I’ve always been an Alex Edler fan. He gets beat up a fair bit for disappearing during games, for being soft, for not playing tough defence and for whatever else, but I’ve always enjoyed watching him play. The last couple years there have been persistent rumours that the Canucks have been shopping him, with some saying he nearly went to Detroit at the 2013 draft. That 2013 draft was just before the 6 year, 30 million dollar extension they signed him to kicked in, and only a year before Edler had put up a 49 point season. So why were they trying to trade him? There are a lot of defencemen that get hammered in the media for being error-prone or weak defenders that fancy stats support as being really good players (Mike Green comes to mind), but Edler doesn’t really fit into that group. He consistently posts a CorsiRel above zero, but doesn’t seem to be a particularly effective play driver. I thought it would be useful to have a look at some context stats, his WOWYs, and to have a look at how he is on special teams.
Canucks team CF%: 51.9
Alex Edler CF%: 52.5
OZFO%: 35.7 (highest of any Canuck D)
TmCF%: 51.9 (second highest of any Canuck D, after Ryan Stanton)
OppCF%: 50 (QoC isn’t particularly impactful, but I included it for interest’s sake)
Not an eye-catching stat line. Edler is given generous usage through zone starts and great linemates, and he has done a just fine job in his role. He doesn’t seem to be driving play to any sort of noteworthy degree. Where his possession stats become really interesting is when you look at the With or Without You’s.
The two skaters he has spent the most time on the ice with are Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Each of the twins post much higher Corsi For percentages when on the ice with Edler: Henrik goes from 57% without to 58.7% with, and Daniel from 58.3% to 59.8%. The twins are great players, and they are more effective when on the ice with Alex Edler. What we would really like to pin down is how effective Edler is without the twins. Because Henrik and Daniel spend almost all of their ice time together (1881 of Daniel’s 2329 even strength minutes since the 2011-2012 season have been with his brother), we can use Edler’s CF% away from Daniel as an approximation of how he is doing when not paired with the first line.
In 2140 minutes away from Daniel, Edler’s CF% is 48.8%. That is a huge, huge fall. Now, I wish I had the TmCF% for Edler without the twins – or just without Daniel – because I’m very sure that it will be a big drop. It makes sense that, when separated from two of the best possession-drivers in the league, Edler’s numbers get worse. But Edler’s CF% collapse of 11% from when he is playing with Daniel to when he is on the ice without him suggests that he is really not an effective player with lesser teammates. Of the bottom-six forwards who he has spent the most time with (Malhotra, Richardson, and Hansen, among others), most post a worse CF% with Edler than they do without him. However, it also seems that he has some significant chemistry with the Sedins – the twins posted higher CF percentages with Edler than any other defenceman.
2011-14, power play:
CF20: 36.5 (5th in the league)
GF20: 2.1 (26th in the league
TmCF20: 33.4 (highest on Canucks, suggests he’s played mostly on PP1)
2011-14, penalty kill:
CA20: 27.3 (7th in league)
GA20: 1.6 (18th in league)
TmCA20: 29.5 (highest on Canucks, good indication he hasn’t been used on PK1)
*all league rankings are for defencemen with more than 200 mins played
Well shit, Edler is a hell of a special teams player. I expected him to be a strong powerplay player, but the success he has had on the penalty kill was a surprise to me. Despite most often being on the penalty kill with the less effective second unit, he looks like he could be the Canucks best penalty-killing D. That’s saying a lot: Edler, Tanev, Hamhuis, Bieksa and Garrison are all in the top 20 defencemen for CA20 from 2011-2014. That does make me slightly skeptical of Edler really being as good as he seems. His success may be more due to a PK system than individual ability. Still, he merits a lot more PK time, if for no other reason than to figure out whether he really is as good as he has been.
The disparities between Edler’s Corsi and Goal totals are definitely worth considering. Shot quality is a more important factor in special team success than it is at 5v5. However, defencemen do not significantly affect on on-ice shooting percentage, and a lot of the drop in his GF20 is due to the Canucks PP last year having an ungodly shooting percentage of 8.7 (29th in the league). I wouldn’t take the difference between his Corsi and Goal rates too seriously, as percentages will regress, and even without regression his Goal rates are terrific.
Adding contextual and situational data really helps elucidate what situations Edler has been succeeding in. He is a really useful hockey player and is close to elite in certain situations, and this information could I think help the Canucks take advantage of his strengths better. He definitely doesn’t belong in any sort of a tough-minutes type pairing, and should probably just never be on the ice with Brad Richardson. On the other hand, he makes the Sedins better than any other Canucks defencemen so should be on the ice with the twins whenever possible, and should be given a big role in special teams as well.
Edler is a productive player and is one who will see even more success if his usage is tailored to his skillset more appropriately. How Desjardins will choose to use him is obviously a mystery, but as his improbably low on-ice shooting percentage from last year regresses, it’s likely that we will see a bounceback year from #23.