The Hurricanes were one of the teams expected to make a trade during yesterday's draft and they did just that in the second round by trading their pick along with Jamie McBain to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for defenseman Andrej Sekera. This wasn't the "big splash" trade that some were hoping for, but it's a reasonable move that fills a need for the Hurricanes. This looks like an overpayment at first glance because the Hurricanes gave up a pick and a roster player for just one defenseman. However, the trade looks a lot more reasonable when you break down the individual pieces.
The writing has been on the wall for Jamie McBain for quite awhile now. I still like him and think he has potential, but it just was not working out here. His just could not be trusted in a top-four role and his mistakes were constantly hurting the team. McBain is still young and has hope for the future, but he just was not working out in Carolina so moving him made sense. A second round pick is what I thought it would cost Carolina to get a #4 defenseman and that's basically what it took to get Sekera. McBain was also thrown in to clear space and give him a fresh start with a new team.
Is two assets for one player alone an overpayment? It depends on what you're getting in return and judging by the Twitter barometer, most fans believe that Sekera is not enough of an upgrade to justify giving up a second round pick plus McBain. I have my doubts about Sekera being worth that price, but I also think that Sekrea is undervalued by those who don't know a lot about him. He isn't a notable commidity like Tyler Myers or a big, physical defenseman that delivers big hits. Sekera is also known as a "puck-mover" and those two words usually cause Carolina fans to groan in frustration. Although, just because Sekera is a puck-mover doesn't mean he is bad defensively and he can really help Carolina's defense next year.
Who is Andre Sekera?
Sekera is an average-sized, mobile defenseman who can be used in all situations. He has played over 20 minutes a game for the Sabres in all of the last three seasons and was their second most used defenseman at even strength last year behind Christian Ehrhoff. Sekera was also used on both special teams units, which should help Carolina, especially on the penalty kill. Overall, he looks like a solid, all-around top-four defenseman who can log big minutes if needed. The Sabres blog Die By the Blade wrote an excellent article on Sekera a couple months ago and this quote sums up his game well.
But what of Andrej Sekera? He doesn't hit, he doesn't score goals, he doesn't have great size or speed, and he doesn't say anything in his post-game interviews. He just does everything pretty darn well, and that's ultimately his problem.
Nothing about Sekera's play is going to blow you away, but he can play a lot of roles and is skilled in a lot of areas, which leads us to our next part...
How Can Sekera Help Carolina?
What makes Sekera a great fit in Carolina is that he can play big minutes and isn't out of place in that kind of role. He has been a top-four defenseman for the Sabres for the last three years and has logged 19-121 mintues a game during those seasons, as well. I know that the Hurricanes were looking to bulk up on defense, but what they really needed was someone who can play top-four minutes and take some pressure off of Justin Faulk & Joni Pitkanen. There were many nights where Faulk had to play over 25 minutes and adding Sekera should mean that he won't have to do that as often now. Most of Sekera's ice-time comes at even strength, so that makes him very useful.
The Sabres have also trusted Sekera with a very important role at even strengh, as he ranked near the top of the defense in quality of competition faced in each of the last three years. This means he was deployed against opposing team's best forwards and makes him a "tough-minute" defenseman by definition. That is something the Hurricanes badly needed last season even with Justin Faulk & Tim Gleason. It's worth keeping in mind that Sekera was playing on a Buffalo defense corps that isn't very good, but he was still given tough minutes over the likes of Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr, so he can probably play a similar role in Carolina if needed.
Sekera being a "puck-moving" defenseman is also kind of misleading because while he can skate well and make good plays with the puck, he is pretty solid at playing in his own end. When most people hear the words "puck-mover" they think of someone who is more known for offense but that isn't always the case. Sekera is a good example of that. He is more of a puck mover in the sense that he can make good plays out of his own zone and help his team spend less time in the defensive zone. This article from NHL Whiteboard does a phenomonal job of going over just about every detail of Sekera's game and his ability to lead zone exits is one thing that is covered.
Size and physical play is nice, but the game is a lot faster than it was years ago and you have to be able to skate well and move the puck to keep up with more skilled forwards. This is especially true in Carolina's new division where they'll be playing against teams with highly skilled players, so adding a defenseman like Sekera can make them a tougher opponent. This makes him a good fit in Carolina and an upgrade over Joe Corvo, Jay Harrison and Jamie McBain but he comes with his concerns.
What Should Carolina Be Concerned About?
Carolina really needed to add a penalty kill specialist this summer and while Sekera does kill penalties, it's not something he is known for. He will probably be used on the PK in Carolina, but I would still expect Faulk & Gleason to get the bulk of the work there. I guess Gleason, Faulk, Sekera, Bellemore & Harrison can fill out the PK, but none of them are exactly great at preventing shots there so I'm a little skeptical of how it will turn out. Sekera's strong play at even strength could be enough to off-set, though.
Another more glaring concern about Sekera is that is he coming off a down year in just about every standard. He produced less offense, was considerably worse at preventing shots against and had a dismal year in terms of puck-possession. His numbers basically fell off a cliff in every category.
Corsi Rel QOC
Stats taken from Behind the Net
Sekera was playing tougher minutes than he ever had before last season, so that may have contributed to his struggles but a player's numbers should not decline that much over the span of the year. Even with Buffalo being a miserable possession team, Sekera's underlying numbers were just awful and it's kind of strange at first glance. However, a look at Sekera's performance with certain defense partners clears things up a little. Sekera has posted solid possession numbers over his career with the Sabres and has worked well with just about every defense partner with the exception of Robyn Regehr, Toni Lydman and Chris Butler.
Regehr is someone who Sekera has had considerable trouble playing with during his career with the Sabres. When these two were paired together at even strength, the Sabres controlled only 42.5% of the shot attempts. When Sekera played without him, the Sabres controlled 51.3% of the even strength shot attempts. Who was one of Sekera's most frequent defense partners last year? None other than Robyn Regehr, which helps explains his bad underlying numbers. Compare his numbers with Regehr to his performance with Ehrhoff and you'll notice a huge difference.
Sekera still had a down year even when playing away from Regehr, but sometimes a defense partner can act more as an anchor than a catalyst. Regehr appeared to be just that with Sekera. Thankfully, the Hurricanes do not have anyone who as bad as Regehr is at even strength, so that should lead to good results for Sekera if he is used with Gleason, Faulk or Pitkanen.
Taking all of that into consideration, I would say that adding Sekera makes the Hurricanes a better team next year and is an upgrade on their second-pairing. Does this completely fix their defense? No, but no free agent signings were going to and they weren't going to get a top-pairing defenseman without trading someone important up front. Sekera gives Carolina a cheap, reliable top-four defenseman who can play in all situations and I would say that's a solid pick-up for a second round pick. We'll just have to wait and see how well Sekera fits into Muller's system.