It’s no secret that fans of the Edmonton Oilers have had little to cheer about since watching their team reach the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. With that said, most were hoping things would take a turn for the better under the guidance of Bob Nicholson, Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan. Unfortunately, those who were hoping for a turnaround overnight have been disappointed with the start of the 2015-16 season.
In the eyes of many, mine included, the free agent signing of Andrej Sekera was a turning point of sorts for the organization. After years of attempting but ultimately falling short of acquiring a highly sought after player via the open market, the Oilers new general manager finally broke the trend by inking the 29-year old rearguard this summer.
@EOKfan only 6 more years of Sekera. Lol
— McReggie (@regwald) October 30, 2015
As excited as fans across Oilers Nation were, it has taken a good chunk of them a grand total of fifteen games to sour on the move. That’s right folks, we are essentially one month into the season and there are already those who are calling into question the club’s decision to give $33 million to Sekera over the next six years. Funny thing is…the veteran defender has been nowhere near as bad as some think.
Accepting Sekera for Who and What He Is
Instead of focusing on his $5.5 million price tag, fans would be wise to accept the former third-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres for what he is. Anyone who was expecting him to come to Edmonton and be a 24-minute a night guy were either kidding themselves or had rarely seen him play during the first nine years of his career. In my mind, there is little doubt that Sekera would be a top four defencemen on any team in the league.
However, in order for him to be given top pairing minutes one of two scenarios would need to exist. A team would either be looking to add his skill-set onto a tandem that already included an elite level defenceman or had little to no depth and/or experience on its current backend. The Oilers clearly fall into the latter so expectations need to be realistic.
[Related Article: Sekera Move Signals a Change in Direction]
To his credit, McLellan has not been feeding Sekera ridiculous amounts of ice-time but with Edmonton having nobody capable of carrying that sort of workload, we have seen it distributed somewhat evenly along the blue line. Meaning the likes of Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse and Justin Schultz have been joining him in the 20 minute a night club for much of the season.
Far from an ideal situation but it is nonetheless what this head coach currently has at his disposal. Has Sekera struggled at times? You bet he has but unless we are talking about your upper echelon guys, that comes with the territory. Even with the occasional blunder, Sekera has either been the Oilers best or second best defenceman on an almost nightly basis. Again, people may want more from a $5 million player but that is not how things work in today’s game.
$5.5M Cap Hit Is Secondary
There is no question Edmonton had to slightly overpay to get him to sign on the dotted line, but it was likely more so in term rather than dollar amount. From a cap hit standpoint, Sekera signed the exact same deal that Jeff Petry inked in order to stay with the Montreal Canadiens and in my opinion, he has essentially taken over Petry’s role as the team’s best defenceman and the guy who will be asked to do far more heavy-lifting than he should be.
While we have yet to see much of it, the talented Slovak can actually move the puck quite effectively and once this team actually finds a semblance of order to its backend, my guess is we will start seeing much more of it. With that said, the chances of him turning into a big point producer are highly unlikely. In the right situation, he could pile up some secondary assists but counting on it would be a mistake.
[Related Article: Lightening the Load on Oscar Klefbom]
Coming into this season, Sekera had a 29 and 44 point season under his belt and averaged roughly 26 points over an 82-game schedule for his career. With his third period goal during Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, he now has six points in his first fifteen games in Oilers’ silks. Over a full season, that works out to 32.8 points. In other words, the second-best output of his career. From an offensive standpoint, it would be hard to ask for much more.
Also, let’s not forget this is a blue line that is currently using only one defenceman, Klefbom, who saw regular time in 2014-15. With Schultz out of action due to injury and Mark Fayne and Andrew Ference routinely in the press box, the Oilers are using five new pieces in Brandon Davidson, Eric Gryba, Nurse, Griffin Reinhart and Sekera. Not surprisingly the results have not been very good.
At the end of the day, the Edmonton Oilers defence is nowhere near good enough to compete in the Western Conference over a full 82-game schedule. The problems are rather glaring and there for all to see but with all due respect to those complaining about the play of Andrej Sekera, my suggestion is you give your head a good shake and start looking elsewhere. There are far bigger fish to fry.
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.