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Let's Get a Defender - The Trade Route

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 17:  Andrej Sekera #44 of the Buffalo Sabres brings the puck around the net against Brooks Laich #21 of the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on November 17 2010 in Washington DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 17: Andrej Sekera #44 of the Buffalo Sabres brings the puck around the net against Brooks Laich #21 of the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on November 17 2010 in Washington DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
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In a follow up to an excellent post by Scott yesterday about UFA options for the Oilers, it is my job today to take a look at the available defencemen that could be acquired through trade.

Here's the thing know who can be acquired through trade? ANYONE. The parameters for finding trade options are impossible to narrow down because of all the variables. We'll look at this a little bit more closely, but in the words of 80's wrestling legend "The Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase..."Everybody's got a price".

The player the Oilers really need is Tom Gilbert, but sadly that ship has sailed, so we're forced to look for other "Gilbert-like" players to fill the gaping hole left by his departure.

With that in mind, at the end of the day one name stands above the rest for me as the guy the Oilers should have at the top of their list of targets. If you're thinking it's the guy in the picture...well, that would be a safe bet. Follow me after the jump where I will explain why this player is the ideal fit for the Edmonton Oilers.

For those of you who don't have every player and their jersey number memorized, the player in the picture at the beginning of this article would be Andrej Sekera of the Buffalo Sabres.

Before we zero in on Sekera, let's take a few minutes to explain why I have discarded all other options to focus on him as my primary trade target.

As I mentioned previously, any player can be a trade target. Any GM could quite easily pick up the phone, call Steve Yzerman and say "Steve, I'd like to talk to you about a deal for Victor Hedman", and if you have players like Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, you probably don't get the phone smashed down in your ear, but unless you're willing to part with one of your cornerstone players, you won't be getting someone else's. This line of thinking takes out the most sought after kind of player: the all situation, tough minute beating young franchise Dmen like Shea Weber, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, PK Subban, John Carlson, Hedman, Cam Fowler, etc.)

The opposite end of that spectrum are the players who are on their last legs. The brethren of Andy Sutton, so to speak. There are some players out there in their early-to-mid 30's who are still legitimate NHL players, and while they could certainly serve as a stop-gap until Oscar Klefbom is NHL ready, the team is in need of longer-term solutions as well. These players shouldn't be entirely discounted, but I wouldn't have any among my primary list of targets.

There are also Dmen who are solid players, but who have the mis-fortune (or good fortune if you ask their wallets) of having signed a contract that makes them unattractive to acquire. Jay Bouwmeester would be one example. Given the Oilers are entering the final year of the entry-level deals for Hall and Jordan Eberle, it's probably not a wise decision to take on a $6 Million+ cap hit for a player who has some limitations to his game (in J-Bo's case...offensive production).

Speaking of limitations...that brings us to our next category of trade target. The one-dimensional player. Fans are typically deceived by these players because they think about how valuable the players are to their fantasy teams and assume that they would carry equivalent value to an NHL franchise. Stand up and take a bow Keith Yandle, because this is where you take centre stage. Yandle is a guy who has been rumoured to be available, and has some highly enticing point totals in the last few seasons. However, for a team like the Oilers, who truly need a top pairing player to play in all situations, Yandle falls well short of the sniff test. He plays among the most protected minutes of any Coyotes' blueliner and basically spends his time at even-strength playing against the oppositions 3rd and 4th lines. There are also guys who are the polar opposite of Yandle, like Niklas Hjalmarsson who can provide a decent level of support defensively, but who lack the ability to produce offense.

The last group of players to strike from the list before we really start to hit our targets are prospects. For a team lush with defensive prospects that are starting to creep into the pro level, acquiring the Brandon Gormley's of the world isn't what Edmonton needs. Now, I like Gormley, and would certainly welcome him in the right deal, but that type of acquisition will not impact the team's performance next year in a positive way. For the Oilers to start making strides towards playoff contention, they need to target players with proven ability at the NHL level.

Now then, this narrows our list down to players who are likely not considered their team's #1 Dman; who are preferably between the ages of 23 and 27; play against significant levels of opposition both in terms of Quality of Competition (QoC) and in their zone start percentages; are a significant contributor on at least one special team; produce a reasonable if not significant amount of offense and are signed to a reasonable contract. On top of that, we need to confirm that the player's current team has a willingness to deal them and find a match in terms of what assets would have to go the other way in any potential deal.

I took a similar look around the league back in April and came up with 3 trade targets: Carl Gunnarsson of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nikita Nikitin of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Sekera. (That list also included Justin Schultz, so we've at least checked one off the list). While everyone may have their own versions of players who may fit into this list, these are the three that were the standouts in my opinion.

Since that time, Nikitin, who was an RFA, has signed a new 2 year deal with CBJ. While that doesn't preclude him from being dealt, it is rather uncommon for an RFA player to be dealt during the same off-season that they sign a new contract before playing a game under their new deal, so I consider the likelihood of his availability to be slim.

As for Gunnarsson, the Leafs' depth on their blueline was sufficient to trade one of their young core (excluding Phaneuf) of Jake Gardiner, Luke Schenn, Cody Franson, and Gunnarsson. With Schenn being sent to Philadelphia for James VanRiemsdyk earlier in the off-season, the team will already likely be promoting one blueliner from the AHL next season, so it is doubtful that Steve Tambellini could get them to part with Gunnarsson without getting an NHL ready Dman back in return, which would defeat the purpose of the deal unless that player was Theo Peckham.

After those two players became less likely to be available, the obvious choice remaining for me was Sekera. Before I give off the impression that he is simply the "best of the rest", I assure you there is a lot to like about his game.

As I wrote in April:

Sekera has played significant, yet not astonishingly high minutes for Buffalo over the last few seasons. He plays some of the toughest minutes of any player on the Sabres, and has been tasked with protecting Tyler Myers, which, despite what some may think, has not been an easy task. He plays significant PK minutes, and was the 4th option among defensemen on the PP for the Sabres this year. He is a left-handed shooter, and typically plays on that side, but like Nick Schultz, he has spent significant time on the right side in the past, which provides some nice flexibility.

To expand on that, let's look at the specifics of Sekera's performance last season:

NAME Corsi Rel QoC Corsi QoC Corsi Relative Corsi On Off Zone Start % Off Zone Finish %
ROBYNREGEHR 1.153 0.581 -13.9 -10.88 46.8 50.5
ANDREJSEKERA 0.878 0.74 7.3 1.93 48.9 52.3
TYLERMYERS 0.279 0.053 -7.1 -7.17 51.4 51.7
MIKEWEBER 0.258 0.812 -3.1 -4.1 47.6 50.3
CHRISTIANEHRHOFF 0.254 -0.109 3.9 0.86 52.8 52.2
JORDANLEOPOLD 0.203 0.193 -3.1 -3.71 52.5 52
ALEXANDERSULZER -0.024 -1.157 6.4 5.49 49.2 53.8
BRAYDENMCNABB -0.295 -0.708 -0.6 -1.23 50.5 48.2

Sekera has some very attractive numbers here. His Corsi Rel QoC tells us that he faced the 2nd toughest minutes among Sabres defenders this season, and with the exception of Alex Sulzer's strong showing in a small sample size after being acquired from Vancouver, Sekera was clear of the pack in terms of how well he handled his minutes. While his zone start/finish numbers don't break any records (players with sub 50% zone starts will frequently show at least a modest positive in ZS/ZF differential), they certainly are reflective of a player who is at a minimum holding his own in the defensive end, and probably a fair bit more.

In terms of special teams, Sekera is a bit of a jack of all trades, although based on his TOI numbers, it is safe to say he excels more on the penalty kill:

NAME 5v5 TOI/60 5v4 TOI/60 4v5 TOI/60
CHRISTIANEHRHOFF 17.87 2.76 1.31
JORDANLEOPOLD 17.41 2.02 2.26
TYLERMYERS 17.19 2.38 2
ALEXANDERSULZER 16.58 0.34 0.49
MIKEWEBER 16.34 0.07 1.66
ANDREJSEKERA 16.26 0.88 1.61
BRAYDENMCNABB 15.6 0.47 1.33
ROBYNREGEHR 15.31 0.05 2.53

Based on his percentages, I'd say that Sekera was a little bit under-utiiized in Buffalo last year, which could be a good thing for the Oilers. It's understandable with experienced vets like Reghr and Leopold as well as a young up-and-coming Tyler Myers that the team would prioritize those players a little higher on the depth chart. Frankly I'm a little surprised to see him fall behind Weber and Sulzer 5v5 (Sulzer only played 15 games for the Sabres last season) although Sekera did rank higher than either in Total TOI/60.

Buffalo's depth on the blueline, and the fact that they just added Adam Pardy in the Derek Roy deal makes Sekera quite expendable in Buffalo. They have 6 Dmen signed to contracts of $2 Million or greater, plus they have Mike Weber and Sulzer, not to mention two prospects nearly ready to take the step to the NHL. Cutting Sekera's 3 more years at $2.75 Million off the books in order to allow them to add to their offense would certainly be something I would expect Buffalo to consider.

In terms of what the Oilers would have to part with in order to land Sekera, while I'm certain he would not be the focal point of a deal, I could absolutely see them having interest in Eric Belanger. The Sabres struggled on the dot last year with their only bright spot on face-offs (Derek Roy) having been moved during the off-season. Roy was the only Sabre to take more than 100 draws last year and win better than 50%. Beyond that, he was quite obviously their key face-off man, taking over 1300 draws last season, and that skill set has not been replaced yet in Buffalo.

There is a big part of me that imagines they would initially ask for a Sam Gagner or Magnus Paajarvi in return, but Gagner is certainly too high a price, and I'm hesitant to part with MPS at this stage either. The only snag in acquiring Sekera is finding an acceptable price. I don't know if a package of pieces like perhaps Tyler Pitlick or one of our Defensive prospects, Belanger to help them on the draws, and an early (not 1st) round pick would be attractive to Buffalo given their current needs, but I'd certainly put the offer out there. Given Sekera's expendability, they may consider it. A more notable young player may need to be included in order to get the deal done, but I'm not a fan of speculating on specific trades. The bottom line is that none of the Oilers' current core pieces should be required in order to get the deal done, and Sekera would be a perfect fit in Edmonton's top four.

A few final notes about Sekera that I should include, he just turned 26 this summer and he is 6'0 200 lbs. As mentioned he is a left-hand shot, but has experience on the right side and he is signed for 3 more seasons at a $2.75 Million hit on the cap. He had a career high 29 points in 2010/11, but saw those numbers regress this year with lesser opportunities. Assuming a larger role were he to come to Edmonton, I'd expect he could be somewhere in the neighbourhood of a 20-25 point player.

While the Oilers' are far from winning a championship and Andrej Sekera won't get them there on his own, he would be a strong addition to the weakest part of the roster and they would be a much better team with him in the line-up next season.