I figured I would kick off my OilersNation debut by defending one of the Oilers underrated players — Andrej Sekera.
Uncle Rej has been struggling since returning from an ACL injury, and last night’s abysmal performance (18% Corsi For in an injury-shortened performance) was the poo icing on top of the feces cake of his 2017/18 season.
As a result, some of the Sekera chatter I see occasionally float across my Twitter timeline has been amplified. Comments (paraphrased) like:
- “What’s wrong with Sekera?”
- “We should trade him, not Klefbom or Russell”
And one my personal favourites
- “See, it *was* Russell carrying Sekera after all”
To which I shout at my screen through gritted teeth (the kids are asleep) … “This isn’t surprising! It’s the injury, dammit!”
Should this surprise? Is it the injury? Let’s dig into the recent past of the man whose legs alone justify the moniker Seksy.
On March 30th of 2015, in the middle of a heated battle for a playoff spot with the Los Angeles Kings, Andrej Sekera’s MCL was injured, putting him on the shelf for the remaining two games of the season. Though the Kings tried to re-sign the pending UFA, their cap crunch made it impossible. And, thankfully, in one of the moves made by Peter Chiarelli that I can actually laud, Andrej Sekera became an Edmonton Oiler.
Now, many of us will remember his solid 2016-17 season, in which Rej was not just the heart and soul of the second pairing at even strength, but was also the No. 1 penalty killing defenseman, and the guy tasked with quarterbacking the No. 2 power play, after Oscar Klefbom.
His Oilers stint didn’t start so brightly though.
The summer of 2015 was spent rehabbing that crusty MCL, which thankfully did not require surgery. Nonetheless, an injury of this sort puts a player quite far behind the eight-ball in terms of training, and when Andrej made his debut in Oiler silks, the rust was obvious.
In fact, to my eyes, I thought it took about two months before Sekera started to look like the player we hoped we would be getting when he signed his sturdy free agent deal. Rather than relying on my fragile memory, I pulled Sekera’s chart from his first season with the Oilers, and … yup yup yup, those early struggles are pretty apparent.
In fact, the chart suggests that there was an early burst of goodness (which I don’t remember) and then right around two months worth of struggles before Andrej’s silky smooth game kicked into high gear.
Which brings us to …
And now Sekera is hurt after hit from Getzlaf. Not sure what happened pic.twitter.com/VPo0eMJUJX— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 6, 2017
In a playoff (what are those again?) game against the Ducks (boo! booooooooooooooooooo!), a fairly innocuous hit took Andrej Sekera out of the game. And, I would argue, the resulting gaping hole on the blueline in large part took the Oilers out of the series and into golf season.
This injury, though, was quite a bit more serious than the 2015 injury.
This time it was a torn ACL.
An ACL that required surgery.
And a timeline for return that was six-to-nine months long.
An astute observer might have put that situation together with Peter Chiarelli’s subsequent inability or unwillingness to backfill the resulting massive blueline gap as putting the team’s playoff hopes at risk before the season even began. Some did.
Return of the Reji
Sekera returned to action near the end of December 2017 – about 7 and a half months after the injury, or basically right at the mid-point of the original six-to-nine month estimate.
The results haven’t been pretty:
Now that should look familiar. A bit of a rough start, a short burst of goodness, and then … well if Donald Trump’s hair were a hockey stats chart, that’s about what it would look like. If we compare the first month or so of the 2015 chart with this chart, the similarities are highly … um … similar.
‘History don’t repeat, but it sure do rhyme’
Now, I’m not a doctor, so I can’t tell you for sure that the similarity of these two traces is really anything more than a coincidence.
What I will say is that, the second trace is not a surprise. Over the years, observation and interviews with players recovering from knee injuries tells a fairly consistent story. Knee injuries not only impact mobility, but they impact confidence. As a result, they can hamper a player for quite a long time after the knee itself is recovered.
In fact, I remember an Oiler from the 90s (it was either Smytty or Dougie Weight, and you know neither of those guys would have been dogging it) saying it took him almost a full year after a knee injury to stop thinking about the knee as he was playing.
OK, so that brings us fully to the present, at which point I will reiterate that none of what we’re seeing from Seksy should be surprising. The guy couldn’t train the entire off-season, missed training camp, and now he’s thrown into the crucible of a badly faltering team in regular season games where all the players he’s facing are already in mid-season form.
His past, and the history of other players recovering from serious joint injuries, suggests that the struggles we see now will continue for a month or more. It may be even longer given the severity of the injury, and the worst may be yet to come!
After that, we should see a steady return to the smart, mobile, do-everything, all-phases defender we’re used to seeing. It will be too late for this season of course. But I will bet 100% that it will happen.
That player, the guy who was a rock on the top four last season, is a valuable and important commodity.
Bear that in mind when you think about trading him based on the still-recovering carcass we’re seeing right now.
He’s going to be useful for another few years is my bet. My point is not that we shouldn’t consider trading him, now or in the future. Every player is fair game for trade. It’s just a matter of what you get back in return. And the Oilers perhaps more than any other team cannot afford to lose yet another trade. If we do trade Seksy, we better get a hell of a lot more back than Cap Space (who is necessary and maybe even good in the room, but I hate that guy).