Edler excited for new challenge, but still coming to grips with Canucks exit

NHL player profile photo on Vancouver Canucks player Alex Edler, from Sweden, during a game against the Calgary Flames in Calgary, Canada on Sat., Sept. 22, 2018. (Larry MacDougal / CP)

VANCOUVER – For nearly half of his life – and all of his adulthood – Alex Edler has returned to Vancouver from Sweden each summer to get ready for hockey season.

Later this month, he’ll return so he can get ready to leave.

The 35-year-old defenceman said the reality of leaving the Vancouver Canucks, the team that drafted him in 2004 and two years later gave him his first of 1,007 National Hockey League games, won’t seem real until he returns to the city in August and starts packing up his house for the move next season to the Los Angeles Kings.

After announcing through agent Mark Stowe that he planned to explore free agency for the first time in his career, Edler signed a one-year contract to play in Los Angeles last week.

Right now, he told Sportsnet in an interview from Stockholm, the change doesn’t seem real.

“Definitely weird,” he said. “I've been there my whole career, haven't seen anything else. I think it's going to feel even more weird when I come back to Vancouver. Being in Sweden, you're kind of away from everything, so I don't think it has really sunken in yet that I'm not going back to the Canucks, that I'm trying something new. That's going to feel weird. But the whole family, we're excited to try something new and move to L.A. I'm excited to play there and we're all kind of excited to live there. It's a mixed feeling. It's definitely going to be sad to leave Vancouver.”

It may be weird for the Canucks, too, when they open training camp in September without Edler, who not only was their longest-serving player, but has been a key fixture on defence almost since he arrived in 2006 after a meteoric rise from a beer league in Northern Sweden from which he was plucked by Vancouver scout Thomas Gradin.

Edler wore Gradin’s old number, 23, from the day he arrived in November 2006 and played in a 3-2 road loss to the Colorado Avalanche, for whom Joe Sakic was the captain, not the general manager. Edler’s original Vancouver teammates included long-retired Canuck icons Markus Naslund, Mattias Ohlund and Trevor Linden.

In theory, the Canucks’ decision in July to acquire Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the risk of $43.6-million owing on his contract from the Arizona Coyotes should be a lineup upgrade for Vancouver. Ekman-Larsson is 30. Could his next five years be as good as Edler’s last five years, over the same age span? Sure.

But Vancouver is also losing a navigation marker in Edler, a steadying and dependable influence on all the players around him.

Until Stowe went on Rick Dhaliwal’s and Don Taylor’s television show last month to prepare the market for Edler’s exit, the defenceman had always insisted he wanted to be a Canuck for life. His wife, Amanda, is from Vancouver. This is the only home their daughters, Emme, 7, and River, 4, have known.

Canuck general manager Jim Benning put a contract in front of Edler. He could have stayed, but didn’t.

What changed?

“I kind of just felt like I wanted to try something new,” Edler said. “I felt like, I think, I kind of needed it for myself. Maybe last year might have helped that part too — just not feeling like I had that much fun. It was a different year, with no fans and COVID. It was more my decision, my family's decision, that we wanted to try something new.”

During the Canucks’ dismal descent to the bottom of the standings in 2021 after their playoff breakthrough the previous summer, there were a few reports and a lot of conjecture about unhappiness among players, especially about the perceived lack of communication within the organization during the team’s frightening P.1-variant outbreak in April.

“I don't have any bad feelings toward Vancouver,” Edler said. “I have had so many good years there. I have so many things to thank them for. I get it, there's always a business side to hockey. It depends what situation the team is in and ... what you can offer players and what their roles will be, things like that. But the decision was mine. I just felt like it was time, I think, for me and my family to try something new. Me personally as a hockey player, I think I needed something new.”

After the July 23 trade with Arizona, it was clear that Edler wasn’t coming back to the Canucks for a 16th season. The only surprise in free agency is that he didn’t find a team with a realistic chance at winning the Stanley Cup next season, but chose a young Kings’ team still trying to emerge from its rebuild.

“I'm not in a position where I could just pick any team I want,” Edler said. “There was some interest from teams.

“The reason why I had picked L.A. is just they showed a lot of interest and they really wanted me, and they saw how I would fit in there and how I would have a big role, and also helping out with some of their young defencemen. They really showed interest and really believed in me, and I think that was a big part. And, obviously, it's also a decision for the whole family. I think that weighed in a little bit, too, with the city and everything.”

Although he said he wants to play “as long as possible” and doesn’t rule out anything beyond next season, Edler’s final game for Vancouver was a 4-2 home win against the Calgary Flames on May 18.

Goal-less for the season and stuck at 99 regular-season markers in his career, Edler briefly had the puck late in the game with Flames’ net empty. But Edler made a play out of his zone, and teammate Brock Boeser eventually scored into the empty net.

“I don't know if I had an opportunity to even try (for the open net), but I just remember Boeser taking a lot of heat from the other guys for not giving it to me,” Edler said. “But I don't think he even had an opportunity to do that. That goal never came, but that’s OK. It's kind of weird to go a whole season without getting one goal. Something usually goes in. But the fact that it was No. 100, no, that doesn't matter to me. It’s just a number.”

Here are some others for Edler as a Canuck: 925 regular-season games, plus another 82 in the playoffs, 409 points, 1,431 hits, 1,758 blocks, average time on ice of 22:54, 575 wins during his 15 seasons.

“I don't really know anything else,” Edler said of playing for the Canucks. “There's not enough things I can say (about) just how thankful I am for everything, not only the actual organization, but the whole city and how good I've felt there with my family. It's a great city, they have great fans. There's so many good memories from there. Being there for so long ... it's always going to be a home for me and my family. Maybe we'll settle down there after my career, I don't know. But Vancouver has been great to us.”

He was great for the Canucks, too.

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