It looks like the best defenceman in Canucks history won’t be a Canuck next season.
Alex Edler inherited the “best Canucks defenceman” mantle partly by default, as the franchise doesn’t exactly have a star-studded history on the backend. But if you look at the record books, there’s Edler: he has the most games played, most goals, and most points all-time among Canucks defencemen.
Edler played a huge role on the best team in franchise history, the 2010-11 Canucks, and also stuck with the team through some of the toughest seasons in their history, as they bottomed out in recent seasons and set record lows for goals. Through it all, Edler has been a quiet leader in the room and on the ice, soaking up big minutes in a number one role that never quite fit him perfectly.
Now, according to a report from Sportsnet’s Rick Dhaliwal, Edler’s career with the Canucks has come to a close. Dhaliwal previously reported that negotiations between Edler and the Canucks had “gone off the rails” and it seems they’ve come to a crashing halt.
Doesn’t sound like the #Canucks and Alexander Edler will get a deal done.— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) June 17, 2019
Looks like 1 of the best defenseman in franchise history could be hitting the market.
There’s a chance, of course, that Edler does come back to the Canucks. Perhaps he won’t find the deal he’s looking for in free agency and will come to terms on a deal in Vancouver. After all, he’s made it very clear in the past that he doesn’t want to leave Vancouver: it’s been his home for over a decade and he’s started a family here.
Here’s the issue: Edler immediately becomes one of the biggest names on the market in free agency.
Erik Karlsson re-signed with the San Jose Sharks on Monday morning, getting a monstrous 8-year, $92 million deal. That took the best free agent defenceman off the market and now Edler is arguably the best defenceman available.
Despite injury troubles, Edler had one of his best seasons in recent memory, tallying 10 goals and 34 points in 56 games. No other free agent defenceman comes close to Edler’s 0.61 points per game last season. On top of that, he averaged 24:34 in ice time per game, playing a big role at even-strength and both sides of special teams.
The next best defenceman in points and ice time is Jake Gardiner, who had 30 points in 62 games, but just 3 goals, and averaged 21:12 per game. Gardiner also comes with a (somewhat unearned) reputation as a defensive liability, while Edler has a reputation as a shutdown defender, who regularly matches up against the best forwards in the NHL.
It’s likely, then, that Edler will have plenty of suitors if and when he hits free agency and it’s easy to imagine another team meeting Edler’s contract demands.
What are those demands? If one of them was a no-movement clause, which would ensure the Canucks need to protect Edler in the upcoming Seattle expansion draft, then the Canucks are likely right to walk away from negotiations. According to Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy, however, the sticking point isn’t a no-movement clause, but term.
Edler certainly seems like the type of player that wants the security of a long-term contract at this point in his career — he doesn’t want to bounce around teams in his thirties — but the Canucks would much rather have a short-term deal to avoid tying up their salary cap in the future. Depending on the length of the deal desired by Edler's side, moving on might be the right move for the Canucks.
What's frustrating is that this seems like the type of negotiation that could have been done during the past season. That way, if negotiations broke down, the Canucks would have had more time to approach Edler about waiving his no-trade clause heading into the trade deadline. Instead, the Canucks publically announced that they intended to re-sign Edler, but didn't actually do so.
If Edler walks in free agency, the Canucks will be in trouble. There’s a reason he averaged over 24 minutes per game and the Canucks don’t have anyone that can make up for those lost minutes. Quinn Hughes will help, but he’ll be a rookie and is expected to play a more offensive role. Ben Hutton has stepped in at times, but has his own defensive issues. It’s unclear whether Olli Juolevi will even be in the NHL next season, and the likes of Ashton Sautner, Josh Teves, and Guillaume Brisebois are depth options until they prove otherwise.
That likely means finding another veteran defenceman in free agency or the trade market. Given the Canucks' track record when it comes to scouting pro defencemen, that’s concerning. The Canucks will likely be in on Gardiner and Tyler Myers in free agency and are apparently still interested in acquiring Nikita Zaitsev from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
A big off-season for the Canucks just got a lot more interesting.