Canucks Army Player Previews: Alex Edler

If there’s one common theme that you’ll notice through this series, it’s that a lot of them will sound very similar: Player X was good in previous years. Player X had an awful season in 2013-14. Player X should rebound now that he’s free of the binding shackles of John Tortorella’s Meatwagon Brand Hockey, and so on and so forth. However, for no player is this refrain more true than it is for Alex Edler.

You’re a Canucks fan and you watched the games just like I did last year, so you know what I’m talking about here. With countless turnovers, blown coverages, missed shots, offensive futility, a suspension, and injury issues, Edler’s 2013-2014 campaign was truly the pinnacle of suck for not just Alex Edler, but for basically every notable player in the NHL. Edler’s struggles coupled with what had to have been some kind of black-magic voodoo curse wound up hanging the defenseman with an impossibly bad -39 rating on the year.

The good news is that it’s almost impossible to be that bad two years in a row.

2013-2014 Performance

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Oh man.

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Every year, there’s a that guy in the NHL. Some guy just fires away, plays well enough, and just gets no puck luck. But there’s never a that guy who plays 1000 minutes at 5-on-5 and sees his teammates shoot under 4% when he’s on the ice. The BehindTheNet era began in 2007-2008, and not a single player has ever played 1000 minutes at 5-on-5 and had an on-ice shooting percentage under 4%. No one. The closest anyone of any significance got to 4% was Scott Gomez in 2010-2011, when he and his teammates combined to shoot at a 4.5% clip in 1,124 minutes of ice time. But under 4% just doesn’t happen.

Last year, in 1,066 minutes of ice time at even strength, Alex Edler carried an on-ice shooting percentage of 3.63%.

I can’t emphasize this point enough: what happened to Alex Edler in the offensive end of the ice last season is entirely unprecedented. In the six years prior to 2013-14, Edler saw an above average 8% of the shots taken by the Canucks go in the back of his opponents’ net. On-ice shooting percentage is a damn near impossible thing to pin on talent level or coaching systems anyways, but 3.63% just doesn’t happen to anyone anywhere under any circumstances. 3.63% is so extreme that it can’t be on Edler. It can’t be on Tortorella either, and it can’t be on Edler’s teammates. The only reasonable explanation as to why no goals went in for Edler is that there is no reasonable explanation. Alex Edler flipped a coin and got tails 50 times in a row. It happens. It sucks, but it happens.

Edler’s GoalsFor/20 rate should improve this year because it would be nearly impossible not to improve, and that alone will basically erase that ugly -39 he carried last season. And on top of that, Edler remains a good possession player that evolved into a top-end penalty killer last season as well. His underlying numbers indicate that Edler is still a very, very good top-4 NHL defenseman, and his career prior to last year tells us that he still has plus-level offensive upside. He’s going to be fine.

2014-2015 Outlook

Nobody cares about Corsi just for the purposes of caring about who has the puck more. We care about Corsi because we’re interested in winning hockey games. The best teams in the NHL are the ones that, on average, outscore their opponents by the largest margins, and CorsiFor% tends to have a closer relationship with future GoalsFor% than past GoalsFor% does.

This is just a roundabout way of saying that even if Alex Edler were to fall off a possession cliff this upcoming year and be a legitimately terrible defenceman instead of just a superficially terrible one, it would likely be an improvement over 2013-14 in terms of raw output. Short of literally playing for the other team most nights, there is virtually nothing Alex Edler can do to continue to produce such poor results at 5v5. 

Despite the perception that comes with a number like -39, and the turnovers and defensive gaffes and poor decisions on offense that surely contributed in part to it, the fact remains that the ways in which Edler was bad don’t tend to persist long-term. Passes stop bouncing as much, sticks stop breaking as much, bad reads stop being made as much, and so on. His teammates still tended to out-shoot and out-possess the opposition at a higher rate with him than without him, and he still tended to control the majority of shots when he was on the ice. The occasional brain cramp can be forgiven and forgotten when a player is, on the whole, providing a net benefit like Alex Edler usually does.

There’s a rule of thumb, credited to the now gainfully employed by an NHL team Eric Tulsky, that increasing your goal differential by 6 goals is equal to one win in the standings. If Alex Edler’s PDO regression alone takes him to a very bad -15 from a cataclysmic -39, that’s equal to roughly 4 wins, or 8 points, or enough to tie the Dallas Stars for the last playoff spot last year. If we assume that Alex Edler is still a good defenseman, like his possession numbers indicate, then his PDO regression alone could be enough to make Vancouver a playoff team in 2014-2015.

Alex Edler reached rock bottom last season. This year, he can only get better.

  • “Alex Edler reached rock bottom last season. This year, he can only get better.”

    I think most reasonable fans understand that but the question becomes: By how much?

    I don’t think Edler will repeat that -39 but if his rebound is not a bigger one (closer to -5 than -15), then he will still be the resident whipping boy on defense due to his contract. Sbisa will probably be a tire fire but he can be scratched without too much controversy. It’s a lot harder to hide a perceived-to-be under-performing $5 million defenseman.

    • Edler’s contract is fine.

      I’d reckon that even after a -39, teams around the NHL would gladly give up something for the privilege of paying him $26.75 mil over the next 5 years.

      We just saw an older defenseman with a NTC coming off a difficult year (with less pedigree) yield a 2nd round pick in trade.

      Toolsy 28 year old top 4 defenseman with theoretical upside (though it’s probably only theoretical at this point in his career) don’t grow on trees.

      Aside from the overpaid utility defenseman on the expiring contract, the Canucks have a very nice set up on defence in terms of skill, reliability, handedness, age, contract etc…

      • bossram

        Im confused, who is the overpaid utility dman you speak of. I was going to say Alberts, but he doesnt even have a contract with the Canucks this season, and the next closest guys are all RFAs nest year.

      • Oh, I never implied that it wasn’t a fine contract. I personally think it’s great value but as you know with fickle Vancouver fans, there’s always something to pick on and the easiest targets are the players who make the most at their position.

        And I would say Edler’s upside is not theoretical. His high shot generation rate has been a constant in his career and it remained so last year even though the results didn’t show. The team just needs to understand how to use him better and tighten up their neutral zone and d-zone play.

        If he’s played 23 minutes a night in prime offensive situations while getting his time on PK, he’ll be fine and with some luck on his side, he might even earn some Norris votes.

  • With Edler I believe it’s a combination of everything that happened last year. Torts zone defensive style suited no one on this team and his “tough love” approach to coaching was the worst possible for Edler.

    The ” you make your own luck” applies to last year. Was it a conicidence that Torts ran his top guys into the ground and emphasized shot blocking, then everyone got injured? It is a veteran team which could use a four line rotation to cut down mins.

    There was a dark cloud over the team all of last year and it seemed whatever could go wrong did. Even in preseason the team seems reenergized as does the loyal fan base. When Edlers confidence is up he plays well and it seems that Coach Willie is a positive hard working guy. Which should be right up Edlers alley

  • yugret

    “It can’t be on Tortorella either, and it can’t be on Edler’s teammates. The only reasonable explanation as to why no goals went in for Edler is that there is no reasonable explanation. Alex Edler flipped a coin and got tails 50 times in a row. It happens. It sucks, but it happens.”

    But when it happens you should question whether the coin was a fair coin to begin with. Edler’s results are so poor that they’re likely due to bad luck and bad play combined. Hopefully the David Booth experience has reminded us all that sometimes we need to view poor percentages in a Bayesian light and update our priors.