Can Alex Edler Handle A Tougher Role?

Blake Murphy
June 08 2013 12:55PM

There has been some chatter so far in this offseason about the prospect of dealing Alex Edler, he of the six years and $30M remaining on his contract.

A powerplay quarterback on a long-term, reasonably priced deal could be an attractive commodity on the market, the story goes, and thus Edler is perhaps the Canucks' second best trade asset behind Cory Schneider.

Personally, I think there are other ways to improve the team without moving Edler, who has been one of the NHL's top puck-moving defensemen and power play point men for the past several years. The table below shows Edler's power play resume, highligthing times when he was top-30 among defensemen (a "top on a team" kind of rank).

alex edler pp ranks

The first job of whichever new coach is hired will likely be to "fix" a power play unit that dropped off dramatically this year after a three-year run as one of the best outfits in the league. Edler is certainly not the problem, as he excels bringing the puck up in open ice and is a fairly reliable shot on the back end. Dealing Edler would be an obvious hit to the power play, and that's clearly counter-productive to the goal of fixing the special teams. It's for that reason that I'm skeptical that Edler will be dealt.

Another tweak a new coach may try is to get more out of Edler. FInancially speaking, a $5M cap hit isn't bad for a top defenseman. But Edler hasn't really been deployed like a top defenseman, instead being used as a sort of offense-only weapon. For the past few years, Edler has had favorable offensive zone starts at even strength and played a good chunk of his time with the Sedins, making his only-slightly-positive possession indicators somewhat worrisome. The table below shows some of his Corsi-based numbers for the past few seasons.

edler corsi

It becomes apparent pretty quickly how sheltered a role Edler has had in his time as a Canuck. Sure, he has positive Corsi numbers since 2009, but only in 2010-11 was his Corsi Rel particularly strong. More importantly, Edler has had low Corsi QoC, an indicator of the quality of competition he's faced. While his Corsi Rel QoC the past two years indicates that he's been getting tough assignments relative to his teammates, they've still been against weaker opponents. Finally, his Corsi QoT and Corsi Rel QoT, measures of teammate quality, are through the roof, thanks to playing on a top pairing and being with the Sedins for a large chunk of his even strength time. Oh, and he's never started in the offensive zone elss than 50% of the time.

It all adds up to show that, while Edler has been good, it's difficult to say he's had the same kind of role or responsibility as other top defensemen.

Could Edler be as successful with a tougher role? It's difficult to say - Edler is a bit gaffe-prone in his own end at times, and a new coach might not even risk changing his deployment because he's an asset in this type of role.

However, I queried some data dating back to 2007-08 to find instances where defensemen saw changes in their deployment to see how their performance changed. Now, a lot of this might be noise given other changes that can't be measured in a quick look-up like this, such as system changes, changes in style of play, aging factors, and more. But the results are interesting.

corsi changes

Using a cut-off of 40 games in a season, we had 860 player season-pairs. The way to understand this chart is as follows: "n" is the number of times a defensemen saw that "stat" "change" by at least that amount, and "Corsi Change" shows the average resultant change in Corsi score for those players.

It's not surprising that a decrease in teammate quality, an increase in competition quality, or a decrease in zone starts would hurt a player's possession indicators. What is perhaps surprising is the magnitude of the change, especially for the 21 player seasons where a defenseman saw all three role indicators get more difficult.

What that final row shows is that, basically, if Alex Edler played with league-average teammates, against moderately above-average competition, with his offensive zone start rate dropping to about 52%, his Corsi would be expected to drop by a score of 12. In other words, he'd drop from Duncan Keith territory down to Matt Carle territory. (As always, Corsi doesn't tell us the whole story, it's just a possession indicator, so these random player comps might not mean much.)

The point is, Edler has been deployed in favorable ways for years. A new coach may try to get more bang for his buck by using him in a more difficult role, trying to pull defensive value out of him. That to-be-determined coach would be wise, though, to expect a major drop off in terms of Edler's possession output.

Again, none of this is all that surprising in isolation. But it does raise the questions of whether Edler could be successful in a tougher role and if it behooves the team to even try it, given he's only a moderate plus-possession player with such a friendly role right now.

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Blake is a news editor at The Score and also writes basketball for Raptors Republic and baseball at Fangraphs/Rotographs. As such, he doesn't write at TLN nearly as much as he should. Give him a follow @BlakeMurphyODC.
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#1 orcasfan
June 08 2013, 01:38PM
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Edler has always been a bit of an enigma. Early on, he looked like he might have the potential to be a Lidstrom clone. Somehow, that has been derailed somewhat. I think part of his problem was his great start as an offensive D! When he put up 37 points as a 22-23 yr old, AV & Co knew they had their future PP quarterback. So with AV's new deployment strategy, he was developed and used more and more as an offensive weapon. Perhaps, to the sacrifice of his overall development.

We all have recognized that Alex has all the tools. The question has been why he has not been able to put them all together, consistently. So, how do coaches help to develop skills (especially when they are already present)? Usually, by putting those young players into the on-ice situations where they use those skills. For years now, the hot young D's are the offensive stars. Of course, often these youngsters are lacking in defensive acumen. With many of them, NHL teams, just use them primarily on offense (and against weak opponents). In other words, they shelter them.

But with Edler, we had a young D who looked like he could very well evolve into a top all-round D. It may be that his all-round skill-set was somewhat stunted by AV and Bowness using (and therefore, developing) him so much for the past 5 years as primarily an offensive D. And these were his most important development years as a D-man.

Can he be reclaimed as more of an all-rounder? I have to think that it's possible, but who knows what the new coaches will do with him? And, I, too, would be surprised if he were traded.

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#2 Fred65
June 08 2013, 02:40PM
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Edler IMO highlights a fundamental issue with the team. Most teams carry 4 top end Defensemen. With Vcr they had Bieska, Edler, Hamhuis and IMO Tanev. They could have signed Salo if they felt Tanev was not ready for prime time. I think he is ready. Then they have Ballard, Alberts. The team is a combination of many factors. The lack of a second line impacted the team and every player on the roster, including the likes of Edler. The season was started without Kesler and no way of knowing when he would be back, an extremelly doubtful Malhotra and Lapierre as their genuine NHL centres. Why did we need to sign Garrison and leave the centre spot vacant. Edlers load ( and the rest of the defense)would ahve been significantly less with a genuine second line centre rather than Ebbett. It's bad roster management IMO. Does the D play better with Kesler in the line up or an equivalent...sure they do. Every one plays better when you have a real second line centre. Picking out individual players is easy but it's not always the cause

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#3 JCDavies
June 08 2013, 03:36PM
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@Fred65

"The lack of a second line impacted the team and every player on the roster, including the likes of Edler"

This.

"They could have signed Salo if they felt Tanev was not ready for prime time. "

Depends on what the price would've been. I think the Lightning paid too much for him.

"Why did we need to sign Garrison and leave the centre spot vacant. "

I don't have a problem with signing Garrison aside from the right-side D issue and the apparent absence of a plan to solve it. I see no reason why the Canucks couldn't have both signed Garrison and fixed their depth at center. The real problem is all the NTCs the Canucks have handed out.

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#4 VBS6935
June 08 2013, 04:29PM
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It seems to me that the only argument for trading Edler is that he currently has the highest trade value of any of the Canucks who could be traded.

The Canucks can live with Hamhuis and Garrison on the left side and Garrison on the PP. What "tough minutes" do you need Edler to play since he hasn't shown an ability to play the right side?

The only reason he might not get traded is if MG and he had a conversation about how much he signed for and why he did that. If promises were made, I don't see them being broken.

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#5 Awesome
June 08 2013, 05:53PM
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Awesome analysis. I've been wondering this all along.

We saw for the first few weeks at the beginning of this season, Edlers's Corsi rel Qoc was the highest of any d-man. AV was using him in a shut down role - and his underlyers were horrible. He was sinking like the titanic (if I remember correctly). Perhaps it was the carousel of d-parnters, but to me he can't handle tougher minutes. At the end of the day, he doesn't really have to. Bieksa, Hamhuis and Garrison can all effectively handle the toughs. I believe Tanev can do if he's ever given the chance. I think they're best off giving him some cushy mins, where we know he excels.

They just need to find him a reliable partner. Since Erhoff left, he hasn't had an effective partner IMO. The 2 best games I think he played this season were beside Frank Corrado. Small sample size (2 games I think), but he looked the best I've seen him look all season. They compliment eachother well. If Frank stays in the lineup next yr, him and Edler can eat some cushy/sheltered mins (which is ideal for a rookie too). Hamhuis-Tanev, Garrison-Bieksa can all eat the tough mins. Hammer-Tanev are dynamte together, I'd love to see them paired again.

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#6 Fred-65
June 08 2013, 07:09PM
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@JCDavies

Garrison

It's not so much that I have a problem with him it's that he is surplus to requirement. We didn't really need him BUT WE DID need a centre...badly. That choice another D over the glaring need for a centre was a bad move

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#7 Jeff Angus
June 08 2013, 07:12PM
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Garrison is a stud. Any time you can sign a proven top four defenseman for 4.5 million per, you go for it. He is top pairing quality from a defensive perspective, too.

The move didn't make sense in terms of the left/right side thing, but I think that also may have something to do w/ coaching.

Garrison isn't a surplus. This team needed another defenseman, badly. The center "problem" only arised when Kesler broke his foot one game into his return. That is another area that needed improvement, but the D was far from set.

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#8 JCDavies
June 09 2013, 04:18AM
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@Fred-65

I don't see the options as mutually exclusive and I don't think Garrison's signing prevented the Canucks from bringing in another center. Most likely, the decision not to bring in another center rests with the Canuck's analysis of internal depth and of the relative value of the centers available in the market. I think those are the decisions that deserve scrutiny.

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#9 JCDavies
June 09 2013, 04:23AM
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@Jeff Angus

"The move didn't make sense in terms of the left/right side thing, but I think that also may have something to do w/ coaching."

I agree, and the way the season started without a proper preseason/training camp probably contributed to that but the uncertainty was a little jarring to watch early on.

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#10 Rusty
June 09 2013, 08:16AM
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The problem as I see it isn't the signing of Garrison. It is the inability to do anything with Ballard, Malhotra and Luongo, which adds up to $13 million. Money that could easily have been spent on upgrading the forward position...

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#11 Fred-65
June 09 2013, 09:19AM
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I think a strong second line centre has incredible influence as to how the defense perform. While MG wanted every one to believe Kesler was just around the corner and would return, shortly we all know ( thks to his agent ) that was far from the truth. This team was crying out for a centre, even now we still need atleast one more solid centre. Picking up Roy IMO was putting lipstick on a pig.

The Defense took a lot of heat but those players have not gone from Penthouse to Outhouse suddenly over night. The mix on this team is wrong. You don't improve your defense by having more defensemen sitting on the bench. You know if Edler leaves he'll become a star else where when he gets the help and roster that permits him to play a better role. As to Garrison, he seems OK but he's not the answer to the maiden pray. In terms of where he is in the pecking order I'd place him at #4 on this roster.

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#12 orcasfan
June 09 2013, 10:54AM
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I don't doubt that Gillis did, in fact, try to get a center - either before the lockout or at the beginning of the season. It would have had to be a trade - there were no decent 2nd/3rd C's available as UFA's. And the price was probably exorbitant! He was probably over-estimating (as he is wont to do) also his prospect, Schroeder. Just because a need is not resolved, especially if it would have involved a trade, does not mean that effort was not given to the problem! I am not a Gillis apologist, but most GM's face similar challenges and are not able to provide immediate fixes. Obviously, if a team has a wealth of good prospects (we don't), the task is made easier.

Not many teams have a balance of right-shooters and left-shooters on D. The reality is that most of the D-men in the NHL are lefties. That means that, on most teams, lefties have to play on their off side. The Canucks, like those other teams, has been forced over the last couple of years (since the departure of Salo and Erhoff) to try some of their leftie D's on the right side.

One of the attractions of Garrison was that he had some experience (mostly on the PP, mind you) in Florida of playing on the left side. He has, apparently, made the adjustment now to his off side while being paired with Hamhuis. But that pairing was not put together immediately. Because how could the coaches put their new guy straight away into that top pairing, when they had no chance to see how he actually played (no training camp, no pre-season). And, of course, he had no learning time with a brand new system. So, in the meantime, they tried Edler on that right side. Obviously did not work!

Unfortunately, a lot of the problems with this team in this short season were made worse by no training camp or pre-season. One of the reasons why I had very little expectations for the season.

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#13 Fred-65
June 09 2013, 11:27AM
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I have no information to believe that MG looked for a centre last summer ( remeber there was a moratorium on trades while the lockout was ongoing ) But even if he did and couldn't find the piece he wanted why waste the Cap space on a defenceman thay could have done without, we're really up against the Cap and handcuffed him at the trade deadline what sort of player he could take.

Just seems to me the thinking is fuzzy

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#14 orcasfan
June 09 2013, 01:23PM
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@Fred-65

I think Gillis has always been focused on upgrading the D whenever he can. I assume that when they went out and got Garrison, that meant they had no faith in Ballard making the grade (an assessment I agree with!). Salo was going, Tanev was not seen to be ready for a top 4 position...so, Garrison was the fill-in. A very good pick-up, in my opinion.

The problem with the current D (assuming Ballard is gone) is not only the absence of another rightie in the top 4, but also that the pairing of Edler and Bieksa does not seem to work well. They are both too "shaky" to be the proper support for each other. It might be that Tanev becomes Edler's ideal partner (as someone else mentioned). If so, where does that leave Bieksa? Do we really want another bottom pairing D making that salary? If we move Edler, we need a replacement top 4. I doubt that Tanev could be relied on just yet. Another possible rebalnce could be to reunite Hamhuis and Bieksa, and then pair Garrison and Edler. Garrison might be a good fit with Edler. But when they tried reuniting Hamhuis and Bieksa this year, it wasn't the same. I think this may, in fact, be the scheme they try. Tanev then can be eased into more responsibility.

But, I think the better choice would be to move Bieksa (not going to happen!), and then have Tanev pair with Edler. That makes room for Corrado to play bottom pairing.

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#15 Lemming
June 09 2013, 06:55PM
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The thing about the left/right thing is that even though everyone talked about it not making sense at the time, over the course of the season we were all proven fools, as it seemed Garrison could play the right side perfectly well.

The problem is that now, if Garrison played the right side with Hamhuis, they Canucks would be down a left-side defenseman, which probably means it will be Bieksa and Hamhuis to play together (at least if AV were coaching), followed by Edler and Tanev/Corrado and Garrison with Tanev/Corrado (assuming Corrado makes the team).

I agree with what someone else up there posted though, Edler doesn't need to be the shutdown guy. We have Hamhuis, Bieksa, and Garrison who have proven more than capable, and I don't think Edler is as bad defensively as some people like to think. He's not Lidstrom, but he's not close to Komisarek territory. He's serviceable on defense and a dynamo on offense, and I'm fine with that.

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#16 Adam
June 10 2013, 03:17PM
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Good article. But if you decide Edler can't handle more heat and you trade him, who would you rather get back - Schenn or Couturier? Schenn, I believe, was ranked top prospect at one point by Hockey News. Couturier looks like he has greater upside.

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