For the first time in his career, Alex Edler is heading to free agency.
The veteran defenceman has been a member of the Canucks organization since 2004, when the Canucks took a chance on a raw 18-year-old kid playing in a third-tier Swedish men’s league in the middle of nowhere. Edler exceeded all expectations for a third-round pick, playing 925 games for the Canucks across 15 seasons.
The 2020-21 season may have been his last with the Canucks. His agent, Mark Stowe, appeared on the Donnie and Dhali show on ChekTV on Friday and announced that Edler will test free agency and the intent is to find a new team.
“Alex has decided to pursue free agency in lieu of re-signing with the Canucks and he will test the market pretty soon,” said Stowe. “I don’t think there was an issue in the negotiations, it’s just a matter of the right time for Alex to try free agency.”
While Stowe allowed the possibility of returning to the Canucks, he made it clear that the primary goal is to find a deal for Edler elsewhere in the NHL.
“I never want to say never but that’s not the intent now. But in three weeks, you never know. I’m not closing the door,” said Stowe.
Edler was the last remaining member of the 2010-11 Canucks that went to the Stanley Cup Final after Chris Tanev left in free agency last year. Assuming Edler does leave the Canucks in free agency, he leaves with a number of Canucks records under his belt.
Edler holds the record for most games played by a Canucks defenceman, most goals, assists, and points by a Canucks defenceman, and the most hits and blocked shots by any Canucks player. He’s arguably the best defenceman in franchise history but never quite got the praise and accolades he deserved.
Edler led the 2010-11 Canucks in ice time, playing in every situation. He did everything for the Canucks, from shutting down top forwards to quarterbacking the power play.
Yet if you look at the winners of the Babe Pratt award — the best Canucks defenceman as voted by the fans — Edler won it just three times in his 15 years with the Canucks and two of them came in the last four years when the Canucks defence corps was a ramshackle array of players.
Heck, Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher both have a Babe Pratt Trophy.
The issue for Edler was never who he is but always who he wasn’t. It always seemed like fans wanted him to become a true superstar number one defenceman — someone like Victor Hedman or Drew Doughty in his prime. Other teams had that true number one, but the Canucks have never had that player.
“He does a lot of things that people don’t realize,” said Henrik Sedin after he broke Mattias Ohlund’s record for most points by a Canucks defenceman. “People want him to be a true superstar and he’s a guy who does everything.”
Perhaps that’s why Edler received so much criticism — as the best defenceman in franchise history, he too often reminded the fans of the defencemen they’ve never had.
Edler deserved — deserves — a lot more respect, but at least he’s always had that respect from his teammates.
“He can put up points, he can defend, he blocks shots, plays PK, plays power play,” said Daniel Sedin. “He can do it all out there and that’s rare to see in a defenceman. The guys in here really respect him and have for a long time.”
Over the last few years, however, Edler’s game has been declining. It’s not surprising — he’s 35 years old. There were just nine defencemen older than Edler in the NHL last season. Edler’s intelligence has helped him hold his own against younger and faster players, but as he continues to lose a step, it will get harder and harder.
It’s the right time for the Canucks to move on from Edler and it’s the right time for Edler to move on from the Canucks. Perhaps he can find a third-pairing role on a Cup contender and make one last run for a Stanley Cup, but the Canucks were far more likely to keep trying to play him 21 minutes per game in a top-four role.
There are a few things left unaccomplished for Edler. He’s sitting on 99 goals and won’t get that 100th with the Canucks. He’s missing a chance to reunite with his good friends the Sedins as they take on front office roles. But most of all, he’ll never get the chance to lift the Stanley Cup as a member of the Canucks.
Edler deserves another shot at the Cup. It’s too bad it won’t be in Vancouver.