When something goes “off the rails,” it’s never a good thing. It’s never something that wasn’t supposed to be on rails in the first place, like a Jeep or a birthday cake. It’s always something that was on the right path, but has gone seriously awry.
That brings us to Alex Edler.
The Canucks have made it very clear that they want to re-sign Edler, who has been with the Canucks since he was drafted in 2004. Likewise, Edler has made it clear that he would like to stay in Vancouver, where he met his wife and started a family with two daughters. And yet, a deal has yet to be done.
According to Elliotte Friedman on the 31 Thoughts podcast, the negotiations have gone thoroughly sideways and, if you’re familiar with trains, you know rails don’t go sideways.
“I’ve heard some really interesting things about this whole situation,” said Friedman. “There is definitely a feeling this has gone off the rails.”
“I still think there’s a chance that maybe Vancouver and him sort it out,” he added, “but this is definitely more difficult than anybody expected it would be. And there are people convinced he will not be going back to Vancouver, but again, look, if he really wants to go back and they really want him there’s a path there. I hesitate to say 100 percent yes or no, but there’s no question this has been a lot harder than everyone thought it would be.”
There are a couple key issues. The first is term. The Canucks might be best served by spending big on a short-term deal for Edler, using their current room under the salary cap and avoiding the risk of a long-term contract for a player that has dealt with numerous injuries. Given Edler’s young family in Vancouver, however, he’d likely prefer the stability of a long-term deal.
The bigger issue, however, appears to be the Seattle expansion draft.
The expansion draft for the as-yet unnamed Seattle franchise will take place in 2021. A contract longer than two years would mean Edler would be on the Canucks’ roster for the expansion draft.
What Edler and his camp likely want is a long-term deal with a no-movement clause (NMC). Any player with an NMC would have to be protected in the expansion draft and couldn’t be claimed by Seattle.
This makes perfect sense for Edler — the stability of a long-term contract doesn’t mean much if you’re just going to get claimed by another team in two years — but it doesn’t make as much sense for the Canucks.
The Canucks will be able to protect three defencemen in the expansion draft — if they want to protect more, they’ll have to expose more players overall. That list likely starts with Troy Stecher and Olli Juolevi (Quinn Hughes will be exempt), and could also include Ben Hutton. That’s three already, but that doesn’t take into consideration any defencemen they might sign in free agency.
If the Canucks want to pursue some free agent help on defence, they might have to hand out an NMC to whoever they sign, as they’ll likely want assurance they’ll be protected in the expansion draft. The Canucks could pursue Jake Gardiner, for instance, and an NMC could be a big part of negotiations.
So, if the Canucks have both Edler and a free agent defenceman that have to be protected in the expansion draft, that would mean exposing a younger defenceman: Stecher or Juolevi.
You can see why the Canucks would want to avoid that. Edler is already 33. By the time the expansion draft rolls around, Edler will be 35 and the Canucks will likely want to use their protection list on younger players.
Jim Benning has steadfastly refused to discuss the ongoing contract negotiations with Alex Edler, simply saying that they’re working towards getting a deal done.
“I’m not going to comment on the negotiation,” said Benning in an interview with Jeff Paterson. “I know his side is working hard and we’re working hard from our side and as soon as we have any good news to announce, you’ll be the first to know.”
If the Canucks can’t get a deal done and Edler leaves in free agency, that will raise some serious questions about how they handled these negotiations and the trade deadline. Ideally, this contract negotiation would have taken place well before the 2019 trade deadline. Then, if negotiations broke down, the Canucks could approach Edler about waiving his no-trade clause well ahead of the deadline.
Instead, the Canucks announced they were going to re-sign Edler, then received a trade offer from the Calgary Flames that, according to a report by Jason Botchford (RIP), “blew them away,” later rumoured to be 21-year-old defenceman Oliver Kylington and a third-round pick. They approached Edler about waiving his no-trade clause shortly before the deadline and Edler declined.
Perhaps, if the Canucks had already gone through contract negotiations and had them break down, Edler would have been more amenable to waiving his no-trade clause. Perhaps not. But if Edler leaves in free agency with no assets returning, it will be the continuation of an alarming trend during Jim Benning’s tenure as general manager.
At the same time, if it was entirely out of Benning’s hands and Edler was never going to waive his no-trade clause, it would be ill-advised for Benning to give him a no-movement clause in a new contract. If Edler does re-sign with the Canucks, it will be very interesting to see under what terms.