VANCOUVER – For much of his 12 years with the Vancouver Canucks, Alex Edler has been defined by the things he is not.
He never became the Norris Trophy candidate he had the potential to be. He does not dominate physically often enough. He is not a No. 1 defenceman as most people define it, not a classic power play quarterback. He is not emotional, not fiery, not loud in any way. In some games, he is not even particularly noticeable. Now 31-years-old, the soft-spoken defenceman never became a true star in the National Hockey League.
And yet with all these "failings," what Alex Edler became Friday was the highest scoring defenceman in franchise history, which tells you something about how special he really is.
Edler had a pair of assists in the Canucks’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators, who overcame a two-goal deficit, tied the game late in the third and won it on Calle Jarnkrock’s top-corner shot 43 seconds into overtime.
Playing some of the best hockey of his career last two months after it seemed like his decline would follow the team’s, Edler passed former mentor Mattias Ohlund’s 325 points on the Canucks’ career scoring list.
Ohlund’s name is already on the Canucks’ Ring of Honour inside Rogers Arena. One day, flaws and all, Edler will be there, too.
"There’s been a lot of criticism," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said of his teammate. "I think that comes from coming in as young as he was and doing a lot of good things right away. I think people put an unfair expectation on him. But he’s one of those guys who shows up every game. There’s a mistake here and there, which happens for everyone. But him playing D and top minutes every night, maybe you notice it more because he’s playing against every team’s top guys and (mistakes) come back and hurt you sometimes.
"Eddie’s a great defenceman, the best this team has had in a long time and maybe ever. But I don’t think people realize the little things he does on a nightly basis. He plays hurt; he’s an old-school guy that way. He goes out and battles."
Edler logged 25:58 of ice time against the Predators, and that doesn’t include his brief twirl to acknowledge the standing ovation that occurred when his milestone was announced at the end of regulation time.
Respect your Edlerspic.twitter.com/ofYJa03Q37
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) March 3, 2018
Canucks defenceman Erik Gudbranson was speared in the crotch by Predator Ryan Johansen, whose major penalty halfway through the third period cost Nashville a goal but not the game.
But no one looked more uncomfortable than Edler did in the spotlight.
"I’m happy the fans had a chance to recognize him," Sedin said. "But I don’t know how much he enjoyed it."
Edler was discovered by scout Thomas Gradin playing in obscurity in a semi-pro beer league at age 18, and as a third-rounder in 2004 became one of the great draft picks in Canucks history.
His entire career has been spent with the Canucks. Friday was his 741st game.
"I think early on I was pretty inconsistent like a lot of young Ds," Edler said. "The coaches worked on me to get more consistent and I think that’s what I got better at later in my career. When I look at Mattias Ohlund, he was always consistent. That’s what I always wanted to be as a defenceman in this league."
But what about all the things other people wanted him to be?
"I think I’ve always tried to focus what’s expected from myself and my coaches and my teammates, and not so much what’s around me," he said. "I think my game has been going the same as the team where we’ve had a few years where the team wasn’t as good and my game flattened out a little bit."
But he agreed he is playing better now. It’s an uptick in performance most players can’t manufacture in their 30s once their game starts to erode.
Edler has 26 points in 53 games this season, which is already his second-best total in the last six years.
He would have enjoyed his special night far more had the Canucks won. But the Predators, legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, exerted their will after falling behind 2-0.
After Daniel Sedin flipped in his own rebound – Edler had the second assist – to put the Canucks ahead 3-2 at 11:54 of the third period during Johansen’s penalty, Ryan Ellis’ slapshot past Vancouver winger Jake Virtanen and goalie Jacob Markstrom tied it 3-3 at 17:45.
It was the second straight overtime loss for the Canucks, but in many ways more impressive than their 6-5 thrill-ride Wednesday against the New York Rangers.
The Canucks moved up several weight classes Friday.
It wasn’t a fluke last season that the Predators made it to the Stanley Cup final, and it shouldn’t shock anyone if they win a championship in June. An excellent team has been made even better by the mid-season additions of Kyle Turris and Ryan Hartman, and the Predators’ brought to Vancouver a six-game winning streak in which they had outscored opponents 29-12.
But the Canucks, who have had more moral victories lately than real ones, pushed the pace early and was three minutes away from winning.
Edler wasn’t the only player to have a special night.
Former Nashville captain Mike Fisher, signed out of retirement, scored in his first game since last season. For the 37-year-old and his team, everything is now a rehearsal for the playoffs. There are much bigger games ahead for Nashville.
Edler’s biggest game was Friday.