Death, taxes, and an underrated season for Alexander Edler.
Let’s be honest, it would have been nearly impossible for anyone to take the spotlight from Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Quinn Hughes, and Jacob Markstrom; But it’s not often that the single most accomplished defenceman in team history can be considered an unsung hero, in any given season. Yet, that happens to be the case for 34-year-old Alexander Edler. The Vancouver Canucks all-time leader for games, goals, assists, and points by a defenceman.
The Vancouver Canucks Unsung Hero: Alex Edler
A lot’s happened since Alexander Edler broke into the league as a wide-eyed, clean-shaven rookie. Once heralded as a potential perennial Norris Trophy candidate, some even went as far as to call him the “next Nicklas Lidstrom.” Although he never did meet those lofty standards, Edler’s career has been very impressive in its own right, with an All-Star and Stanley Cup Final appearance as the feathers in his cap.
Having just completed his 13th full season in the NHL, “Eagle” is no longer the smooth-skating defenceman with the rocket of a slap shot. Over time, the Swede has become a quiet, cerebral presence on the blueline that makes a living off his positioning. Quiet doesn’t necessarily mean unimpactful, however. Playing in a reduced role after handing over the reins to Quinn Hughes, Edler’s found a new wind under his wings.
On the Powerplay
For most of his career, Alexander Edler has been a key cog on Vancouver’s powerplay. However, this past season saw a drastic change in that regard, with star rookie Quinn Hughes quickly commandeering the first powerplay unit. The team didn’t always rely on Edler to man the second power-play unit either. Instead, that position went to another fresh face in Tyler Myers.
Edler played a mere 70.5 minutes on the powerplay, by far the lowest such totals for his career. For reference, the second-lowest was 136.5 minutes, in the 2016-17 season. Despite this limited deployment, Edler managed to add a respectable seven points to his name. Some basic math and probably oversimplified assumptions tell us that with Edler on the ice, the Canucks converted on about 20 percent of their power plays. Not bad at all.
Even Strength Offence
Edler benefited greatly from his decreased role, with popular opinion being that it was a move that was overdue by at least a few seasons now. With Quinn Hughes taking on the bulk of the offensive workload, Edler’s game thrived at five-on-five. He matched his career-high for even-strength points with 26. This career-high was set in 2011-12, the year of his All-Star appearance. His 26 ES (even strength) points in 59 games were among the highest-scoring paces of his career, as visualized in the graph below. It shows his ES points per game for each full season he has completed.
A simple graph like this will never appeal to the analytics crowd, but it’s a nice way of visualizing a player’s raw offensive abilities. As much flack as he gets for constantly shooting soft wrist shots directly into the defender’s shin guard, his offensive resurgence has been something to behold.
What this graph shows are nothing short of extraordinary. His even-strength production this past season was far and away from the greatest of his career. It put the numbers from his All-Star season (2011-12) to shame. It’s not what you’d expect from any 34-year-old defenceman, let alone one that fans were calling washed up. Further, not only was this impressive by Edler’s standards, but the 0.44 ES P/GP also stacks up nicely against some of the biggest names in hockey.
Quinn Hughes: 0.41
Claude Giroux: 0.45
Alex Pietrangelo: 0.41
Torey Krug: 0.34
Shea Theodore: 0.41
Points aren’t everything, but that’s certainly some impressive company.
While shorthanded, the Canucks heavily relied on the duo of Edler and Chris Tanev yet again. A far cry from his drastically reduced power-play responsibilities, Edler spent an average of 3:05 a game killing penalties, the 16th highest total in the NHL. Naturally, this led to a high number of blocked shots, as Edler ended up channelling his inner Serge Ibaka with 162 (!) blocked shots in only 59 games. This put him at third in the league, behind only Oscar Klefbom and David Savard. Even outside his penalty-killing duties, Edler was one of Travis Green’s go-to men in the Canucks’ zone, with 57.5 percent of his zone starts being in the defensive end.
Even with the heavily defensive deployment, Edler fared well by simple possession metrics. He managed to post a positive Fenwick of 50.4 percent, and he was pretty darn close when it comes to Corsi, with 49 percent. Among team defencemen, these numbers put Edler only behind… drumroll please, none other than Quinn Hughes.
Amidst all the excitement this season brought upon, Alex Edler quietly had himself one heck of a year. He acted as one of the foundations of the penalty kill. He had one of his best offensive seasons to boot. I’m not trying to suggest the fascination over the Canucks dynamic stars aren’t warranted. It is, very much so. That being said though, with the limelight shining on his teammates, emerges Edler’s status as the Vancouver Canucks unsung hero.