The last remaining member of the 2011 Canucks could be playing his final games in Vancouver next month.
Alex Edler, who turned 35 years old last week, is in the final year of his contract. The most decorated defenceman in Canucks history, Edler’s situation is flying under the radar right now, which pretty much typifies his career.
Despite being the franchise leader in games (912), goals (99), assists (308), and points (407) by a defenceman, the understated Swede has been largely under-appreciated by fans. He never turned into a Norris-calibre defenceman like some people hoped, but Edler has been a steadying force on the back end for 14 seasons now.
Prior to this year, in nine of the last 10 seasons, Edler has led the team in average ice time. In four of those seasons, he led all Canucks defencemen in scoring.
His numbers have taken a dip this year though, as Edler no longer receives power play time. Edler has no goals and just six assists in 39 games, and he now ranks third among blueliners in ice time.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Edler still plays more than 20 minutes per night (20:45) and is relied upon to kill penalties more than anyone else on the roster. When he plays at even strength, it’s usually against the other team’s top lines, alongside Nate Schmidt.
“We’ve tried to watch his minutes a little bit, he might not play the power play the way he used to with us,” head coach Travis Green said about Edler last month. “The great thing about Eddie is he understands that. He’s always about the team. He’s a consummate pro. He’s a great example for young players. He just cares about the team and cares about winning.
“You can tell every night the way he plays. He plays hard minutes, he doesn’t play power play minutes anymore and the minutes that he plays are always against the best players in the league. He comes to the rink every day ready to play.”
The fact that Edler is still relied upon so much is a bit of an indictment on Canucks management, but it’s also a sign that the veteran defenceman still has value.
So… re-sign him?
The Canucks need to improve their defence, and clearly that doesn’t happen by simply returning everyone from this year’s roster.
Dougie Hamilton is an unrestricted free agent this summer, but he will be expensive and the Canucks lack cap space, not to mention the fact that he’ll have teams lined up for him. There will also be good defencemen available this summer, likely at a discount, prior to the Seattle expansion draft, given that most teams will choose the option to protect seven forwards and three defencemen.
But there should still be room for a guy like Edler, who by all accounts has become a valued leader, particularly if they can sign him to a cheap low-risk, one-year deal.
Edler will have to take a pay cut from his $6 million average annual salary, assuming he doesn’t opt to retire. The question will be just how much less he’ll be willing to accept.
All reports concerning Edler in recent years have indicated that he loves being in Vancouver. It’s why asking him to waive his no-trade clause was thought to be a non-starter from management.
Perhaps signing Edler to one-year deals with trade protection going forward is the way to go. That should satisfy both sides, as the Canucks can’t overcommit to him given his age, and Edler won’t want to be moved mid-season.
While a no-trade or no-movement clause isn’t ideal from a Canucks perspective, the trade off would be lowering his cap hit. Such a deal could be signed after the Seattle expansion draft, so Edler wouldn’t have to take up one of three protection spots on defence.
In terms of contract comparables, there aren’t many.
Since 2017, just five defencemen have signed a contract worth $2 million or more per season, after the age of 35, according to CapFriendly. Zdeno Chara and Ron Hainsey account for two of those contracts each, while Jay Bouwmeester signed the other.
An ageless wonder, Chara is clearly a special case, so we’ll eliminate him from our comparison.
Heinsey was playing more than 22 minutes per night during the regular season and was a top four defenceman on a Stanley Cup winner when he signed a two-year, $3 million AAV contract with the Leafs at age 36. Two years later, he scored a $3.5 million, one-year deal from Ottawa, who had to overpay to get him.
Prior to winning a Cup with St. Louis, Jay Bouwmeester signed a one-year deal worth $3.5 million. He was averaging over 20 minutes per night with the Blues at the time.
Another comparable is Dan Hamhuis, who signed a two-year deal worth $1.25 million AAV at age 35. He was coming off a 24-point season, averaging 20:11 of ice time prior to signing the deal in free agency.
Hamhuis and Hainsey are the only two age 35+ defencemen to get multi-year deals since 2015.
Just where Edler slots in is yet to be seen. He is just one year removed from leading his team in playoff ice time, plus he’s clearly still an important contributor this season. But it’s also undeniable that he’s slowing down and his stat-line is no longer overly impressive.
Maybe the answer is getting Edler in at under $2 million, with a no-movement clause. That would give the Canucks some stability on defence at a reasonable price, while also allowing Edler to play in a place that he’s comfortable in.