In many respects, Mark Fayne has done just about everything in his hockey career.
He was a fifth round draft pick out of Providence College in 2005; He recorded a career year in 2011-12, playing 82 regular season games and recording 17 points on the New Jersey Devils’ blue line; that same season, the defenseman helped lead the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Prior to the 2014-15 campaign, Fayne signed a big-money contract with the Edmonton Oilers — a four-year, $14-million deal to be exact.
And now, three years later, there’s this: Fayne is back in another spot on his career roadmap, suiting up for the Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League.
Fayne, who played for Bakersfield last year as well, was hopeful to make the Oilers’ roster coming out of training camp. That did not happen, however. So the veteran pro, who’s reportedly earning over $3 million this season, is back to biding his time in the minor leagues and waiting for his shot.
“Same as everybody else on the team. To get to the NHL,” Fayne said of his goals this season. “I’m in a little different situation. I’ve been there for a while and coming back down is definitely tough.
“You know going into camp that there’s nothing set in stone,” Fayne continued. “Whether you’re trying to take a spot or somebody’s trying to take one from you, you’ve got to go in and give everything you have. It’s definitely disappointing coming down. But you can’t let that stop you.”
Make no mistake — every player competing in the AHL has NHL aspirations. The five-star hotels and meals. The top-end talent. The opportunity to hoist the Stanley Cup, one of sports’ most coveted trophies. In short, it’s the highest level of hockey for a reason.
When Fayne was asked what it would take to get him back, he responded in jest.
“I think if I knew that I’d have a bit of a head start,” he quipped.
He might have a hard time returning to that point, at least with the Oilers.
While Edmonton would likely prefer to pay Fayne’s $3.6 million annually at the NHL level, he might not fit the current regime’s vision defensively, according to Edmonton Journal hockey reporter Jim Matheson.
In an email to The Californian, Matheson called Fayne a “consummate pro,” and “good soldier, terrific guy.” Matheson also wrote, “He needs to be in another organization after this season to restart his NHL career.”
“I believe in the eyes of the coaches, they feel (Fayne’s) pace isn’t quick enough for today’s racehorse game with so many young, fast players,” Matheson wrote.
The Oilers hired a new general manager, Peter Chiarelli, prior to the 2015-16 season and the team ended a 10-year playoff drought last season under the new stewardship. The Oilers declined comment for this story through senior director of communications and media relations J.J. Hebert.
Regardless, such a senario makes for a unique situation for Fayne with the Condors. The veteran, who suffered a lower-body injury in Thursday night’s 5-4 win over San Antonio, is expected to miss up to two weeks of action.
When he returns, he’ll rejoin a team with some young firepower on its blueline.
Caleb Jones (4th round draft pick in 2015) and Ethan Bear (5th round draft pick in 2015) in particular, are high-level prospects selected in the same year. Both appear to be on the rise, yet need seasoning in the minors.
Ditto for fellow defensemen Ryan Mantha and Ziyat Paigin.
Fayne said one of his top priorities in Bakersfield is being a leader for his young teammates.
“I was lucky enough, when I was younger, I had some great mentors,” Fayne recalled. “Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder...That whole time in Jersey, they were always helping me in any way they could. Whether it’s on the ice, off the ice, taking me out to dinner, stuff like that. Just getting you acquainted with the pro game. You’re definitely competing with other guys on the team, but overall, everybody’s just hoping to get up there and help each other. Ultimately, you want to win the game.”
Condors coach Gerry Fleming said Fayne is easy to manage and brings a ton of experience to the ice.
“Fayne really is an even-keeled kind of guy. He doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low, which I think over the longevity of your career you have to have,” Fleming said. “He’s a voice of reason.”
Fayne said he suffered through injuries last season and is hoping to capitalize on ice time with the Condors. He said he’ll continue working on general accountability, awareness and reliability in different aspects of his game.
“Tough times of the game, tough areas of the ice,” he said. “Just show that I still have it.”