This is one part of a player-by-player Year in Review series we’ll be doing over the next couple months as we look back on the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers season.
2017-18 Edmonton Oilers No. 2: Andrej Sekera
GP: 36, G: 0, A: 8, PTS: 8
Andrej Sekera got injured just a few minutes into Game 5 of Edmonton’s second-round series with Anaheim last spring and the ripple effect was bigger than anybody expected it to be. Sekera’s injury obviously played a big role in the Oilers blowing a three-goal lead in the third period and dropping that game, and, eventually, the series, but missing the veteran blueliner’s steady presence was also key in derailing the team’s 2017-18 campaign.
Sekera suffered a torn ACL after being hit into the boards by Ryan Getzlaf. It was announced soon after that Sekera would have surgery and would need six-to-nine months to recover. He didn’t return to the team until Dec. 21. Even when he did get back in the lineup, Sekera predictably wasn’t the same player he had been in the past.
There isn’t much to talk about in regards to Sekera’s 2017-18 season. Like I said, he didn’t debut until right before Christmas, and then he only went on to play 36 games on a team already out of playoff contention. He managed eight points, logged just over 16 minutes a game, and was ultimately only there to get his footing back at the NHL level. When talking about Sekera’s season, and, ultimately, his value to the team, it’s best to look at what everyone else did without him at 100%.
When looking at the good things Peter Chiarelli has done since taking over the Oilers shortly after the team won the Connor McDavid lottery ticket back in 2015, signing Sekera is towards the top. In his first two years with the Oilers, the wildly-underrated Sekera logged just under 22 minutes a game and put up 30 and 35 points. His on-ice shot attempt differential was roughly even despite playing in defensive situations and against tough competition.
2016-17 was especially good for Sekera as he played a key role in Edmonton’s breakout season. He logged heavy minutes with Kris Russell, forming a pair that would take on difficult assignments in the defensive zone. The two of them posted a ridiculously-good 62.5 goals for percentage at even strength. I think Sekera’s value is particularly noticeable when you see that Russell had a 40.7 GF% without him while Sekera had a 56.0 GF% without Russell. That isn’t to say that Russell is some useless player, or anything, but it does suggest that Sekera was a big driving factor behind this pairing’s success.
Without a healthy Sekera last season, Edmonton’s blueline went into flux. Oscar Klefbom was originally asked with taking over the No. 1 lefty defender role that Sekera occupied, but he struggled, and Darnell Nurse eventually stepped up. Nurse was good in the role for a while, but petered off as the season went on, which is reasonable to expect from a young player taking on such a task. Without his defensive partner, Russell had a much worse season in 2017-18, posting a 44.6 GF% bouncing around the lineup.
Obviously there are more factors at play than simply Sekera’s injury derailing 2017-18 for the Oilers, but his presence was clearly missed. Without him, Edmonton lacked a true, stable, veteran presence on the top pairing on the left side. Without him, Russell wasn’t as effective in his role as a shut down defender because he didn’t have a partner who could very effectively move the puck up the ice in transition. Without him, Edmonton also lacked a defenceman who could move the puck up ice and take good shots from the point on the power play. Ultimately, everyone had to take a step up without Sekera, but they didn’t have the ability to do so.
Having a healthy Sekera will go a long way in helping the Oilers rebound in 2018-19. That said, it isn’t a guarantee that Sekera, who suffered an injury that isn’t easy to recover from after the age of 30, will bounce back and be the same player that he was before.