After taking over the reins as general manager of the Edmonton Oilers, Peter Chiarelli targeted two players to help address what was an apparent need for the club. In acquiring Cam Talbot via trade and signing Andrej Sekera to a free agent deal, the Ottawa native brought two important pieces to what has become the core of this lineup and the Slovak rearguard remains the key figure on this team’s backend.
Despite his struggles over the first half of this season, Oscar Klefbom is the best all-around defenceman Todd McLellan currently has at his disposal. At this stage of the game, the talented Swede is just now starting to enter what should end up being the prime years of his career. However, in order for his development to continue down the right path, he is going to need help along the way.
Absence Has Impacted Klefbom
As of this moment, the only other blueliner on the roster who has the necessary skill set to carry a top two pairing is Sekera. His ability to play in all situations and do so in such a quiet and calming manner remains an absolute godsend for this group. Though not the same player he was in his mid-to-late 20’s, the former third-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres continues to be a quality NHL defenceman.
This year’s edition of the Oilers arguably has more depth along the blue line than at any point in recent memory. However, it’s still short on players who can handle the workload that comes with carrying the load on a pairing. And yet for some reason, Chiarelli still felt comfortable this group was capable of holding the fort until Sekera returned from off-season surgery.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) December 21, 2017
Even with a youngster like Darnell Nurse taking massive strides forward in his overall game, Edmonton’s backend has been a mess without the presence of the 31-year old. With the exception of Nurse, the argument could be made that all four of Matt Benning, Klefbom, Adam Larsson and Kris Russell have seen a regression in their performance from a season ago.
In the minds of some, connecting those struggles to the absence of Sekera is a stretch but if one takes the time to sit back and think it over, it makes perfect sense. With the ten-year vet out of the picture, the ask on every other defencemen has been increased and as previously mentioned, it is a role which is not suited for everyone. So yes, it really is that simple.
Regression Should Surprise No One
Since returning to the lineup against the St. Louis Blues nearly two weeks ago, Sekera has seen his play slip with each and every game. An unfortunate situation to be sure but hardly one that should have come as a surprise. To think a player who is coming off a seven-month hiatus following ACL surgery can just walk-in and hit the ground running is not only unrealistic but downright absurd.
To make matters worse, Sekera is trying to pull off the feat when everyone else around him is in mid-season form. Add to that the aforementioned struggles of the remaining blueliners and the fact both Klefbom and Larsson are playing through injury and suddenly the climb up the mountain looks all the more daunting. In other words, don’t expect the guy wearing No.2 to come in and be the saviour.
And that is the problem with this entire scenario. The moment Chiarelli decided to not upgrade his roster and run with the notion that Andrej Sekera could return to his usual level, in short order, and help the club over the hump was the moment this team was in trouble. It was a silly bet for the general manager to make and one that has left the Edmonton Oilers chasing their tails from day one.
Also available from Rob Soria:
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.