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What's Going on with Mark Fayne?

A look into the veteran defenceman's 2015/16 season.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

I've been somewhat perplexed by both the coaching staff's handling of the veteran defenceman as well as the public perception of Mark Fayne. By eye, he has played reasonably well, good enough to play regular minutes for the Oilers. Fayne has had a history of being a serviceable player, establishing himself in New Jersey before being signed by the Oilers in 2014. He's in his prime, can play against the oppositions best players and shows well by the majority of the performance metrics.

A quick glance at his underlying numbers confirms what I think of him. He's not the most offensively gifted player, but the team tends to have the puck when he's on the ice. This season, the Oilers have received  a higher proportion of scoring chances with Fayne on the ice, and they even get a higher proportion of the high danger chances. He's definitely improved from last season, but keep in mind we're only 19 games in (Source: War on Ice).

Season Team Games TOI/Gm Points Corsi For% Scoring Chances For% High Danger Scoring Chances For% Off. Zone Starts%
2010/11 N.J 57 16.2 4-5-9 54.53 (4.46) 54.21 (4.57) 54.18 (6.00) 51.91 (-0.95)
2011/12 N.J 82 16.17 3-10-13 51.06 (1.2) 51.22 (-0.59) 49.73 (-2.96) 49.49 (-1.44)
2012/13 N.J 31 15.21 0-5-5 58.2 (3.64) 62.46 (8.88) 64.00 (7.8) 46.95 (-7.44)
2013/14 N.J 72 15.62 3-7-10 55.29 (1.52) 55.35 (0.45) 57.36 (0.73) 47.63 (-7.37)
2014/15 EDM 74 14.65 2-4-6 46.02 (-3.22) 41.17 (-6.49) 39.33 (-8.34) 43.22 (-9.95)
2015/16 EDM 16 14.68 0-1-1 51.76 (4.82) 52.45 (3.97) 53.52 (9.81) 46.94 (-0.29)

Although he's been on the ice for more goals against than the other Oilers defencemen, the majority of those goals have been caused by systematic breakdowns. Fayne clearly struggled this past season, both offensively and defensively, and has been on the ice for more high danger shots this season. But I think most would agree that Fayne is a legitimate NHL defenceman whose skill set would benefit the majority of NHL clubs.

Despite the numbers and reputation, Todd McLellan has limited Fayne's minutes and even sat him for a few games going with Ference or Gryba on the right side instead. Why wouldn't McLellan want a veteran player, who can play against the league's best, in his lineup every game?

Volume Shooting

One topic that I've been more interested in this year has been overall team and player shot attempts (i.e., Corsi-For). McLellan mentioned this a while back, emphasizing the importance of generating shots as a way to apply pressure and wear down opponents. His team in San Jose was very good at generating shot attempts, relying on a strong roster that regularly controlled games, got their scoring chances and outscored opponents. The defence was especially active in generating shot attempts, with a select few getting in on the high danger scoring chances.

[The Sharks] shot a lot of pucks.  They're a team that just shot from everywhere, crashed the net, and created a lot of offence off that, That's something that sticks out in my mind.  They were fast.  Everything was funneled to the net.  They were always on attack. - Mark Letestu (Source: 630 CHED)

This season, the Oilers have averaged roughly 39 shot attempts per game at even-strength, which is below the league average (roughly 42). What's interesting is that the defencemen are getting in on about 33% of the total shot attempts, slightly down from last season, but much higher than the season's prior to that. Historically, the Sharks under McLellan got a higher than average proportion of their shot attempts from defencemen.

Digging into the individual shot attempts, I found that Fayne is actually last in the number of shot attempts taken per 20 minutes of ice (at even-strength) among Oilers defencemen this season.

Name Games TOI Individual Shot Attempts/20 Proportion of High Danger Chances
B. Davidson 10 147.07 3.67 3.45%
D. Nurse 10 168.24 3.33 4.00%
A. Sekera 19 311.73 2.95 4.08%
E. Gryba 18 284.66 2.95 6.38%
A. Ference 5 67.95 2.94 0.00%
O. Klefbom 19 316.79 2.84 2.17%
G. Reinhart 10 152.27 2.63 5.26%
J. Schultz 9 134.82 2.52 16.67%
M. Fayne 16 234.88 2.21 2.63%

The team does get a lot of shot attempts when Fayne iss on the ice (51.76%, 2nd among Oilers defencemen), but we see from the data that the shot attempts made when Fayne is on the ice often come from either the forwards or his defence partner. We know Fayne isn't one to pinch or hover around the net like Schultz, who only takes 2.5 shot attempts per 20, but also takes about 16% of the high danger scoring chances he's on the ice for. Fayne might be passing off the puck too often or hesitating on shots, which might be perceived by the coaching staff as unnecessarily taking pressure off of the opponent.

As a point of reference, I found that the majority of Sharks defencemen averaged over three shot attempts per 20 minutes with McLellan behind the bench. Those that would fall below that average, namely Jason Demers and Dan Boyle, were found to have a higher than average proportion of the high danger scoring chances made when they were on the ice. So if the defencemen weren't shooting, they were pinching in and getting in the slot area right in front of the goalie.

If Todd McLellan is looking for volume shooting as a way to break down defensive zone coverages and find scoring chances around the net, Fayne should ideally be the one taking the original shot so that the forwards can look for rebounds and continue pressure. And I suspect based on these numbers that McLellan wants a defenceman on the right side who's able to send shots on net on a more regular basis. This doesn't mean that Fayne should start firing at will. This might come down to how well he reads the play in the offensive zone and how quickly he can make decisions when the Oilers are on the attack. And if the Oilers trade Fayne, it won't be because of a lack of talent. Rather it would be because of a failure on Fayne's part to fit into McLellan's system.