For years now, people in the Vancouver market have said that Alex Edler would be a second-pairing defender on a good team. Edler’s always been a tough player to get a read on, but for most of his career the numbers have suggested he’s a perfectly fine first-pairing defender, even though the offence hasn’t always been there. In 2017-18, the opposite was true. Edler had a renaissance season offensively at both even strength and on the man advantage, but posted the worst shot metrics of his career.
Edler seemed to truly get his groove back thanks largely to an improved power play under Travis Green and good offensive seasons from the Sedins, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser. For his efforts, he was rewarded with a pair of memorable moments: garnering the assist on the last Sedin goal at Rogers Arena, and breaking Matthias Ohlund’s record for all-time points by a Canucks defenceman (combining with Henrik on a Daniel Sedin goal, fittingly).
Edler’s been so unfairly maligned for much of his career, it seems unfair to pick apart such a great offensive season; but the truth is that Edler’s play has been on the decline for the past few years, and his shot impact dropped precipitously in 2017-18.
With the exception of Erik Gudbranson and oddly enough, Chris Tanev (who had a bizarrely inept season by shot metrics even considering his injuries) all of Edler’s partners performed better away from him than with him. One could speculate on a couple of different reasons this might have been the case. The first is that Edler undoubtedly saw the toughest deployment on the team both in terms of quality of competition and defensive zone faceoffs. I’m generally wary of this explanation because the effect of these factors is often overstated and the numbers we have available are sometimes unreliable, but Travis Green is a very tactical coach who favoured some extreme deployment strategies, so it deserves consideration.
Edler also didn’t have a consistent partner this season. Edler performed reasonably well under Willie Desjardins playing the vast majority of his even-strength minutes with either Chris Tanev (2014-15, 2015-16) or Troy Stecher (2016-17). This season, Stecher was Edler’s most common partner, but they barely played half the minutes at evens that they saw under Willie Desjardins. The 470-odd minutes they played together were the least his seen with his most common partner since his infamous 2013-14 campaign under John Tortorella, when he posted good shot metrics but was burned by opposing offences for a 30% on-ice even-strength goals-for percentage.
But the likeliest cause for his dwindling shot metrics is just that he’s getting older. Edler just turned 32 and played slightly more minutes per game than he saw in 2011. As a strong veteran presence on a blueline that’s as soft as it is young, he’s also facing some brutal matchups. This season it seems to have finally taken it’s toll.
Alex Edler is one of the best Canucks defencemen of all time, and he deserves praise for the season he had offensively; however, it’s clear at this stage that he would greatly benefit from reduced minutes, especially at five-on-five. The “second-pair defenceman on a good team” label has never been more true than it is right now.
Obvously, that’s never going to happen on the Canucks. But an Edler-type could put a contending team over the top. Coming off a 34-point season, his value right now is probably the highest it’s been in some time with just a year left on his deal. With the Sedins retiring, it would be the perfect time to move on. But it looks like that’s a path both parties are reluctant to go down.