With the Shea Weber-to-Vancouver pipedream
on hold for a year dead, the Canucks (and their fans) now have to shift their attention back in house. Alex Edler, the club’s best defenseman, has one year left on his current contract (a four-year deal he signed back in 2010). The Canucks can extend his contract at any point this summer or throughout the 2012-13 season, but the same correlation of forces that incentivized Weber to "utilize" the current CBA and sign a lifetime extension before it expires in September, are at play.
Edler is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and should he hit the open market, the demand would be extraordinary. That said, he has some incentive to extend his deal at some point in the next seven weeks…
Read on past the jump to find out my thoughts on Edler’s next contract.
Edler’s extension is a tricky issue for Mike Gillis and company, for a few reasons. One, with the uncertainty over a new CBA, there are many variables that may change come September. Two of the biggest are UFA age (currently 27 or seven accrued NHL seasons) and contract length (currently there is no limit on the term of a contract).
If either of those issues were to change with the new CBA, the framework of a potential Edler deal would change dramatically. It was pretty clear that Shea Weber preferred to sign long-term under the current rules, but for Edler and the Canucks the situation is obviously different.
Where Weber has proven to be among the league’s best defenseman year after year, Edler has consistently struggled with consistency. Without doubt, he’s flashed the ability of a guy who could become a true number one defenseman. He is big, mobile, physical, and he possesses elite offensive abilities. The other side of the coin is that his ridiculous skill set doesn’t always shine through, and he continues to suffer from stretches of subpar play.
Like during the first round against the Los Angeles Kings this past April. In 2011, Edler returned from injury just in time for the playoffs and he returned with a bang, physically punishing the Chicago Blackhawk forward group. It was the opposite in the first round against the Kings this past season, Edler’s physical play seemed tentative and he was prone to sloppy and costly decision making in his own end.
Edler finished 2011-12 with 49 points, good for seventh among all NHL defensemen and he led all Vancouver defensemen in ice time averaging 23:51 per contest. Here is a look at the defensemen who finished close to Edler in scoring across the league. The age, salary cap, and status columns are from when the players signed their current respective contracts (for example, Campbell signed his contract as a free agent in the summer of 2008).
|Goals||Points||Cap hit (millions)||Age||Salary Cap||Status|
This isn’t a big scientific list of comparables, and it’s a small sample size, but it does highlight what we are probably aware of already – Edler is in line for a significant raise. Of the defensemen above, he isn’t in Weber’s class, but he could hold his own against any of them. Yandle may be the best comparison as they are the same age, but Edler is better defensively and is a more consistent physical presence, too.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Edler doesn’t do the heavy lifting on Vancouver’s defense – that goes to the Hamhuis-Bieksa pairing. He plays against quality opposition, but he starts the bulk of his shifts in the offensive zone (and his deployment in the 2010-11 season was even more offensively oriented).
Looking at zone starts – Edler has the highest offensive zone start rate of all of the comparable defensemen. He can’t be faulted for this really, it’s more indicative of Vancouver’s strategy than it is of Edler’s defensive shortcomings. In fact the argument could be made that Edler is superior defensively to all of the defensemen above save for Weber, or at least has the potential to be. While Edler has all the tools to be a top defensive defenseman his adjusted possession numbers and chance differential were underwhelming this past season, and he struggled somewhat when challenged with playing tougher minutes.
If we look at Corsi Relative Quality of Competition (QoC based on possession metrics, rather than +/-), we’ll see that Edler is near the bottom though again this is more a case of Vancouver having a shut down pairing they can protect Edler with. The Islanders would love to be able to do the same with Streit, but they don’t have the depth. The same goes for Byfuglien in Winnipeg. Yandle plays an offensively-oriented role for Phoenix, thanks in large part to the emergence of Oliver Ekman-Larsson… (Note: all stats found above were taken off of behindthenet.ca)
So, with all of that being said, what do the Canucks do with Edler? Numbers and statistics aside, it comes down to their belief in his upside. He already has emerged as a very solid top-four defenseman while showing signs of being a cornerstone, top pairing guy. If the Canucks believe he can reach that level on a consistent basis, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a significant commitment (8-10 years) made, and soon.
If not, the Canucks would still likely have to give Edler a contract in the 5-7 season range, though maybe they’d prefer to wait and see how he performs in the final year of his contract first. The prospect of "contract year Edler" after all, is enticing. That could be a risky maneuver, however, as the Canucks simply don’t have anyone on the roster, or on the way, that can replace what Edler brings.
This upcoming season Edler will likely pair with Jason Garrison, and the duo has some potential (on paper, at least). Garrison is a steady defenseman who makes a good first pass (like Edler), and he can play the right side effectively.
Yandle signed his extension when the cap was $64.3 million. Assuming the cap settles somewhere in the $62-$68 million range (hard to say right now with the uncertainty regarding the player’s share of revenues), the starting point for Edler’s next contract will likely be $5.5-6 million, as he brings more to the table than Yandle.
The Canucks should be comfortable committing $6 million per season to Edler for the long term (again, assuming the salary cap is in the range mentioned above). Edler has become a very good defenseman who contributes in a lot of ways. He has his rough stretches of play, but every single defenseman (not counting the recently retired Nick Lidstrom) goes through the same ups and downs.
Weber and Ryan Suter struggled mightily against the Coyotes in Round 2 last year, likely due to fatigue from carrying the Predators all season while also planning their escape, but not much was made of that in the media (who were focussed on Radulov). Edler on the other hand had a below average Round 1, and he received a lot of negative attention for it.
The way I see it, the Canucks have the luxury of insulating Edler behind their shutdown pairing, he’s a critical contributor on the power-play and with a potential long-term fit in Garrison, I expect to see Edler continue to improve each season…
More of this, please.