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The Unsung New Jersey Devils Defenseman: Mark Fayne

Mark Fayne making a play that I'm sure Matt Ellis remembers, but perhaps went unsung int he bigger scheme of things.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Mark Fayne making a play that I'm sure Matt Ellis remembers, but perhaps went unsung int he bigger scheme of things. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Mark Fayne wasn't expected to be here, a regular defenseman for the New Jersey Devils in his second season of professional hockey. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2005 NHL draft and served out all four years of his college eligibility at Providence College. With all due respect to Fayne, Matt Taormina, Chris Terreri, Jay Leach, Lou, and the Friars, the Providence program isn't exactly a pro-hockey player factory. He was supposed to be in the AHL, possibly get a call-up or two, and develop out further as a player. Maybe he makes it, but if he doesn't, then it's no big deal - what can you possibly expect out of a fifth round selection anyway?

As it turns out, Fayne got a call-up last season when the team was infamous coached by John MacLean. He played through the end of November and December, right until MacLean was fired and replaced by Jacques Lemaire. As the Devils got healthier and eventually learned to not be a horrible hockey team under Lemaire, Fayne stuck around. He got paired with Henrik Tallinder and the duo went on to be a consistent presence on the blueline in the team's strong second half performance.

Of course, the trick for rookies of any kind is to be able to repeat their performance. Last season, Fayne and Tallinder were the team's best pairing when it came to on-ice Corsi per Behind the Net. From that link, you'll notice they weren't all that sheltered when it came to competition at even strength. We know about Tallinder's quality, he's a veteran, he's already established in this league. What about Fayne? Is he doing as well as he did last season? Has he suffered without Tallinder by his side? As it turns out, he's been doing quite OK; I'll explain further after the jump.

2011-12 - Mark Fayne 36 3 5 8 -4 14 0 0 0 20:10 40 7.5

Fayne leads the team's defensemen in goals and is third behind Andy Greene (9) and Adam Larsson (11) in points. No one's going to confuse Fayne for an offensive defenseman, though. He only generates a little over a shot per game (1.11), and he only gets time on the power play's second unit (1:51 PP TOI/G). Still, he's a defenseman, and he's been quite good to that end. Peter DeBoer has trusted him enough to give him some time on the penalty kill behind the usual suspects (1:24 PK TOI/G), as well as an average ice time of over 20 minutes in all situations. Only Tallinder and Adam Larsson have averaged more than Fayne this season. Given that the blueline does include veteran defenders Anton Volchenkov, Bryce Salvador, and Tallinder; that Fayne is getting significant minutes per game speaks to how the coaches feel he is performing.

The advanced stats at Behind the Net make Fayne look even better. Recall last season's numbers first. 7.72 on-ice Corsi, second highest on the team; 52.4% offensive zone starts; and the fourth highest Corsi Rel QoC on the team at 0.537. Now, only 36 games have been played so the numbers are going to vary a bit; but look at these numbers. Fayne has the highest on-ice Corsi rate among regular defensemen on the team at 4.55. It's second only to Matt Taormina's 5.27 in 8 games over all defenders. Fayne's Corsi Rel QoC dropped; but he's had the second highest value among current Devils. That indicates that he's not getting protected minutes. Most of all, his offensive zone start percentage has dropped to 48.7%. That not only means his on-ice Corsi rate is better than it currently is at 4.55; but it's further proof the coaches are putting him more and more into more difficult situations. Fayne isn't wilting at the challenge, he appears to be handling it quite well for the most part.

Digging deeper into the numbers, I found at Behind the Net that the shots against per 60 minutes rate actually drops when Fayne's on the ice in even strength situations. The rate when he's off the ice is 24.6, which is pretty good on it's own. When Fayne's on the ice, it's down to 23.3. Given that Fayne's not facing easy competition and he is playing a lot of minutes per game, that's a good accomplishment. It's further evidence that good things happen when he's on the ice. That 23.3 SA/60 rate is so good, only Volchenkov (23.0) and Taormina (8 GP, 21.3) have lower rates. Unlike Volchenkov and over many more games than Taormina, Fayne's presence has also seen an increase in shots for per 60 minutes: from 23.9 to 25.1. The only negative I see in these numbers is that the team's goals against per 60 has risen when Fayne's on the ice, from 2.63 to 2.90. Obviously, that's not good but it's unclear as to what's really driving it. That aside, the on-ice/off-ice numbers contain more evidence of the good season Fayne has had this season.

Moreover, this has mostly continued without Tallinder by his side. Tallinder has missed the last six games, here's how Fayne did in Corsi: +3, +12, +6, -8, -10, +6. In terms of goal differential at evens, Fayne is +3 in this streak (8 GF, 5 GA). Fayne wasn't perfect, mind you. He got killed mostly in the third period in the recent shootout win over Washington, and all game against Carolina like the rest of the team. Other than that, it's difficult to find many complaints with how Fayne has done in recent games - as well as all season long. The last six games, if nothing else, Fayne has proven to me in these last six games that he doesn't always need to be alongside Tallinder to do well.

This isn't to say that Fayne has been perfect. He's made some mistakes at times. Sometimes those mistakes end up as goals against. It sucks, but that's going to happen over the course of a season. I do think Fayne will end up with some better luck. His PDO is well under 1000 at 979. That's mostly due to a 88.9% team save percentage when he's on the ice. In his rookie season, his PDO was 1009 with a team save percentage of 92.7%. So there's some reason to believe that value should bounce back upward over time. When that happens, Fayne will look even better provided he can continue to help push the play forward while playing a significant amount of minutes per game.

No, he's not going to be the offensive leader of this blueline. He's not going to throw highlight-reel-worthy hits. He's not going to make flashy plays. He's not going to be a block machine, though scorers have given him credit for 41, the second most on the team - how many are legit, I couldn't tell you. Fayne's all about keeping it steady on defense, being swift enough to recover position when things break down, and making good decisions. It's not the path of stardom, but it's the path for a worthwhile NHL career. so far this season, Fayne's heading down that latter path regardless of whether he's getting the appropriate amount of praise for it. That's pretty good in the season after a good rookie season. That's pretty good for a fifth round draft pick. That's pretty good for anybody, really.

What do you think of Mark Fayne's season so far? Do you think Fayne will continue to have a good season? If you're still not convinced of Fayne's good season after reading all of these stats, then what would he need to do to improve? Even if you like what he's doing, what improvements do you want to see from Fayne? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Fayne in the comments. Thanks for reading.