Alex Edler and the market for a Top-4 Defenseman this summer

Dimitri Filipovic
June 05 2014 12:22PM

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When the duo of Trevor Linden and Jim Benning were introduced as the two minds charged with attempting to restore a broken Vancouver Canucks franchise coming off of an embarrassing season, both made it abundantly clear that they had no real allegiances to any of the players they were inheriting. 

They were each coming in with a clean slate, and after Linden's dial-up issues were resolved (and all of his data was *finally* downloaded), they'd be able to work together to identify who of the bunch was an innocent bystander, and who was actually responsible for how poorly things unfolded as the year went along.

Neither of them were entrenched in their current positions of power when anyone on this roster had been originally acquired, and neither was responsible for the plethora of No Trade Clauses that had been handed out like candy during Mike Gillis' tenure. That was presumed to be a legitimate luxury because of this old boys' club feel the NHL still has, in which a GM would be put into an uncomfortable situation by having to approach someone who he had previously signed to a contract in an attempt to fix it and save his job, because of some "code".

This may very well still come into play as the offseason goes along, but not when it comes to Alex Edler; he reportedly won't be asked to waive his NTC by "Lindenning". And reading further into the brain trust's comments, it appears that they'd like to keep another one of "The 10", Ryan Kesler, around as well. 

The Edler situation presents with the Canucks with an interesting dilemma that's worth discussing further. Everyone is all too familiar with the fact that he finished the year with a -39 rating, the worst of anyone in the league. I'd like to think that if you're reading this blog you're aware of the pitfalls in placing any real stock in an individual player's +/-; there tends to be a valid explanation for these sorts of things, especially when a player goes from +28 for his career to -39 in one season. No one gets that bad that quickly.

Corsi For % Corsi Rel QoC On-Ice Sh% On-Ice Save % Off Zone Start % Point Per Game 5v5 Shots/60 5v5 Assists/60
10-'11 52.7 -0.021 9.16 934 59.6 0.647 5.19 0.762
11-'12 52.6 0.597 7.97 916 57.8 0.598 5.54 0.698
12-'13 51.8 0.489 7.69 922 56.6 0.489 5 0.703
13-'14 52.4 0.707 3.54 902 50.6 0.349 6.7 0.338

I wouldn't blame Edler if he wanted to get as far away as he possibly could from these parts after that remarkably hellish season. He was tasked with handling easily the toughest minutes of his career, and only had that compounded by dredging through unimaginably poor on-ice luck. As Cam wrote about back in April, history tells us that those percentages should see an uptick next season, which'll surely make his counting stats look more desirable. 

The problem, though, is that his person rate of offensive production has taken a hit every season since '10-'11, conveniently coinciding with the departure of Christian Ehrhoff to Buffalo. Ever since Sami Salo left in free agency himself the following year, it has been a thankless mission trying to find a partner for him, with the Kevin Bieksa and Jason Garrison experiments failing miserably. 

While a number of factors probably play into that, most of his offensive decline this past year was a result of an assist rate which was sliced in half from previous years. He should take his fair share of the blame; there's no denying that his play, a common phenomenon last year, wasn't good enough considering what he has shown to be capable of in the past. But it's also fair to wonder whether he has also been an unfortunate victim of the talent level around him dropping progressively since that banner season. 

For the team to part ways with him this summer, they'd assuredly be doing so at a drastically discounted price. Around last year's entry draft they reportedly turned down the haul of Brendan Smith, Tomas Tatar, and Riley Sheahan. I imagine that the offers the Canucks would receive for Edler a year later would pale in comparison to that, putting it lightly. Interestingly enough it's those very same Detroit Red Wings that have been interested in restarting the trade talks, presumably because they're a very well run organization that realizes the buy-low potential. 

Of course, just because the Linden has come out and said that they won't ask Edler to waive his NTC should likely be taken with a grain of salt. Particularly since the Red Wings will hardly be their only pursuers should Edler's name be floated around in rumours again, with the market for defensemen this summer playing a big role in that.  

According to Cap Geek there are 92 blueliners set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st. Quickly scanning through the list, two main trends present themselves:

a) There are a lot of players on their last legs amongst the bunch. 49 of the 92 are on the wrong side of 30 years old already, and 20 of them are already pushing their luck as 35+ year old professional athletes.

b) An overwhelmingly large number of the names on the list are, quite frankly, not very adept at hockey. 

By my count there are a grand total of 6 options under the age of 35 that could conceivably fill a top-4 spot on a good team -- Matt Niskanen, Tom Gilbert, Mark Fayne, Ron Hainsey, Kyle Quincey and Anton Stralman. And I'm being generous; Fayne may just be a product of the New Jersey cocoon, Quincey has been largely underwhelming ever since he left Colorado, and Hainsey is 33 years old. Niskanen's price tag likely leaves ~80-90% of the league out of contention for his services. It really is grim.

Only compounding that is the fact that you're probably not going to be able to draft a defensemen that'll immediately slot into that role if you're a team picking outside of the lottery either. There aren't a lot of options if you're one of the teams looking to upgrade at that position. Which most teams are. There's currently a massive discrepancy in supply and demand when it comes to defensemen that can play big minutes, move the needle offensively, and not be liabilities on the other end. It's why those sorts of players often get vastly overpaid when they become available. 

All things considered, it's easy to see why many a GM would be hot on the trail for Edler. Especially since it'll only get better for here from here on out. So, wait; why exactly are so many in the Vancouver Canucks contingent eager to see them say goodbye to what's considered a hot commodity around the league? Unless someone's offering a game-changing package, it seems like this is a particular asset that would be of use to have around.

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Dimitri Filipovic writes about hockey on the internet, and is the Managing Editor of Canucks Army. You can follow him on Twitter @DimFilipovic, and email him at dimitri.filipovic@gmail.com.
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#1 Mantastic
June 05 2014, 12:37PM
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I remember Drance paraded the idea of being Edler's defense partner, as being a part of the Sedins "caddy", was the best position in the NHL!

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#2 BuffaloBillsOfHockey
June 05 2014, 12:57PM
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I happen to agree with the last paragraph of the article. It's unlikely you'd receive a game-changing return for Edler after a league-worst -39 season, anyway. At very least, hang onto him just long enough to get his numbers back on track to bump up his value before dealing him. No sense in having a fire sale then jumping into Calgary's boat and throwing the paddle overboard.

Alternatively, if all available resources weren't required to fix the lack of scoring depth up front, it might even be worthwhile for the club to consider re-acquiring Erhoff and his, "I have tenure," NTC contract simply to re-establish a winning blue line pairing with Edler.

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#3 pigeonbutt
June 05 2014, 01:28PM
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Not trading Edler now means never trading him - he's either a Canuck until he retires or he walks late in his career to chase a twilight contract. If he (reportedly) refused to waive his NTC when times are at their worst then why would he waive it a year or two later when things can only assumedly be better.

I am fine with this. He is 28 - old enough to be an important piece now with enough years left to make an impact during the transition to the next "core."

To me, however, this means three things:

1) It is essential that the powerplay is treated as a serious problem to be fixed, and that Edler is at the center of this revitalization. Edler is at his best when he's a confident, puck-moving defenceman who makes the risky play and I believe the rest of his game reflects on his involvement in the PP. Experiment with a player like Kassian who has great puck-possession skills and is somewhat unpredictable to fill the role of roamer left behind by Ehrhoff. By all means keep Daniel away from the point. Consider the fact that Daniel isn't the shooter he used to be and consider tooling around this.

2) Establish the defensive pairings early. Last year, while marred by injury in the later half, also saw some infuriating repetitive pairings like Bieksa and Edler while others were constantly juggled. While the pairings should not be set in stone, they should at least be a thing of regularity. Stanton-Bieksa and Tanev-Edler has seemed like good match-ups due to keeping a steady anchor next to the risk taker as, I believe this blog has mentioned before. Make sure Edler is being complemented correctly to get his confidence back ASAP... I do not believe he is a quick learner when it comes to new partners.

3) Seriously explore trading Ryan Kesler. By 100% keeping Edler you must become even more receptive to the possibility of needing to get younger. I do believe the Canucks can make the play-offs, but I do not think it should be their focus. I do not believe they can win the cup. Player development and allowing mgmt/coaching to assess their pool of talent without the influence of kneejerk "win-now" moves should be this year's focus. The Canucks are in a transitionary phase and while they have the core to make the playoffs they absolutely must start thinking about the future. ***If*** the right trade for Kesler presents itself, the fact that the other "big-ticket" trade prospect is staying must be considered.

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#4 JeremyOK
June 05 2014, 02:13PM
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Great article, just nailed it. Edler's one of the many Canucks due for a big bounceback on regression alone, and one would think that a smart coach will see that he's most effectively deployed like Vigneault did -- crank up the O-zone starts, shelter him from top lines, and give him plenty of PP time. He may not be the #1-stud D-man we all hoped for, but he's still a very good player and would be extremely hard to replace.

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#5 Tachs Say
June 05 2014, 02:16PM
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" I am fine with this. He is 28 - old enough to be an important piece now with enough years left to make an impact during the transition to the next "core." "

Yeah, Edler has been real important alright. So 50 years and no cup it is.

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#6 van
June 05 2014, 03:25PM
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Highest rel QoC and lowest OZ% with the same CF% as previous years. Good, no?

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#8 #FireGillis
June 05 2014, 04:58PM
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"Fire Gillis, the grass will be greener".

*Gillis is fired*

The grass is the same...

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#9 Lemming
June 05 2014, 05:56PM
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@BuffaloBillsOfHockey

As much as I'm completely down with bringing Ehrhoff back, I doubt Buffalo would be interested.

It's a shame he walked in the first place, considering how well he worked with Edler. It really was a boneheaded decision by Gillis.

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#10 BuffaloBillsOfHockey
June 05 2014, 06:38PM
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@Lemming

Yeah...

Not to mention the whole, "What do the Canucks have to offer them," problem. They pick higher, for starts.

And who do you offer them? Edler? Kind of purpose defeating and he's already stated that he won't waive his NTC. Kesler won't waive his NTC either (nor do I blame him) to play on a cellar dweller.

You could always offer them Kassian back plus maybe a second round pick, but that might just piss them off because it would remind them of the last time the two teams played each other when Kass registered 4 points and the part of CoHo was played that evening by the invisible man.

Not to mention, with Ryan Miller gone, Erhoff is one of their only valuable assets left.

Probably best to just move on.

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#11 JFR
June 05 2014, 06:55PM
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I believe that most fans are still underestimating the amount of blame that resides at the feet of Johnny Torts. Look at the way his former club has played after being out from under his thumb and the results last year from a good offensive club?

The Rangers and Kings have shown what a club can do when a positive influence comes into the dressing room. Not just a "players" coach, or an offensive guru, but a coach that will maximize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of the team. Add in what a change of scenery can do for a player, look at Martin st Louis, Marion Gaborik and even Carter and Richards a couple of years back.

Kesler and Edler should stay, while the team trades a Garrison and Salary Dumps Booth. The cap savings could bring in top Six talent like Stasny or Vanek... Still don't think one bad series means he stinks! Add in the youth movement that Horvat, Corrado Ect can supply the team under John Stevens could look and feel a lot different.

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#12 Ted
June 05 2014, 07:12PM
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#FireGillis wrote:

"Fire Gillis, the grass will be greener".

*Gillis is fired*

The grass is the same...

Yeah, cuz all big roster changes occur from April - beginning of June. Not to mention a new front office coming in as well. Wow, you're an idiot.

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#13 PB
June 05 2014, 07:27PM
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@BuffaloBillsOfHockey

Exactly -- if you did get rid of Edler (and I don't really see the point of that unless you have someone else to step into a top-4 role and I don't see that) why on earth would you trade him when his value is at such a low point? He's also not the top NTC d-man I'd get rid of on the Canucks anyway, Garrison and Bieksa would be higher targets for me.

I still don't entirely understand the criticism of NTCs in the Gillis contracts (though I certainly blame Gillis for many other problems facing the Canucks today). Most of the competitive teams with the notable exception of the Kings have between 7 and 11 NTC or NMCs (some complete, some modified). This seems to be more the rule than the exception -- with the salary cap and restrictions on term, one of the few perks you can offer a FA especially during a bidding war is control over their own movement. Even terrible teams who spend insanely little money like Buffalo or Florida have a few players on such contracts.

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#14 NM00
June 05 2014, 07:57PM
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@Ted

Ted what do you do in your spare time when you are not on troll patrol...

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#15 NM00
June 05 2014, 08:16PM
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@PB

If the Canucks got rid of Edler, the top 6 would probably be Hamhuis/Bieksa, Garrison/Tanev & Stanton/Corrado.

The defence core could survive as long as Utica has some reasonable D options (they probably don't) when injuries occur.

Personally, I'd rather see one of Garrison or Edler traded (if possible) and the cap money reinvested elsewhere.

While I think Garrison can bounce back next year and teams could do worse looking for a top 4 defenseman, it was a poor allocation of resources to sign him in the first place.

Hamhuis/Bieksa, Edler/Salo & Ballard/Tanev would have been fine with Tanev having a chance to take a top 4 role as Salo was phased out.

Same thing with Willie Mitchell and Brendan Morrison.

The Canucks had the chance to keep useful players on short term contracts without screwing up flexibility and opportunities for young players.

And they wasted these gifts...

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#16 PB
June 05 2014, 09:48PM
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@NM00

Yes, well it's certainly become abundantly clear that Gillis' evaluation of talent (at the draft, trades or re-signs) were lacking, though I'd say that Mitchell's recovery from that Malkin hit made him more suspect at the time than in retrospect.

I'm really not sure that our d could withstand the loss of Edler and an injury. Corrado didn't show to be ready for prime time last year and I'm not sure if he is strong enough to step in yet. Tommernes must be at least two years out. But perhaps the d-core can rebound together as they all seemed to be out of sync with some strong stretches for almost all other than Edler.

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#17 Lemming
June 05 2014, 10:13PM
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@NM00

Not signing Brendan Morrison in particular and then watching him sign for a million with the Flames and have a pretty decent year was pretty annoying to watch. We all knew he wasn't going to be the center he was with Naslund and Bertuzzi, but having him around as depth would have been really nice...

The more I look at the moves Gillis made, the more I scratch my head...

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#18 BuffaloBillsOfHockey
June 05 2014, 10:31PM
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@PB

I like your line of thinking.

Except for the Bieksa part. And here's why: Bieksa is a very passionate player when it comes to this team. Anyone who disagrees, I'd refer to his, "I'm going down with the ship interview," on Hockey Night In Canada earlier this year. In a perfect world, he is the guy you'd hope Ryan Kesler or the Sedin Twins could be.

For me, he's the "franchise player" with the right attitude and the loyalty that you want to stick around. Of all the players who currently hold an NTC, I'd say he'd basically be the one you held onto until the bitter end.

Aside from that, I agree wholeheartedly. I'd been looking at NTCs the other day and, of course, noticed that the Kings have none (minus Gaborik, whose NTC they inherited with the trade). The tendency to equate the lack of NTCs with winning comes easy.

That is, until you realize that Chicago, Boston, and everyone else who's hoisted the Cup in the last half decade has a comparable number of NTCs.

In other words, LA is working their own club policy. And good on 'em; it's working. But everyone else who has assets worth protecting doesn't mind handing out an NTC. It's sort of a mutual security blanket for player and club alike.

So while an NTC can be a detriment to a club, more often than not, it's in place to protect both player and club equally.

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#19 HPC
June 06 2014, 01:21AM
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@Ted

And still MOOPS!

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#20 HPC
June 06 2014, 01:40AM
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@#FireGillis

The head chef who brought in and kept the stake stinky ingredients was Gillis. He was fired. Cook Av got the most out of the stale ingredients and he was fired. torts couldn't do squat with even staler stinkier ingredients and he was fired.

And you still have the stale stinky ingredients here. I'm sure Trevor Mediocre will bring in a couple of pieces worthless ingredients and throw it on top of the stale stinky pie and call that a winning plan. All the while the customers keep coming back for more and more stinky stale pizza.

It isn't too hard to figure what's going to happen next when the guy who couldn't accept change is the guy the team hired as prez. Trevor and his coup against Messier and keenan all because he and many of his country club bromancers couldn't accept that he wasn't the part of the future plans. Why do you think the whole team tanked? Messier called Linden out for his interloping coup and Linden nothing more to say cause he knew it was true. With team mates like Linden, you don't need opponents.

Linden is nothing more than a back stabbing mediocre country club pretender. Was then and still is now. And now that he's got that job, it's only fitting that someone like him would fall on his own sword, how fitting.

The canucks have and always will be a team and an organization that hates winning and winners. They do whatever it takes not to win. I can't wait till the 50th anniversary and they have nothing to show for it. But of course that is a stat that's worthless to their fans. See? HATE WINNING! HATE IT! the Canucks...WE HATE WINNING AND WINNERS. LOL

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#21 #FireNoStandardsTed
June 06 2014, 02:06AM
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@Ted

Conspiracy theory. You didn't write that so you could reply to refute it simply because you love Gillis...could you? Hmmmm.

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#22 spOilers
June 06 2014, 02:18AM
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@NM00

He probably makes a living scalping Canucks tickets. No fans believing and coming to see a crap team play means no money in his pockets. He has to believe.. he's a Canuck Belieber.

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#23 Locky
June 06 2014, 08:58AM
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BuffaloBillsOfHockey wrote:

I happen to agree with the last paragraph of the article. It's unlikely you'd receive a game-changing return for Edler after a league-worst -39 season, anyway. At very least, hang onto him just long enough to get his numbers back on track to bump up his value before dealing him. No sense in having a fire sale then jumping into Calgary's boat and throwing the paddle overboard.

Alternatively, if all available resources weren't required to fix the lack of scoring depth up front, it might even be worthwhile for the club to consider re-acquiring Erhoff and his, "I have tenure," NTC contract simply to re-establish a winning blue line pairing with Edler.

Holding onto Edler in order to trade him at a later date is a fallacious argument for a couple of reasons:

-It takes the extra time for your return (prospects + picks) to develop. Extra time for the Sedins and co to grow older.

-Edler himself grows older. Is the other team going to pay more for two less years of Edler (At a decent price too).

-Rumours of interest by other clubs (e.g. Detroit) would indicate he still has value. I think historical trades in the NHL show that GM's do not have the same fluctuating estimation of player value as do HF and CDC. Veteran players (which Edler now is) especially.

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#24 NM00
June 06 2014, 11:02AM
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@PB

But the injury as a result of the Malkin hit is the only reason Mitchell was available on a short term contract in the first place.

If he had been healthy the entire season leading into unrestricted free agency, Mitchell may have topped the insanely long contract that Ohlund received from TBay the previous summer.

Allowing Salo to walk and signing Garrison made it quite difficult for Ballard to have any chance of reestablishing himself as a top 4 D and for Tanev to crack the top 4 as well.

So that move was even worse...

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#25 NM00
June 06 2014, 11:12AM
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@Lemming

I was actually talking about allowing Morrison to walk after 2007-2008.

He would have been the perfect transition guy for Kesler just as Salo would have been for Tanev.

And I'd have taken Hank/Kesler/Morrison over Hank/Kesler/pre-eye injury Manny in 2011 because the former group can play in all 3 zones...

"The more I look at the moves Gillis made, the more I scratch my head"

Anybody who looks at the moves Gillis made as opposed to being seduced by the W-L record would realize how useless he really was.

On the whole, he didn't make the moves to take the core he inherited to the next level aside from Ehrhoff.

And the Ehrhoff pilfering wasn't even taken full advantage of due to the Ballard blunder that made it difficult to offer Ehrhoff a market contract.

Most importantly, the organizational depth chart completely eroded during Gillis' reign which is partly why the Canucks have to rebuild for the first time in 15 years.

It was quite surprising how long it took the majority of delusional Canuck fans to snap out of their delirium in regards to the former superhero general manager...

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#26 BuffaloBillsOfHockey
June 06 2014, 11:51AM
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@Locky

It's hardly a fallacy.

What was Iginla, 36, when the Bruins picked him up? 35-ish when the Penguins did?

Because both those teams have a recent Cup and I would hardly point at Iggy and cry, "useless player," I would be reticent to quickly remove all value from the 30-and-over crowd. And wasn't Recchi 43 when he won the Cup with the Bruins in 2011? Good teams employ veterans. Not because they have to, but because they choose to.

For example, I remember the day before my 30th birthday and it wasn't at all the case that on that day I could do my job at peak efficiency and then the next I was a massive liability and needed to be fired. In fact it was pretty close to exactly the same as every other day leading up to it and so has every day since.

It doesn't work like that with hockey players (or anyone else for that matter) either.

This fan base is a strange one, to be sure, in that rumors quickly become facts and suppositions instantly metamorphose into current realities. One day in the 2011-2012 season, someone wrote an article about how the core is aging and the cup window is closing. I think we collectively waited until we finished reading the last sentence of said article before declaring the Sedin twins to be over the hill and the window to be not only closed, but nailed shut then cemented over as well. Did you hear through a friend of a friend of the janitor that cleaned Kesler's room at Sochi that he overheard Ryan wanting out of Vancouver? Turns out he's already submitted a list of teams he'd accept a trade to, packed his bags and has one foot out the door, so let's not even wait to hear what the man himself has to say.

The list goes on in this fashion. If I were to use this forum to state that I had it on good authority that Chris Higgins liked to wear a summer dress and sing karaoke on Tuesdays, how long do you figure it would take for articles debating this newly revealed fact to appear in the Province and the Sun?

I'm not saying that the core isn't aging. Nor am I denying outright that there are some country clubber attitudes that need a shake up. But an Edler trade two years down the road isn't an impossibility. And just because an NHL player isn't in his twenties anymore doesn't make them instantly useless.

But don't take my word for it. Numbers don't lie. Look at this useless old man's Corsi numbers from the last season for the love of Pete: http://www.extraskater.com/player/354/henrik-sedin/gamelog/2013

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#27 Neil B
June 06 2014, 12:35PM
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Generally speaking, good teams don't trade players; they trade *for* players. Asset management.

So the question isn't "do we dump Edler?", as he's an asset, not an anchor. The question is "what do we need as a team, and what asset(s) do we have to get us that?" We need more young, cheap, top-6 talent at forward, and we have 5 NHL-calibre top-4 defencemen. Can we convert one of those assets into the asset we need?

For instance, if Edler would get us Florida's pick, then I would say yes, go with it. If Florida wanted a d-man plus a pick for #1 I would try to move a lesser asset than Edler. See if they want to pair Garrison on the PP with Campbell again, for instance.

By the way, if Florida is really interested in moving the #1 for a package including a veteran d-man, Vancouver has an edge that no other team has: defencemen with years of experience working with Florida's star goaltender. If that's a trade the team's big-brain people want to make, then that's an edge that we need to exploit.

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#28 PB
June 06 2014, 01:42PM
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@NM00

No that's probably quite true. I'll count myself amongst the many who was far too lenient in my estimation of Gillis; he didn't have as many colossal mistakes as a Milbury but it was death by a thousand cuts -- poor drafts, crappy trades, wrong choices at the wrong times. I watched Salo play in TB this year and while he still obviously has the injury problem, I'd have taken him over Garrison even today. Ballard I think we all know was a poor trade, not only because of what we gave up but based on what he actually was -- not just poor deployment by AV but gauging by his play in Minnesota just not really that good.

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