There will be no shortage of money spent in free agency for defensemen. Matt Niskanen’s agent has gone on record saying he doesn’t expect any roadblocks to getting his client a seven-year contract. The Buffalo Sabres bought out the remaining years on Christian Ehrhoff’s 10-year contract, and after a 33-point season he too can expect a big payday. As can Anton Stralman, who helped the New York Rangers advance to the Stanley Cup finals.
Brooks Orpik, Tom Gilbert, Dan Boyle and Willie Mitchell will also get long looks.
But the biggest bargain to be had could be Mark Fayne, the 27-year-old defenseman who has spent his four-year NHL career with the New Jersey Devils.
Fayne isn’t going to score many points – his career high was 17 in the 2011-12 season – but his ability to kill penalties and drive puck possession should have teams lining up to make an offer.
Fayne skated nearly two minutes a night on the penalty kill in 2013-14 and was on the ice for just 138 shot attempts against over 72 games plus keep opponents to an average shot distance of 56.2 feet. That’s almost 20 feet further than the distance from the goal mouth to beyond the top of the faceoff circles.
Ignoring special teams and lead-protecting situations, since he has been with the team, the Devils have taken 54.5 percent of the unblocked shot attempts with Fayne on the ice. Those same linemates managed just 51.3 percent when he is on the bench.
Since 2010-11, the only forward to score more than one even-strength goal against the Devils with Fayne on the ice is Carolina’s Jeff Skinner. The only forwards in addition to Skinner to score more than one point are Eric Staal, Alex Semin, Jason Pominville, Jiri Tlusty, Brandon Prust, Derek Roy and Rene Borque.
Fayne, who was paid $1.3 million last year, is entering his prime and could be a steal for any team looking to add a stable blue liner whose contributions don’t show up in the traditional game summaries.