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).
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.
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.
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.