Alex Edler is the greatest Vancouver Canucks defenceman of all time. I’m of course telling you something you likely already know, but it’s fascinating to consider the entire scope of Edler’s 15-year career, spent in it’s entirety with the Canucks. He finishes fourth all-time in franchise games played. The radio station Sportsnet-650 had a conversation with the now LA King on Friday and he was his usual calm and understated self. (Spoiler alert: He’s Swedish.)
So just how good was he? Whether viewing it from a local fan perspective or from a league-wide perspective his career is remarkable for this Vancouver market. He’s by far the franchise’s leading scorer among defencemen with 99 goals and 409 points. His countryman Mattias Öhlund is second at 93 and 325. On the flipside, the other reason the rest of the NHL would have seen him pop up on the news wire would have involved injuries. He played a full 82-game schedule once. It’s not unusual for a D-man to miss at least a couple of games a season, but despite a decade-and-a-half in the league, he’s still 75 games away from playing 1,000. Three of those seasons were shortened by a lock-out and Covid, but simply put, since becoming a fulltime NHLer, he’s missed 150 games.
Physical durability factors in, but so does workload. This is a big man, a shut-down defenseman who’s job was to move other big bodies away from the front of the net. He paid the price repeatedly in the burly western conference.
Also, as time marches on, the odds of suffering trauma appears to catch up to players. Steve Yzerman suffered a dangerous facial injury from a shot late in his career. Zdeno Chara was injured similarly just two years ago as a 42-year-old. Most of Edler’s calamities early on were of the lower body variety, but his luck ran out avoiding acute trauma in 2019. In one instance he was stretchered off with a concussion and facial injuries after he spun down head-first after getting his stick caught in Flyer Jacub Voracek‘s skate. The following August he was sliced in the side of the head by the skate of the Blues Jordan Kyrou in Game-5 of the conference quarterfinal. He returned to the line-up and played almost 25-minutes in Game-6.
Maybe part of it is odds, longevity, but also lessened mobility and dexterity factor into this equation, making older players more vulnerable. Six times he was placed on injured reserve, once on long-term injured reserve, all since February of 2016. This coincides with the regression in Edler’s game, as many would argue, and the analytics would suggest.
This is man who’s been battered while logging big minutes. Time on ice remains the simplest indicator of a defenceman’s value to a coach and team. When a defenceman is scouted, the first two questions are “how’s his skating” and “can he make the first pass”. When he’s established, first simply look at the TOI. Edler proponents can also point to the fact that he’s spent a career effectively battling on the penalty kill.
Meanwhile, it’s been a bit lean lately in the postseason department, his team having moved on to playoff hockey just twice in the last eight years. Critics would of course place part of the blame on Edler. But you’re only as good as your depth. When you’re a player of Edler’s ability, a bona bide NHL defenceman who’s career is moving along, it ultimately comes down to the personnel put around you and where you fall on the depth chart. If you become too expensive for your place on that depth chart, then it’s time to move along. Hindsight is 20/20 on when the Canucks could have pulled this plug.
The Kings are a team re-loading. Edler slides in as a 3/4 with a $3.6-million dollar ($1.6-million in performance bonuses) deal. Elsewhere he’d be a 5/6 for much less. But you take what the market provides and can afford. Like Dustin Brown, Edler is an old guy around a relatively young dressing room. The other 30-somethings are Anze Kopitar at 33 and Drew Doughty at 31. This team has been trying to bring the average age down after its very productive Stanley Cup window closed. No whining allowed by the way – the fans there enjoyed the ultimate glory in 2012 and again in 2014. Let’s just say Edler brings the ole “veteran presence” and some valuable lessons to the D prospects.
Ultimately, it’s been an impressive tenure. A stalwart in the run to the Cup Final in 2011 and the proverbial class act, Edler said this to the radio hosts earlier today, plucked from 650’s twitter feed.
“I have so many good memories from those years,” Edler said. “It’s been a long time and I’ve been so fortunate to play an important role with the Canucks. It’s been a great home for me. There’s so many players, coaches, and staff that meant so much to me.”
And thus the Canuck’s 2011 chapter officially closes. Edler was the last man standing. Good on ya. Hej då.