VANCOUVER – Addition by subtraction was never arithmetic that worked for the Vancouver Canucks when it came to defenceman Alex Edler.
But simply putting four or five years on a new contract to keep the No. 1 defenceman wasn’t good math either, which is why the right answer for the National Hockey League team was the two-year, $12-million U.S. extension it announced Thursday for the 33-year-old Swede.
That this was also the correct answer for Edler, who could have made a lot more money elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, reflects the honesty of his stated desire to remain with the Canucks and his belief that he’ll have more hockey in him when this contract expires in 2021.
The short-term deal encumbers neither the Canucks nor Edler for the Seattle expansion draft in two years, and provides salary-cap flexibility for a team whose makeup – and payroll balance – will be significantly different in 2022 after young, foundational players Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes exit their entry-level contracts.
This contract is the sensible thing for both the Canucks and Edler, who gets to stay and was granted the security of a full no-trade clause for the next two seasons. But this is the NHL on the eve of free agency; sensible things are rare.
“There’s a lot of factors and I understand the business side of it, too,” Edler said from Sweden in a conference call. “Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it. I think I’ve been pretty clear and pretty open that I wanted to stay, and if we could reach a fair deal, that’s what I wanted.
“I was willing to try to get something done until the end. Unless Vancouver made it clear a deal wasn’t possible, then I wanted to try. In the end, I think we agreed on a deal that is fair to both parts.”
Reports Wednesday that the sides had agreed to a three-year contract worth about $5.5-million per season proved inaccurate. But just the possibility of a third season for Edler, with rumblings late in the day that there could be a fourth, reignited the debate among fans about the Canucks’s renewal and the need for the hockey club to move on from veteran players who have missed the playoffs the last four seasons.
The idea Vancouver would somehow improve next season without Edler – or anything in trade for him – was always preposterous.
He was the Canucks’s best defenceman, amassing 10 goals and 34 points in 56 games while logging 24:34 of nightly ice time in key situations, usually against the opposition’s top players. Edler has been Vancouver’s best defenceman for the latter half of his 12 seasons with the Canucks, who chose him in the third round of the 2004 draft after scout Thomas Gradin discovered the blueliner playing as a teenager in a men’s beer league in northern Sweden.
It’s not Edler’s fault he remains Vancouver’s top defencemen at age 33; it is the organization’s.
Hughes is expected to surpass Edler, possibly even next season when Hughes will be a 20-year-old NHL rookie. But general manager Jim Benning and everyone else knows Vancouver’s defence needs to be stronger. For now, it’s much easier to build with Edler than without him.
“I’m always going to try to be the best out there every game, the best that I can,” he said. “If younger guys are coming up and they’re playing better than me, then they should play more. That’s just the nature of the game. I always want to try to win every game, and I expect the rest of the team and the organization to want to do that, too.”
Edler’s only glaring flaw is durability. He has missed 109 games over the last six years – 22 per cent of the Canucks’ games. Obviously, this is an issue. The team needs its best players healthy.
Benning, coach Travis Green and their medical team must consider ways of decreasing Edler’s exposure to injury. But be careful about “load management” and assuming the template that worked for the Toronto Raptors and Kawhi Leonard can be applied to anyone.
Edler does not suffer from fatigue or any chronic, specific physiological weakness. Rarely, is one of his injuries linked directly to the previous one. Reducing his ice time would reduce Edler’s risk of injury. But theoretically, then, the best way for him to stay healthy is not to play at all.
Certainly, Green should consider less penalty-kill time for Edler, which would mean less shot-blocking. But the player isn’t interested in sitting out games in the hope of staying healthy.
“I wouldn’t want to do that,” Edler said. “I come into training camp in great shape every year, and I certainly think my body can take 82 games. There’s unexpected things that have happened to me. You obviously try every year not to get injured, but sometimes there’s nothing you can do.”
The Canucks should see about that.
In two seasons, player and team will reassess, and if Edler is still healthy enough to contribute and fits both the lineup and the payroll, the Canucks will likely sign him to another one-year contract. And possibly another one after that, and so on until Edler retires as a career Canuck.
That’s what both sides want. And that’s the beauty of this deal engineered by Benning and agent Mark Stowe.
“I hope so,” Edler said when asked about playing beyond this contract. “In a perfect world, I’d love to play my last game for the Canucks. Whenever that is.”