The Edmonton Oilers have already suffered a blow to their hopes of a bounce back season, as today they announced that Andrej Sekera will be out indefinitely following surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon. The injury occurred during an off-season training session.
The 32-year old Sekera already missed a good chunk of the 2017-18 season with a knee injury, suiting up for just 36 games. Though he’s not a dominating presence on the ice, Sekera has been quite effective throughout his career and was dearly missed by the Oilers last season. Without Sekera healthy for much of the year and facing some injuries and stagnation by Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson, the team received very little offensive production from their defense. That was a huge reason they struggled to find any consistency during the year and finished so low in the standings, and Sekera’s new absence could start the whole process over again. Achilles injuries usually last months, and there is no clear indication if Sekera will be able to play at all this season.
While that won’t be decided for some time, the Oilers now have to find a way to improve their blue line in the next few weeks. Already there was plenty of speculation about them going after a right-handed puck-moving defenseman this summer, but nothing seemed to materialize on the trade front. Darnell Nurse is still unsigned, and the team has very little cap space (if any) to spend on a free agent acquisition. Though Sekera can likely be moved to long-term injured reserve to regain some cap flexibility, the Oilers have a ton of money already on the books going forward.
Unless the team is willing to go with a full-time bottom pairing of Matt Benning and Kevin Gravel without any real NHL-level depth behind them, a move needs to be made in a hurry. There are still several veteran options on the free agent market who could be signed for a reasonably low amount, but without the certainty of Nurse’s cap hit they won’t know exactly how much they can spend. A trade may be more appetizing, but there are only a few assets that would really bring back anything of value on the Edmonton roster given how expensive almost all of their NHL talent is.
It may improve the chances that Evan Bouchard, selected 10th-overall in the recent draft, could make the Oilers out of camp and stay all season. Though some believe Bouchard is better off returning to the London Knights of the OHL and continuing his development, he also may be the most talented option the Oilers have available to them. Bouchard recorded a huge number of points for the Knights last season while sometimes playing more than 30 minutes in a single game, and could likely be a contributor—albeit an inconsistent one—right away for Edmonton.
All this boils down to an extremely unfortunate circumstance for Edmonton, who were counting on a return to form by Sekera as a reason for optimism. Now they’ll have to find a way to piece together their blue line once again, and hope for no more significant injuries to their top three options. This also brings into question Sekera’s future with the team, as he’s now missed huge chunks of two seasons with injury and will be heading into his mid-thirties soon. Signed through 2020-21 at a $5.5MM cap hit, he may quickly become an anchor on the Edmonton salary structure if he can’t return to form.