With the Shea Weber-to-Vancouver pipedream on hold for a year dead, the Canucks now have to shift their attention back in house. Alex Edler, the club’s best defenseman, has one year left on his current contract. The Canucks can extend his contract at any point this summer or throughout the season. Edler is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and should he hit the open market, the demand would be extraordinary.
Edler’s extension is a tricky issue for Mike Gillis and company, for a few reasons. One, with the uncertainty over a new CBA, there are many variables that may change come September. Two of the biggest are UFA age (currently 27 or seven accrued NHL seasons) and contract length (currently there is no limit on the term of a contract).
If either of those issues were to change with the new CBA, the framework of a potential Edler deal would change dramatically.
Perhaps most importantly, though, is Edler’s play on the ice. He has shown signs of becoming a true number one defenseman. He is big, mobile, physical, and he possesses elite offensive abilities. However, he continues to suffer from stretches of subpar play (by his standards). A great example would be during the first round against the Los Angeles Kings this year. Last year, Edler opened the playoffs with a bang, physically decimating the Chicago Blackhawk forwards. However, against the Kings this year, he appeared tentative and lethargic in the defensive zone.
Edler finished 2011-12 with 49 points, good for seventh among all NHL defensemen. He led all Vancouver defensemen in ice time, averaging 23:51 per contest. Here is a look at the defensemen who finished close to Edler in scoring. The age, salary cap, and status columns are from when the player signed the deal (for example, Campbell signed his contract as a free agent in the summer of 2008).
Although this represents a small sample size, it does highlight what we are probably aware of already – Edler is in line for a significant raise. Of the defensemen above, he isn’t in Weber’s class, but he could hold his own against any of them. Yandle may be the best comparison as they are the same age, but Edler is much better defensively and is a more consistent physical presence, too.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Edler doesn’t do the heavy lifting on Vancouver’s defense – that goes to the Hamhuis-Bieksa pairing. He plays against quality opposition, but he starts the bulk of his shifts in the offensive zone.
Looking at zone starts – Edler has the highest of all of the comparable defensemen. He can’t be faulted for this as it is more indicative of Vancouver’s strategy than it is of Edler’s defensive shortcomings. The argument could be made that Edler is superior defensively to all of the defensemen above, save for Weber.
Looking at Corsi Relative Quality of Competition, and Edler is near the bottom, too. This is more the case of Vancouver having a shut down pairing they can protect Edler with a bit. The Islanders would love to be able to do the same with Streit, but they don’t have the depth. The same goes for Byfuglien in Winnipeg. Yandle plays an offensively-oriented role, thanks to the emergence of Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
So, with all of that being said, what do the Canucks do with Edler? Numbers and statistics aside, it comes down to their belief in his upside. He already has emerged as a very solid top pairing defenseman while showing signs of being a cornerstone defenseman. If they believe he can reach that level, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a significant commitment (eight-to-10 years) made. If not, the Canucks would still likely have to give Edler a contract in the five-to-seven season range.
He’ll likely pair with Jason Garrison this season, and the duo has some potential (on paper, at least). Garrison is a steady defenseman who makes a good first pass (like Edler), and he can play the right side effectively.
Yandle signed his contract last year when the cap was $64.3 million. Assuming the cap settles somewhere in the $62-$68 million range (hard to say right now with the uncertainty regarding the player’s share of revenues), the starting point for Edler’s next contract will likely be $5.5-6 million.
The Canucks should be comfortable committing $6 million per season to Edler for the long term (again, assuming the salary cap is in the range mentioned above). Edler has become a very good defenseman who contributes in a lot of ways. He has his rough stretches of play, but every single defenseman not-named-Lidstrom goes through the same ups and downs. Weber and Ryan Suter struggled mightily against the Coyotes in Round 2 last year (likely due to fatigue from carrying the Predators all season), but not much was made of that. Edler had a below average Round 1, and he received a lot of attention for it. The Canucks have the luxury of insulating him behind their shutdown pairing, and having a potential long-term fit in Garrison should see Edler continue to improve each season.