Father time is undefeated in the course of human history, and he’s an unyielding appetite in the world of sport. You can count Canucks defenceman Alexander Edler among his victims last season.
On a good night, the Canucks could rely on Edler to play a solid if unspectacular 20-plus minutes and keep his head above water. Nothing’s changed in that regard. It’s just that those nights were so few and far between.
And on those numerous bad nights, every intercepted pass and every missed read seemed to result in the Eagle digging pucks out of the back of his net. The 2.66 goals the Canucks were surrendering each hour Edler played are the highest mark of his ten-year career.
We tend to stray from using goal-based data because of the year-to-year variability and the many factors beyond a player’s control, like save percentage, impacting their results. In that sense, I’d like to be able to tell you this is a blip and not a developing trend and that his shot data is far more telling.
That wasn’t the case last season though. The Canucks save percentage with Edler on the ice wasn’t exceptionally low — certainly not when one compares it to what Edler usually plays in front of — and his expected goals against rate is actually higher than his real goals against rate.
It’s not like the underlying shot-based metrics paint a better picture either. This season was Edler’s worst by score and venue adjusted shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts ratio. Perhaps most distressing given the calibre of defencemen behind Edler is that he fares no better when we compare the Canucks’ results with him on the ice as opposed to off.
No matter how you slice it, this was a rough year for Edler. It’s been a few rough years for Edler, but this one really takes the cake.
This development shouldn’t be overly surprising, though. Edler is 30-years-old, and that means he’s played a fair amount of hockey to this point and suffered more than his fair share of injuries — including a back surgery — along the way. Expecting longevity might’ve always been a losing bet.
Even still, I think the conclusion to draw here isn’t that Edler is a bad defenceman. Far from it. He’s probably their third best defenceman at this stage of his career, behind Troy Stecher and Chris Tanev, and it’s perhaps time his role reflected it.
When Edler was in the lineup last season, the Canucks played him for just short of 40% of their minutes at even strength and on their first unit penalty kill and power play.
If the Canucks new head coach Travis Green can be more judicious in his usage of Edler, if only ever so slightly, I tend to think they’ll get more out of those minutes and get a better net result on a night-to-night basis.
For everything Edler did poorly (and oh, how the vanguard of Canucks’ media relishes each opportunity to point those things out) it’s worth noting that each of his most frequent defensive partners still faired better with him than without last season.
The Canucks aren’t shy about why they want to keep veterans around, even when it might not seem prudent to those among us who want a scorched earth rebuild. Part of that reasoning is that they help guide the next wave of Canucks players along.
I don’t think that’s an added value play over the long haul, but in the short term, there might be something there. Certainly, I’d struggle to formulate an argument to suggest Edler didn’t play an instrumental role in guiding Stecher along to a successful first season in the NHL.
The Edler the Canucks hold isn’t the same one that they could count on for 30-40 seasons like clockwork. He’s probably not the shutdown defender he’s recreated himself as since. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest the Canucks can get solid second pair minutes out of Edler for at least another few seasons.
This was a rough year, certainly. It wasn’t the death knell of Edler’s career, though. There may be another gear in the towering Swede yet.