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.
Jim Benning says the #Canucks are still going through the process with Alex Edler and he remains hopeful he can be signed.
— Marc Antoine Godin (@MAGodin) May 31, 2019
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.
Just over 3 weeks to UFA interview window and still lots of work to do before a deal is done with #Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler. Talks have slowed down of late.
Talks with Boeser continue, heard rumblings they are far apart earlier this week but lots of time to do deal.
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) May 31, 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.