Stars hope Sekera can be happy surprise this season
Dallas' quietest free-agent signing this summer may wind up becoming one of its most impactfulby Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer
FRISCO, Texas -- Much of the Dallas Stars' free-agent hype for the summer surrounded the signings of veteran goal scorers Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry. And why not, the duo have combined for 727 regular season goals and have been perennial playoff standouts.
But the quietest signing on July 1 might end up being one of the most impactful, as Andrej Sekera is drawing rave reviews after the first few days of training camp. The 33-year-old defenseman has been paired with 20-year-old Miro Heiskanen, allowing many to project a second pairing that could be high on skill.
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"I actually think he's going to be the one guy who is going to be a surprise," said Stars general manager Jim Nill. "You talk about Perry and Pavelski, I think people are going to be surprised with what he brings to us."
Sekera's story is an intriguing one. He became an unrestricted free agent when Edmonton bought out his contract the day before free agency. Sekera signed a six-year deal worth $33 million in 2015, so he was set to make $5.5 million this season. The Oilers felt they could spend that money more wisely and also felt they had younger defensemen who could take the place of Sekera.
Fair enough. But that allowed the veteran defenseman to pick his new team, and he quickly went with the Stars, signing a one-year deal with a base salary of $1.5 million with $500,000 in potential bonuses.
Video: Sekera ready to play with his new Stars teammates
In Edmonton, he looked overpaid. In Dallas, he looks like a heck of a bargain.
"When he became available because of the buyout, we thought he could be a player who could be a bonus," Nill said. "It was a way to help, and I think he's going to be a very valuable player for us."
Sekera said he anticipated the buyout and that it didn't take long to settle on the Stars.
"I had enough years with two big injuries, I knew something was up in the air," Sekera said. "I got bought out, Dallas called me, and it took me like five minutes to decide where to go. I'm happy that I made this change and really excited for this season."
Sekera signed a one-year deal with the hope of re-establishing his value in the league, and he could have a great chance to do that in Dallas. He has been paired with Heiskanen in training camp, and it sure looks like that will be the way the coaching staff aligns the defense for the season opener.
Video: Razor chats with Pavelski about camp, coming to Stars
"That opportunity is there, and hopefully he earns it," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery.
So far, Montgomery said he has been impressed with the puck handling and decision-making of Sekera.
"He was really good today, which is good to see because we were working on forecheck and he hasn't played in our system, but it shows his intelligence," Montgomery said.
Asked what stands out with Sekerea, Montgomery said: "Intelligence. Poise. I'm watching him in the offensive zone and he's so smart shooting the puck. He doesn't shoot it all that hard, but it gets through. And then his communication on rush defense … he's a very intelligent athlete."
Nill announced on Friday that defenseman Stephen Johns would be on the shelf for the foreseeable future, and that means the acquisition of Sekera could be huge for the Stars. That means veteran Roman Polak can possibly slide down to the third pairing and play beside Jamie Oleksiak or a number of AHL players who stepped up last season.
Video: Hintz looks to build on last year's success
Had the Stars not signed Sekera, they might be on the lookout for another defenseman right now. As it is, the team can study this group and ponder the possibility of adding another defenseman later in the season. In fact, if Sekera is as good as he has been in other stops, they might not need to add anything.
The talented Slovakian had 44 points (11 goals, 33 assists) in 74 games for Carolina in 2014-15, earning the $33 million, free-agent contract from Edmonton. He averaged 22:46 in time on ice with the Hurricanes that season. In his first two years with the Oilers, he played all but three games and averaged 21:40.
He then suffered a knee injury followed by an Achilles tendon injury that cut short his last two seasons in Edmonton. His numbers were down, but Nill said that's expected. The GM said Sekera has had a year to recover, so he expects him to be ready to go.
"He's healthy," Nill said. "He's like Corey Perry in that he had some major injuries that take a year to heal. People are judging these guys off two or three months when they're not at 100 percent. He feels fine now and he's ready to go. He's in a good spot."
Sekera echoed those sentiments and said he's happy to be with a Dallas team that could contend.
Video: Comeau is ready to get the season started
"Good group of guys in the dressing room, good system and a lot of skill on this team," Sekera said of his first impressions. "It's like everywhere else, if you play the system and play it right, you'll be fine. If you don't, I don't think it will be OK."
And as for playing with Heiskanen, Sekera joked that he expects the talented young defenseman to carry the puck a lot of the time.
"I guess I can have an espresso on the blueline," he said with a laugh. "He's a really good player."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.