VANCOUVER — Forthright about the need to improve his defence, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning has been searching for another blue-liner since the regular season ended.
But the closer he gets to National Hockey League free agency on July 1, the more likely it is that Benning will need at least two defencemen. And finding someone to upgrade the bottom of the blue line will be much easier than replacing top defenceman Alexander Edler if the career Canuck leaves as an unrestricted free agent in three weeks.
During a week-before-the-draft meeting with Vancouver reporters on Monday, Benning said he continues to talk to agent Mark Stowe about a contract that will satisfy Edler’s desire – and the team’s – that he finish his career with the Canucks.
Beyond that, Benning refused to provide any details about the apparently-stalled negotiations involving the 33-year-old.
But when asked about the possibility of a deal longer than two years encumbering the Canucks during the 2021 Seattle expansion draft, especially if Vancouver is required to protect Edler when he is 35 years old, Benning told Sportsnet:
"I think it’s fair to say we don’t have the appetite to do that. We had to do that last time (during the Las Vegas expansion draft in 2017) with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. But we’re going to have some good young players that we need to protect or we’ll lose them."
Stowe did not respond last week to Sportsnet’s interview requests, so for now neither side is revealing details about negotiations.
The shadows behind the curtains, however, appear to show a player and his agent getting ready to go to market to see how much money is available on July 1.
That’s how the NHL’s free-market system works. And in a lean year for free-agent defencemen, Edler will be one of the most coveted on the market, capable of leveraging a big payday.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Except it seems to contradict the many times Edler said how much he wants to remain with the Canucks and indicated that money would not be the driving factor in his next contract.
After refusing at the trade deadline in February to waive the no-trade clause on his expiring, six-year, $30-million contract, Edler said he was willing to work with the Canucks on an extension.
"I’ve been fortunate to have very good contracts with money," he said on March 2. "But there are other things, too. It’s different when you have a family. There are a lot of factors you have to take into consideration. Those things are important."
Edler has spent his entire 12-year NHL career with the Canucks and is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer among defencemen with 94 goals and 368 points in 814 games. He met his wife in Vancouver and this is the only home the couple’s two daughters know.
"Maybe I’m just a loyal guy who wants to play here and wants to live here and win here," Edler said in March. "I know that doesn’t always happen because the business doesn’t work out all the time. I understand that. But I’ve been treated well by this organization and city, and I’ve had some special moments here. Going through some tough years, that’s never fun. But the future looks better, and it would be pretty special to be part of that."
Edler can still get his wish. But if he wants a full-market deal with a no-movement clause, he’ll have to take his family somewhere else to get it, which would look like a lose-lose for both Edler and the Canucks.
• Having had a few days to compose himself and draw his jaw back to the closed position, Benning didn’t flinch when asked Monday what effect Jeff Skinner’s massive, $72-million extension with the Buffalo Sabres might have on future negotiations involving Canuck players.
Benning is trying to re-sign restricted free agent Brock Boeser "sooner rather than later," but may see the asking price go up after the Sabres agreed to pay $9-million per season to a player who scored a career-high 40 goals last year but has averaged only 52 points during his eight full NHL seasons.
Benning correctly noted that Skinner, 27, was an impending UFA while the Canucks "control" Boeser, the 22-year-old RFA. But all contracts matter, including massive ones coming soon for Toronto Maple Leafs RFA Mitch Marner, 22, and Calgary Flames free agent Mathew Tkachuk, 21.
"Those guys signing could affect Brock’s contract, but we’re more concerned about our own business and trying to figure something out for Brock that makes sense for him and the team," Benning said.
• There is always a good deal of smoke swirling around the Canucks, and Benning added to the smudge when he said he’ll be contacting winger Loui Eriksson this week to ask about comments attributed to the Swede during last month’s world championships.
In an interview with website HockeySverige that was reported on the West Coast through Google-translate, Eriksson was quoted as saying of Canuck coach Travis Green: "The coach and I don’t really get on 100 per cent. It is difficult when I do not get the same trust that I received from all the other coaches I’ve had during my career."
Eriksson, 33, has scored only 32 goals in three seasons since signing a front-loaded, bonus-heavy $36-million six-year contract with the Canucks in 2016. He was a healthy scratch once for the Canucks last season, but Green has trusted Eriksson in a shutdown role and as a key penalty killer.
Benning didn’t rule out the possibility that Eriksson may need a fresh start elsewhere, and there have been unsettling rumours of a possible trade involving the Edmonton Oilers’ Milan Lucic, who has been an even bigger disappointment since signing a seven-year, $42-million deal the same day the Canucks signed Eriksson.