edmonton has several prospects coming down the pipe that will not only push for NHL minutes, but they’re prospects the organization wants to see take the next step by becoming regulars in the Oilers lineup.
He’s never been a highly skilled offensive guy; his skating is starting to slow, and his overall game is starting to regress. What complicates the matter is that Edmonton has several prospects coming down the pipe that will not only push for NHL minutes, but they’re prospects the organization wants to see take the next step by becoming regulars in the Oilers lineup.
Related: Oilers Official NHL Roster (Updated)
Jordan Oesterle, Matt Benning, and Griffin Reinhart are just the tip of the iceberg regarding blue-chip prospects that the organization is high on. All three are waiver exempt, and the team will undoubtedly recall them throughout the year for injury relief.
Oesterle, 24, is a left side defenseman that projects as an offensive puck mover but within limitations. He won’t become a huge offensively gifted player, but he’s a steady defender that limits his mistakes. He played 17 games with the Oilers last year scoring five points. The team will want to give him an opportunity to grow into a regular Oiler now that he’s entering his mid-20’s.
Benning, 22, has been the most impressive of the three as a college free agent signing this summer. The former Boston Bruins prospect and Chiarelli pick has shown some decent skills with the puck and making a case to be the best defenseman in the organization not playing for the big club. At 6’1″ 200 pounds, he’s got a decent two-way skill set with some offensive upside. Best case scenario he could end up as a top four defenseman for Oilers down the road.
Reinhart, 22, is the most controversial of the three. The team paid a heavy price to acquire the former fourth overall pick from 2012, and he finished the year with the Oilers last April. That said, with just two points in 37 career NHL games, the jury is now out on his upside which has fallen from top-pairing to wondering if he’ll ever develop into an NHL regular at all. It’s a harsh reality for a guy that drew Shea Weber comparisons in his draft year, but there are too many intangibles to see him not become at the very least a dependable third-pairing NHL defender. Head coach Todd McLellan didn’t hide his feelings when he said Reinhart needed to improve in nearly every facet of his game when the Oilers sent him down to Bakersfield last week.
Related: Message is Clear to Reinhart
Related: Russell Signing Win-Win For Oilers
Head coach Todd McLellan didn’t hide his feelings when he said Reinhart needed to improve in nearly every facet of his game when the Oilers sent him down to Bakersfield last week.
In the end, the Russell signing and several emerging prospects create cause for some writing on the wall for Fayne. Yes, who’s been a good soldier for the Oilers the last two years, but his best years might be behind him. For that reason, a fresh start, similar to the one Chiarelli and management gave Yakupov, might be the best thing for both parties. As time goes by Fayne’s stock will plummet and with so many question marks around the league regarding team defense, it might be better to make a deal sooner rather than later.