Andrej Sekera was Peter Chiarelli’s biggest summer addition to the Edmonton Oilers roster, and to these eyes he’s looked pretty good. He does a little bit of everything. He’s competent and capable with the puck, mobile and also extremely competitive in defensive situations; that’s a nice balance and allows him to be an asset in virtually any situation.
Sekera has played tough minutes all season, and it’s worth comparing how he’s played with his two primary partners: Rising star Darnell Nurse and Bakersfield Condor Mark Fayne.
The Straight Comparison
- Andrej Sekera and Darnell Nurse: 281 minutes played together, 44.1 Corsi percentage, 39.1 Goals percentage
- Andrej Sekera and Mark Fayne: 132 minutes played together, 48.8 Corsi percentage, 42.9 Goals percentage
When Sekera and Fayne man the blue line together in a tough minutes role, the shots at net are very close to even: +122/-127. The goals are also very close to even: six for, eight against. With a slightly better on-ice save percentage (in their short time together, it was just 0.887) that small gap in goal differential would disappear entirely.
When Sekera and Nurse man the blue line together in a tough minutes role, the shots at net are nowhere near even: +214/-272. The goals are not close to even, either: nine for, 14 against. This duo hasn’t been getting a great save percentage either (0.906) but when the shot are that lopsided it’s pretty tough to blame the goalie.
Nurse is an extremely popular player right now, for lots of good reasons—his physical talents are obvious and he combines great defensive attributes (size, speed, meanness) with a confidence with the puck and a willingness to take offensive chances. The 20-year-old rookie has fantastic potential and should be a key cog for years to come.
Fayne, on the other hand, isn’t very popular. Now stuck in the AHL, he lacks Nurse’s offensive edge or unpleasant (in the best possible way) demeanour. He’s a largely one-dimensional defensive defenceman.
So when I present numbers which clearly show that the Sekera/Fayne pairing has performed better this year than the Nurse/Sekera pairing, there’s going to be a lot of skepticism. So let’s dig a little deeper and see what’s going on here.
The first thing we might check for is level of defensive responsibility: Was Sekera/Fayne getting easier minutes than Nurse/Sekera? The answer is “no.” Sekera/Fayne started slightly more frequently in the defensive zone and on top of that Fayne’s Quality of Competition ratings are slightly tougher than Nurse’s, with Sekera falling between the two. If anything, Sekera/Fayne would have appeared to play *ever so slightly* tougher minutes.
The next thing to look at is forwards; we can play around with line combinations thanks to Puckalytics SuperWOWY tool.
Nurse/Sekera really worked well when playing with the line centered by Leon Draisaitl; the Oilers had an edge in shots and a 4-1 margin in goals. Unfortunately, with every other centre the results have been awful. Whether with Nugent-Hopkins, McDavid, Letestu or Landerthe Oilers’ Corsi rating was below 42 percent. Goals were even worse; the the high point was breaking even with the Letestu line and things went downhill from there.
Sekera/Fayne had one line they worked really well with, too: the McDavid trio. Their shot metrics with the phenom were every bit as good as Nurse/Sekera was with Draisaitl, though the goal differential was just break-even. However, with both Nugent-Hopkins and Lander they had better success than Nurse/Sekera did (they didn’t get to play with Draisaitl).
The pairings saw virtually identical assignments in terms of teammates, with each spending 63 percent of its time with the top lines and the remaining 37 percent of its time with the bottom-six. Sekera/Fayne had better shot metrics and better goal metrics in each case.
There’s just no getting around it: Playing on the same team, in virtually identical situations, the pairing of Sekera and Fayne has performed markedly better than the pairing of Nurse and Sekera. Likely, some of this has to do with Sekera playing on his off-side when partnered with Nurse; that’s a tough adjustment to make. On the other hand, a big part of it likely has to do with the fact that Fayne is a veteran shutdown defenceman who has been playing in the league—and against tough opposition—for years while Nurse is just getting his feet wet at the major-league level.
But whatever the causes, there’s no question as to which duo has been on the ice for better results. It shows up in the shot attempts, it shows up in the goals for and against numbers, and it shows up when we parse the ice-time to get a firm read for performance with different forward lines.