With all of the chaos that has gone down this off-season, the Hurricanes draft day trade for Andrej Sekera looks like a pretty minor move. While it may not have the impact or the Tyler Seguin deal or involve an insane amount of money, this is a deal that can have a pretty big impact on the Hurricanes next season. GM Jim Rutherford's top priority this summer was to acquire a top-four defenseman, something the team desperately needed, and he certainly took a step towards that by dealing a second around pick and defenseman Jamie McBain to Buffalo for Sekera.
This isn't a blockbluster deal that will catapult the Hurricanes to the front of the standings, but I see it as an effective move and a net-gain for the Hurricanes in the short-term. The reason why I say this is because the team needed a top-four defenseman now and Sekera fits the bill for this. Not only that, but he is versatile and has played a lot of different roles in his career, which will definitely help the Hurricanes in the event of an injury. Others aren't that sold on him, though.
When the trade happened, I recall many fans complaining about him being a "puck-mover" and not the "body crushing" defenseman that everyone's been clamoring for. Some were also quick to point out that he had been scratched for a couple games last year and noted out his inconsistencies while ignoring the positives that he can bring. Part of this is true. Sekera's not an intimidating defenseman and he isn't someone who you can build your entire defense around. He also not the "type"of defenseman that the Hurricanes pictured to be looking for this year, since it seems like they were targeting more of a body banger rather than a mobile defenseman. Sekera's not going to blow anyone away with his offensive production either and doesn't have a flashy skillset.
So why is adding him an upgrade? To put it simply, he is a damn good hockey player and has been one for years.
Once the Hurricanes acquired Sekera, I heard a few people refer to him as "another McBain," because he was described as a "puck moving defenseman with consistency issues." I wouldn't say that description is far off, but Sekera and McBain are pretty different players and Sekera's versatility makes him an upgrade over McBain. Sekera has played top four minutes for the Sabres over the last three seasons, while McBain rarely got those minutes with the Hurricanes. Sekera was also a regular on the Sabres penalty kill, which is more than you can say for McBain who was used sporadically on the Hurricanes PK over the last few seasons. Above all, Sekera has more experience than McBain and is a better player than him, which means the Hurricanes walked away with the best player in this deal.
What makes Sekera an upgrade over what the Hurricanes had last season, though? I mentioned his versatility earlier and I think that is his primary strength. Buffalo used Sekera in a lot of different ways with numerous defense partners over his career and he had to adjust to each of them. Whether he was the main puck mover or the "shut-down" guy on his pairing, the Sabres coaching staff seemed to trust Sekera more than a lot of their other blue-liners. This especially true over the last couple of seasons, where Sekera was assigned some of the toughest minutes on the tam.
For those who have idea what they are looking at right now, this is a "Player Usage Chart" developed by Rob Vollman at Hockey Prospectus. More on these can be explained on his site, Hockey Abstract, but the general gist of these chart sis that it shows how a coach utilizes a player based on where he takes most of his draws (x-axis, offensive zone start%) & who he was played against (y-axis, Corsi Rel. QoC). The color & size of the circle indicates a player's territorial performance based on a stat called "Corsi Rel." which looks at a team's shot differential with a player on the ice compared to when they were off the ice. A blue circle indicates a player with a positive Corsi Rel. while a player with a white circle indicates a negative Corsi Rel. and the size of the circle shows the value. Now that we got the diction out of the way, let's use it to compare Sekera's usage to McBain's over their careers.
Sekera really sticks out on this chart because Buffalo's coaches have used in him tough situations for most of his career and he's managed to be a positive possession player despite that. He quite a bit of experience with playing against other team's top lines and Sekera's career numbers show that he can handle it. That is, with the exception of last season.
Buffalo used Sekera in roughly the same role as they did the previous season and for some reason, the team controlled only 43.4% of the 5v5 shot attempts when he was on the ice. That is bad for anyone regardless of what minutes they play. For comparison, the Hurricanes controlled 48.4% of the 5v5 shot attempts when Tim Gleason was on the ice last season and he was used in similar situations while playing with a broken foot for most of the year.
So what happened to Sekera? The Sabres weren't exactly using him in a different way and his numbers just fell off a cliff for some reason. Did the lockout have an effect on this or was Sekera being used with a different defense partner compared to past seasons? When a player's numbers fall off that much in less than a year, I tend to think that it's an aberration or the result of playing with bad teammates and I'm thinking it's a little of both for Sekera.
The Sabres were a dreadful team last year. They ranked dead last in the NHL in Fenwick Close, meaning they spent a ton of time playing in their own zone and, their team defense was pretty brutal. How much of that was Sekera's fault, though? He had a pretty big role on the Sabres defense, but can only control so much in the 16-18 minutes a game he plays at even strength. He wasn't good, but his supporting cast may have not been in any better.
A look at Sekera's defense partners over his career in Buffalo reveals some interesting things in regards to this.
Going by territorial performance, Sekera was able to elevate the play of a few of his defense partners, some of which include Tyler Myers, Jaro Spacek and Jordan Leopold. Buffalo was also able to control over 50% of the 5v5 shot attempts when Sekera was on the icewith one of these players. As impressive as that is, there were a few guys who Sekera could not work at all. Robyn Rgehr, Mike Weber, Chris Butler and Toni Lydman being the most obvious ones here.
His numbers with Regehr really stick out here and could explain Sekera's poor numbers last year. Why? because these two were one of Buffalo's most common defense pairings.
About one third of Sekera's minutes came alongside Christian Ehrhoff, who were a fairly successful duo for the Sabres, but another third came with Regehr as his defense partner and if the WOWY didn't make it clear enough, they were really, really bad when paired together. He also played a lot of minutes with Mike Weber as his defense partner and these two have struggled as a pairing, as well.
What this tells me is that Sekera's teammates had just as much to do with his bad season as he did. However, it also tells me that Sekera's not someone who can carry a defense pairing because he struggled with guys who are barely NHL defensemen (Weber, Butler) or guys who were on the down part of their careers (Regehr). However, if he is paired with a serviceable defense partner, he usually has success and that should continue with the Hurricanes if he plays in the top-four. He also seemed to play better when paired with a puck-mover opposed to a defensive defenseman, which is something the Hurricanes should keep in mind. Sekera's good enough to make a solid defense pairing out of most players, but if you place him with bottom-pairing talent, he is bound to have his struggles. The Sabres appeared to do that for most of last season.
Carolina's defense is still in a state of rebuild, but the top 3-4 defensemen honestly aren't that awful. Pitkanen, Faulk and Gleason are all top-four defensemen and I could see Sekera thriving with any of them. The only one who I'm not 100% sold on is Gleason because he is coming off a down season, but he isn't nearly as bad as Regehr or Weber and I think Sekera will rebound because of that.
In a thin free agent market, the Hurricanes weren't going to fix their defense unless they made a huge trade involving an important piece. That would have been interesting, but the Hurricanes were going to have a hard time making a deal like this. Instead, Carolina made a shrewd deal to help the team get better now in exchange for potential talent. With the team trying to improve in the short-term, I think this was a very good trade even if many of Sekera's contributions go unnoticed to the casual fan.