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Was Alex Edler’s departure a red flag for the Canucks organization?

After years of saying he wanted to be a career Canuck, Edler was only too happy to leave the team this offseason, which maybe should have been a sign.
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Alex Edler left the Vancouver Canucks in free agency last season and signed with the Los Angeles Kings.

On Monday night, Alex Edler will play his first-ever game against the Vancouver Canucks.

It would have been a good time for Edler to get his 100th career goal — he was stuck at 99 all of last season — but he instead reached the centennial mark against another former Canuck, Jacob Markstrom. 

Edler’s Los Angeles Kings were facing Markstrom’s Calgary Flames on Thursday night when Edler jumped up the ice, took a drop pass, and ripped a wrist shot just under Markstrom’s glove. The goal brought the Kings to within one but Markstrom held the line the rest of the game for the one-goal victory.

For Canucks fans, it’s a bittersweet moment. It’s wonderful to see Edler so happy after the goal, with a massive grin as he’s embraced by his teammates, but it’s too bad that it couldn’t have happened in Vancouver.

Or rather, it’s too bad that Edler couldn’t score his 100th career goal in Vancouver as a Canuck.

After 15 seasons with the Canucks, where he set all kinds of franchise records, Edler left the Canucks as a free agent, choosing to sign a one-year deal with the Kings instead. He’s been a steady contributor to the Kings, with 10 points in 22 games, a 56.44% corsi at 5-on-5, and a key role on the team’s penalty kill.

Do the Canucks miss Edler? Arguably, yes. Edler played a thankless role for the Canucks as a shutdown defenceman in recent years and he was still effective even as he lost some mobility. On top of that, the elder Edler was a mentor for many of the younger Canucks.

“He’s a leader,” said Elias Pettersson during his rookie season. “Beginning of the season, especially when I was new, everything was new to me, him and the other Swedes helped me a lot, just to be comfortable with this group and teach me some small things...he’s a really good person.”

The Canucks have looked like a team in need of veteran leadership this season and they've let a lot of that leadership go over the last two seasons, not just Edler, but also Markstrom and Chris Tanev.

At the same time, Edler is 35 and has struggled to stay healthy in recent years. It’s understandable that the Canucks would be willing to let the elder statesman go and move on with a younger group. 

Only, it wasn’t the Canucks' call to move on from Edler; it was Edler’s decision to move on from the Canucks.

"We told him we want him back."

This past offseason, Canucks general manager Jim Benning offered Edler a contract prior to the start of free agency.

“We’ve made him an offer, he’s not unhappy with the offer, but he wants to take his time,” said Benning, then added that Edler was taking a risk. “We told him we want him back [but] we’re going to have to go to the marketplace too.”

Edler didn’t take the offer and went to free agency for the first time in his career.

Did Edler see issues that others missed in the Canucks organization? Did he see the writing on the wall, that this team was heading in the wrong direction to the point that he had to leave? Should it have been the canary in the coal mine that Edler, the lifelong Canuck, had no compunctions about leaving the Canucks this offseason?

After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Edler was adamant that he wanted to remain a Canuck for his entire career. For years, Edler repeated that he loved Vancouver and never wanted to leave. He refused to waive his no-trade clause in 2019 when he was approached about the possibility by Benning because he wanted to stay. 

"I like it here. I hope I'll stay here."

Back in 2018, while the Canucks were in the midst of rebuilding and repeatedly missing the playoffs, Edler had no desire to leave.  

“That means a lot to me that I’ve been here my whole career. I like it here. I hope I’ll stay here,” said Edler to The Athletic.

When asked if he hopes to spend his entire career in Vancouver, Edler didn’t hesitate.

“Of course,” he said. “I like the city, the organization’s been good to me. We’re going through kind of a rebuild, so it’s fun to be part of that.”

That’s key as well. Edler had no issues being part of the rebuild. In fact, he relished the leadership role that put him in.

“We had some good years when we went to the final and now we’re in a rebuild stage,” he said. “But I think that’s fun to be a part of. There are young guys coming in. You try to mentor them. We have a lot of young guys in the system that have a lot of potential. I’m looking forward to when we can compete for a playoff spot, and when you get to the playoffs you never know.”

Edler put down deep roots in Vancouver after coming to the city back in 2006. Edler met his wife in Vancouver and his two daughters grew up in Vancouver. This was, and is, his home. Leaving could not have been an easy decision.

But perhaps it was made easier with the departure of his good friends Tanev and Markstrom in less-than-ideal fashion the previous offseason. Then there was the dreadful 2020-21 season, where not only did the Canucks take a massive step backward from their 2020 playoff run, but Edler also didn’t get to play in front of the fans that he repeatedly said he loved so much.

So, when asked about re-signing in Vancouver last season, Edler was a bit more circumspect than in previous years, reiterating his love for the city and fans but not making any promises about wanting to return.

“We’ll see what’s going to happen here,” he said. “I’ve been here my whole career. I’ve been fortunate to play here my whole career. I’ve always said I like it here. Great place to live and play. Great fans.”

The Los Angeles Kings committed to a rebuild

After 15 seasons with the same team, a team with which he wanted to play his entire career, Edler was willing to leave Vancouver and explore the uncertainty of free agency for the first time. And he didn’t leave to chase a Stanley Cup: he signed with the Kings, one of the few teams to finish last season with a worse record than the Canucks.

But the Kings have a lot of young talent in need of mentorship. They’re a team on the rise, seen as heading in the right direction, with the consensus strongest prospect pool in the NHL.

The Kings are a team that embraced a rebuild in the midst of a bad 2018-19 season despite making the playoffs in the previous year. They committed to acquiring picks at the top of the draft, selecting 14 players in the first three rounds of the draft over the past three years. They look like a team poised to come out of their rebuild potentially this season, but certainly in the seasons that follow.

Did the Kings look like a more attractive destination than the Canucks for that reason?

"The decision was mine."

The Canucks fully believed heading into the season that they were a playoff team — the organization has been reportedly shocked by their terrible start — but maybe Edler didn’t share that belief.

People change, of course. It’s entirely possible that as Edler grew a little bit older and reflected on his career that he just wanted to try something new and take on a new challenge. Even if it’s a pretty significant course correction to go from wanting to spend your entire career with one team to jumping ship to a divisional rival, maybe it was just that desire for a new experience: something different, interesting, and fun.

“Maybe last year might have helped that part too — just not feeling like I had that much fun,” said Edler recently. “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.”

“I don't have any bad feelings toward Vancouver,” Edler added. “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.”

There was evidently nothing new in Vancouver. Just more of the same.