Photo Credit: Vancouver Canucks/Twitter

Why Alex Edler Might Test The Market—And Then Sign In Vancouver Anyway

It’s early June, and there’s yet to be any concrete news about the signing of Alex Edler to a new contract—something that once seemed like a foregone conclusion. The longer the process takes, the closer Edler comes to actually hitting the unrestricted free agency market—and that’s where things could get complicated.

With just weeks to go until the UFA interview window opens—a period in which Edler can enjoy unfettered negotiations with every other NHL franchise—the situation is quietly growing more dire, and it’s become a real possibility that Edler continues his career elsewhere come July 1.

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The smartest money, however, is still on Edler remaining with the Canucks moving forward. In fact, there’s a real chance that he does end up testing the market in the days leading up to the Free Agent Frenzy—only to end up re-signing in Vancouver anyway.

The Trouble With Term

By almost all accounts, the negotiations between Alex Edler and GM Jim Benning have stalled over the question of term—and that should come as no surprise. Edler—who earned an average of $5 million in each of his last contract’s six seasons—was always in line for a raise after putting up the second-best offensive campaign of his career in 2018/19, his second strong year in row.

As a UFA blueliner, Edler is pretty much guaranteed to sign a contract with a cap hit somewhere between $6 million and $7.5 million—unless a major bidding war were to occur. All indications are that the Canucks are comfortable with such a salary, otherwise they likely would have tried harder to move Edler at the Trade Deadline.

The length of his new deal, however, is significantly more contentious. At 33 years old, this could very well be Edler’s last contract; and he obviously wants to extend it to as many years as possible. That’s especially true if he does ultimately re-sign with Vancouver—Edler will be looking for a retirement package.

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Signing Edler to a long-term contract looks a lot less appealing to Benning and the Canucks, however—for a multitude of reasons. While Edler’s age and injury history are prominent factors, the biggest motivator behind trying to ink him to a short-term pact is the upcoming 2021 Expansion Draft.

The Seattle Battle Cattle—as the newest NHL franchise will almost certainly not be known—are scheduled to join the league in time for the 2021/22 season, and that means that their Expansion Draft will occur shortly before the 2021 Entry Draft. The Seattle ownership group has already been promised an expansion process identical to that enjoyed by the Vegas Golden Knights, and that means some big decisions are incoming for the Vancouver Canucks.

NHL teams will be allowed to protect either seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender from the Expansion Draft. Even if the Canucks go the latter route—unlikely given the need to protect a litany of forwards like Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Antoine Roussel, Adam Gaudette, Jake Virtanen, and perhaps more—they’d only be able to protect four defensemen at the most. In all likelihood, however, they’ll only be protecting three.

Troy Stecher and at least one new addition can already be counted on to occupy two of those protection slots. Any additional ones will be taken up by some combination of Ben Hutton, Olli Juolevi, or another young pro defender yet to crack the roster—which doesn’t leave much room for protecting Edler. What’s worse is that the team would have to offer up a protection slot to Edler while simultaneously betting that his game doesn’t deteriorate across two further seasons as he approaches age 36.

If Edler re-signs with Vancouver, he’ll almost certainly be doing so with a full no-movement clause—so there won’t be a possibility of simply exposing him in the Expansion Draft and letting Seattle take him. The only scenario that really works for the Canucks is to sign Edler to a two-year deal that expires in 2021—conveniently the same time at which they’ll need to re-sign Pettersson—and thus have him become a UFA again just in time to exempt him from expansion.

If Edler isn’t willing to take two years—and there’s a very good chance he isn’t—he’ll almost certainly be heading to unrestricted free agency. This author believes we are witnessing that process play out as we speak.

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What Does The Market Say?

If Edler does hit the UFA market, he’ll be doing so with one goal in mind—signing a long-term contract to carry him into retirement. Of course, that raises the question of whether or not any team would be willing to give him such a deal.

Every other NHL franchise—with the exception of the Expansion Draft-exempt Golden Knights—are in the same boat as the Canucks when it comes to protection slots. There probably aren’t a lot of teams out there willing to sign Edler to a term of three years or higher—and there might not be any.

The only team in the Pacific Division, for example, to currently looks to have a dearth of defenders to protect is Los Angeles—and they’ll probably be looking to change that over the course of the next two seasons. TheScore did a mock Expansion Draft back in December and a quick glance at it reveals that there are really only four teams—the Red Wings, Rangers, Senators, and Coyotes—who appear in a roster-related position to offer a protection slot/long-term contract to Edler. Of those teams, it’s probably only the Coyotes who are interested in adding a high-priced, older UFA this offseason—and they’re pretty loaded on the left side of their blueline already.

The Vegas Golden Knights—they of the aforementioned expansion exemption—are an interesting option for Edler. They could sign him to whatever term they wanted without having to worry about giving him a protection slot—but they’re also facing some major budgetary issues this summer. With Shea Theodore, Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, and Nic Hague all already on the payroll, the Knights will probably seek to spend what money they do have on something other than left-handed defenders.

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The Likeliest Outcome

It looks like it might be Vegas or bust for Alex Edler—which means he’ll in all likelihood be heading back to Vancouver. If he’s really dead-set on trying for a third year of term (or more) he’ll extend his negotiations with the Canucks at least until the UFA interview period opens—but his testing of the market probably won’t go as well as he hopes.

After discovering that few, if any, teams are willing to give up an expansion protection slot for him, Edler really doesn’t have much incentive to go elsewhere—and that’s when he’ll probably cave and sign a two-year deal with the Canucks.

He’ll presumably be well-compensated for the shorter term—probably to the tune of something north of $7 million—but that won’t upset the Canucks’ cap apple cart at all. Whether or not there’s a handshake agreement to sign Edler to another one-year deal or two after 2021 will remain between Edler and Jim Benning—but that certainly doesn’t sound like an unlikely scenario.

In other words, there’s no need for Eagle-maniacs to panic, even if Edler remains unsigned as July 1 approaches—he’s probably not going anywhere.

  • Defenceman Factory

    Interesting take. Thanks Stephan. Appreciate the looka across at what other teams may have a spot for Alex.

    The media portrays Alex as a family first guy. Age and the injuries are starting to pile on. Why would we assume Edler is set on playing past 35 or 36? A 3 year deal without a NMC in the 3rd year isn’t unreasonable and probably gets the Canucks some home town discount. It lets him retire a Canuck or worst case scenario just a bit down the road in Seattle.

      • argoleas

        Still the best bet for Edler. 2 years for a bundle of money that Canucks can afford due to still being on Petey’s and Hughes’ ELCs, then turn UFA just at the time of the draft, and then sign a new deal without any further expansion considerations.

          • Defenceman Factory

            No one implied Edler should be protected. I seriously doubt Seattle would take one year of Edler given the Canucks will have to expose some players much younger. Signing him for 3 years and leaving him exposed isn’t a big risk and if it helps get him at a discount for the first 2 years great.

  • argoleas

    As the expansion rules have been stated to be the same as those for Vegas, unsigned prospects and anyone with 2 or fewer years of pro experience at the time of the expansion draft will not be eligible for expansion, thus not requiring protection. That means that Hughes and Woo will not require any protection.

    But Juolevi will indeed need such protection.

  • wojohowitz

    There are too many incorrect assumptions made here like this; Edler does not need a NMC-NTC clause. If contacted by any other team his agent will tell them Edler may or will retire if traded. If Benning is that dumb to trade him anyways the trade becomes a `can of worms` and a PR disaster that will involve the other team and the head office and of course make Benning look like the fool that he is.

    Another assumption is that Edler cares about the money. A TDL rumour had Edler going to Calgary with a renegotiated contract except he refused. Edler isn`t expecting Boeser type money (7×7) but he does want a contract that is fair and reasonable as he perceives it; 3 years – 4 years – 5 mill – 6 mill.

    So is Edler bluffing when he says he will retire rather than move? I do not think so. Considering his injury history and his wish for stability I think his reaction to any trade will be that he will go home and think about it – and stop answering his phone while he does it. Maybe a phone call from the right guy (Hedman) might change his mind. I just cannot see Benning signing him and trading him – that would be dumb.

  • Kanuckhotep

    Not only has the signing front been silent on Edler but Luke Schenn as well. Does Benning really want to go after Gardiner or Myers or someone else for the blue line? I don’t see where those guys are really that much better than Edler and Schenn, particularly what Gardiner and Myers are going to get July 1 from someone. I’d rather sign Edler and NOT protect him in the 3rd year come the Seattle expansion draft than have to protect guys like Gardiner and Myers. o easy call on this one.

  • Beer Can Boyd

    Do you really think there is a team willing to pay Alex Edler 7 million $ a year? If I’m the GM of another NHL team, I’d be thinking “would my fan base be happy to see me throw 7 schmill for 2 or 3 years at a 33 year old, oft injured, free agent defensemen whose best years are obviously behind them?” I know how this fan base would react if Benning did that.

    • Nuck16

      For a good chunk of the past few seasons he wasn’t even an NHL player, let alone a $7mil player. He plays well in his contract year, though he did have a terrible start to the season, then all of a sudden he’s worth $7mil at 33?

  • UKCanuck

    I think the 2 year deal is best in the best interests of both the Canucks and Edler. We have no cap concerns for two years and can look at a 2 year deal as part one of a two part contract. Pay him $7.5 for 2 years and then bring him back for two more in 2021 at $3m per. He gets $21million over 4 years and doesn’t have to go to Seattle or elsewhere and we get cap relief when we need it.

  • KGR

    No movement clause over three years, except a waiver for the Seattle draft. How likely is it that Seattle would take a 35 or 36 year old Edler at 7 million a year?

  • TheRealPB

    I think the only way Edler comes close to a $7 million payday is if it’s on a short-term 2-year contract with no strings attached. It’s really hard to imagine even then he would get close to that. He’s not played a full season since 2011-2012, and hasn’t hit 40 points since then — mostly averaging closer to 20. Yes, he had a decent if again injury-plagued season last year. But $7 million is Drew Doughty or Brent Burns or Kris Letang money. He has never brought that kind of offense. He’s a very solid middle pairing defenseman, maybe even a 2/3. But I can’t imagine he’d draw that sort of money and if he wants to be here so badly I think he’ll give on something. I think the reason it’s taking a while is because Benning and co. are going to swing for the fences and try to convince Karlsson to come here and until they get rejected they won’t turn back to Edler.

    • Mattitude

      Drew Doughty starts with his extension this season to the tune of $11m per until 2026. $7m per seems a lot more palatable in comparison to that and his last season

  • Nuck16

    6 to 7.5 million?? That’s a bit rich for me…I’d rather see that money spent on a different free agent defenceman that’s younger and more consistent. That’s overpaying for Edler considering that’s compensation for the points he got on the PP and we don’t need him in that role anymore.

  • Hockey Bunker

    General managers don’t lose a minute of sleep over the expansion draft. Any player you lose is replaceable. Also signing a free agent puts you in exactly the same position for the expansion draft as if you re-sign Edler.
    So would you rather have Gardiner or Edler? Or Myers.
    I think Edler and the Canucks are moving on from each other, meaning my question is moot.

    • Nuck16

      The point is that we don’t want to be in a position where we are forced to use an expansion draft protection spot on Edler if he has a NMC. Benning should get fired if he does that but I’m 100% sure he doesn’t. If they sign a different Dman, most likely he also won’t get a NMC…

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    I don’t see why the Canucks would offer him 7 million a year. He had one good year last year, and that doesn’t make up for all the years he was injured. He is a depreciating injury prone asset. He should be given 5 million for 2 years, with zero trade protection. If he doesn’t like it then the Canucks should let him move on and focus on getting a younger defenceman . Edler’s agent knows his client has little power in these negotiations, so he has to prop up his value by testing the free agency market even though they have next to zero intent of playing elsewhere. Playing the market is just a bluff.