The Clock is Ticking on Extensions for Burrows, Edler

Other teams are busy locking up core pieces before the CBA expires.
Will Alexander or Alexandre get an extension this week?

On Saturday night, when the clock hits 12:00 AM EST, the current NHL CBA will expire and be replaced by… a pumpkin? Not really, this isn’t a Cinderella story, instead the current CBA will be replaced by an aching void where NHL hockey used to be.

So what does this mean for your Vancouver Canucks?

It means that the Canucks season almost certainly won’t start on time (CBA uncertainty has already cost Canucks fans the Penticton Young Stars Tournament). That’s the principal impact, but the expiry of the NHL’s current collective bargaining agreement has other ramifications for the club as well.

For example, once a new CBA is agreed to by the league and the players, Laurence Gilman and his crew of ninjas will have to master a new several hundred page document, and figure out fresh exploitable loopholes they can use to game the salary cap. Also if an entire season is lost it’s something of a disaster scenario for the Canucks, who would lose a year of their ever narrowing "championship window." 

More pressing for our purposes is that the expiry of the CBA represents a "deadline" for players to extend their deals under the rules of the current bargaining agreement. Over the past month we’ve seen a flurry of activity as teams like the Bruins, Oilers, Flyers and Capitals have locked up Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Troy Brouwer, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Tyler Seguin and the dastardly Brad Marchand.

While Doan’s latest deadline, and Luongo’s return are garnering lots of attention from Canucks fans and Vancouver sports media this week, a third story worth paying attention to is that the Canucks presumably have four days in which to extend two "core" pieces in winger Alex Burrows and defenseman Alex Edler. Mike Gillis is famous for his habit of "working to a deadline," so I suspect that the Canucks will extend at least one of their Alexes before Saturday.

A Burrows Extension?

It was reported in late August that the Canucks and Burrows had commenced negotiations on a long-term contract extension that would keep the bite-y former ECHLer in Vancouver. Since then, Burrows’ agent Todd Corbeil described the existence of "a gap" between the two sides:

Corbeil also said the two sides were continuing to negotiate, so perhaps they’ll manage to bridge that gap yet. Corbeil’s latest comments to CKWX, however, suggest that the two sides aren’t any closer at the moment than they were last week.

In late July we looked at how Burrows has performed without the Sedin twins going back five seasons, and tried to determine his real "value." Here’s the meat of what I concluded: 

"What Burrows brings to the table is pretty significant: he’s a plus possession player who is consistently in the top-25 in even-strength goal scoring. He’s also dynamite on the penalty-kill, is known for being "clutch" (despite clutch not existing), and has a special type of chemistry with the twins. On the negative side, Burrows has got a bad reputation around the league as an occasional cheap-shot artist and embellisher, and he’s not a particularly effective power-play presence, but those are minor quibbles and do nothing to negate his all around positive value.

So where should we expect Burrows’ future cap-hit to end up? You have to think he’s worth at least Brandon Dubinsky/Scott Hartnell money (4.2 cap-hit), though if Shane Doan and his relatively meagre production is going to be worth 7+ million on the open market, then all bets are off.

Ideally, the Canucks will try and get Burrows to take a hometown discount, and sign for something like 3 years at between 13 and 15 million (that would give him a cap-hit in between 4.33 and 5 million), even though he’s probably worth well north of that."

Looking at non-cornerstone top-six forwards who’ve signed recently (Brouwer, Hartnell, Simmonds, Marchand), Burrows has been significantly more productive than any of them over the past four seasons. Of course, he also skates with the two of the best passing forwards in the league, and the twins have made a career of turning "plugs" like Taylor Pyatt and Anson Carter into thirty goal scorers.

Burrows’ real value to the Canucks, I think, derives from the fact that the twins are significantly better with Burrows than they are without him. They posses the puck more, they allow fewer goals against, and they score at a marginally higher rate as well. That’s worth 4 million per.

Without the twins, however, Burrows is basically a quality low-event forward, who will antagonize opponents and kill penalties while chipping in 15-20 even-strength goals per season. That’s worth closer to 3 million per…

But forget the price point, because my guess is that "the gap" Corbeil described to CKWX, is more about term. As we’ve seen from the deals signed by Simmonds, Brouwer, Hartnell and Marchand: 4.5 million per season is the going rate for non-star top-six forwards. There just isn’t a lot of wiggle room for the Canucks on this front.

On the other hand, Burrows turned 31 in April so any extension he signs would kick in for his 32 year old season. A three year extension takes him through to the age of 35, while a four year extension takes him to the age of 36. Because of Burrows’ age, the Canucks will surely incur some degree of "diminishing returns" on any long-term investment.

It’s a good bet that Burrows will be worth 4+ million for his 32 year old and 33 year old seasons, but after that: it gets dicey.

An Edler Extension?

An Edler extension is a little bit trickier, because Alex Edler is 26 and is about to enter his seventh accrued season. When he first signed his current four year deal, it was designed to take him right through his RFA years. But years accrued, and UFA eligibility are being discussed in CBA negotiations, and a new deal could change the rules of the road.

To put this as simply as I can: under the current CBA, Edler is poised to hit the open market as an unrestricted freeagent on July 1st 2013. If the rules pertaining to unrestricted freeagency are changed in a new CBA however, Edler may end up as an RFA on July 1st 2013 instead.

Generally speaking, the cost of a restricted free agent year is ~40% less than the cost of an unrestricted free agent year, so Edler could stand to lose a fair bit of money if the UFA eligibility rules are changed. Presumably this gives the Canucks some additional leverage in negotiations, which they’ll need because Edler’s market value is nearly six million per season.

Complicating matters further is that the Canucks appears to have an "internal cap" for their blue-liners. It was set when the team signed Dan Hamhuis for 4.5 million per season, and since then defenders who’ve agreed to deals with the Canucks have either accepted this (Bieksa, Garrison) or they’ve moved on in pursuit of a massive payday (Christian Ehrhoff).

Of course, every rule has exceptions. When Mike Gillis met with Shea Weber for three hours this past summer, for example, there’s no way they were talking about a deal that topped out at 4.6 million per year. Will Edler, who production aside is the third best defenseman on the team at the moment, qualify as an exception?  He’ll have to if he’s going to stay in Vancouver.

The most recent comparable is Edler’s countryman Tobias Enstrom, who in early August signed a five year extension with the Winnipeg Jets with an annual cap-hit of 5.75 million. Enstrom has two fifty point seasons from the blue-line under his belt, and his underlying numbers indicate to me that he’s done more with less than Edler has.

That said, Enstrom is under-sized while Edler is massive. For that reason, Edler probably has more potential going forward. He doesn’t do it consistently: but when Edler plays with a physical edge to his game, he looks like a legitimate top-pairing two-way defenseman.

When you consider Edler’s age, contract status and the near total absence of quality blueliners who are likely to hit the open market over the next couple of seasons: it probably makes sense to extend Edler long-term this week, to a deal that keeps his cap-hit relatively low. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not the Canucks do exactly that this week.

  • puck-bandit

    Great summary Tom.

    Be a shame to lose either as I feel both Burrows and Edler and key components to the team, and the success we’ve had in the past few years.

    Your point about Burrows value correlating with what he adds to the Sedins is great. While in the past the Sedins have made plugs look better, few of these ‘plugs’ have made the Sedins look better. Have to think Burrows retroactively increases the Sedins play too.

    Edler – he’s a beast, and I struggle to think we would adequately replace him. Best hitter on the team, nice blend of offense/defense, and I think too much turnover on the blue line is concerning.

  • @Graham I’m with you on all front. Burrows is a fringe second liner in his own right (or a top-notch defensive forward) which is valuable even if he didn’t have Holmstrom’s “dirty goal gene.” As for Edler, as a general rule, I don’t think you should ever give up on 26 year old defenseman with abundant talent. Even if they’re error prone on occassion, they often figure that part of their game out.

  • KleptoKlown

    I don’t see the rush on signing Edler before the CBA expires. Unless he is taking that good ol’ home team discount, the Canucks will probably be in a better bargaining position after the new CBA is signed. If Edler does indeed revert to RFA status at the end of next season, the Canucks need to check their rectums for horse shoes, rabbits feet and stray pennies.