The Oilers Rig

Head Hunters: Off-Season Targets: Alexander Edler

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Recently, Alexander Edler’s name has been bandied around in the trade rumor mill. This is not new to the player. All year his name has surfaced as either a player that should be (the media loves to wheel and deal NHL assets!) or that might be, or that almost was traded.

Edler is 28 (just this past April), a left shot, big (6’3″ 215) and very mobile. That in itself is a grab-bag of interest to any NHL team. The Hockey News provides a concise, but comprehensive scouting report on the player:

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(click all photos to embiggen)

So, not without some warts. But, Edler is clearly a near-complete package of defenceman. He’s big, he’s not immune to nasty play (which Oilers’ fans are always in search of), he’s mobile, he scores and he can quarterback a powerplay. The powerplay item is something the Oilers could really use. They have a powerplay rover (Justin Schultz) on the back end, but haven’t had a defenceman who can anchor the powerplay in some time (Ryan Whitney was supposed to be it).

Being a left-handed shot, Edler would slot in immediately on the first pairing, radically improve the blue line and have the beneficent effect of pushing the left-shot blue kids down the depth chart. Marincin, a tender 44 NHL games into his career is not ready to handle 1st pairing minutes. Ference, now aged and in clear decline, is ideally suited for the 3rd pairing. And, Klefbom, despite showing well during his long cup of coffee at the close of the season, is best left in the care of Todd Nelson and the AHL for another half season at least. Not to forget Nurse, who has to go back to junior. Just has to.

On the qualitative side, then, Edler offers a lot to attract a team like the Oilers. His attributes (big, mobile, plays a lot of minutes, powerplay quarterback, left-shot, touch of evil) appear to be a perfect match. What, then, about the quantitative side?

Contract

CapHit: 5M (actual salary varies year to year)

He’s one year into a 6 year deal that has him under contract through 2018-19. He has a No Trade Clause (the terms of which are unclear)

Edler will turn 33 at the close of the final year of his present contract. It is entirely reasonable to expect (barring injury), that over the course of Edler’s contract his performance will not diminish or taper-off. Typically “hard-nosed” and/or “stay-at-home” defensemen start to wear down in their early 30s (see: Ference) and the decline can be precipitous (see: Nick Schultz). Defensemen who boast mobility as a key attribute, however, tend to have a longer shelf-life.

Because of the style of Edler’s play and his age through the tenure of the contract, one can expect to get what you see with Edler. What he is now, is what he’ll likely be in years 2 through 6.

For a legit top pairing (if not quite legit #1) defenseman, a cap hit of 5M is as near a value contract you’ll find without having a player reach elite status during their ELC, or RFA contracts. This is very good value for the player.

The obvious concern is the NTC. Gillis, for all his managerial novelty, had a way of giving these things away. It’s entirely plausible that Edler would block any trade that saw him headed to Edmonton.

Scoring

Boxcars: 63 7-15-22 (PPG: 0.349); Career: 494 58-170-228 (PPG: 0.462)

P/60 5×5: 0.50 (163rd of NHL D); 2012-13: 0.85 (51st); 2011-12: 0.90 (52nd)

P/60 5×4: 4.07 (45th of NHL D); 2012-13: 3.44 (53rd); 2011-12: 4.38 (27th)

The handwringing over Edler out of Gas-Town this year was that his production took something of a nose-dive. We can see the points per game number for the season is off his career average. Last season his PPG was 0.488 and the year before was 0.598.

More concerning to a particular kind of Gas-Town pearl-clutcher, Edler was a whopping -39.

Someone inclined to do a hachet job on the big Swede in lieu of helping him head out of town, would stop right here.

A few more reasonable takes on the situation have tried to counter the powerful (and powerfully stupid) narrative. Please read the always insightful Tyler Dellow on the matter.

My take: both Edler’s point production and his lousy +/- stat (which, c’mon, let’s face it, is a ridiculous stat. All who use it ought to be shunned from decent, God-fearing society) are the products of luck.

Individually, Edler’s shooting percentage (which is often luck-dependent) dropped a percentage and a half from his career average (3.9 from 5.4). When, he was on the ice at evens, the shooting of his team cratered even more severely (that is, his teammates weren’t scoring when he was on the ice, so he wasn’t gaining assists). In this stat, Edler’s On-Ice SH% has never been lower than 6.90, this year it was 3.54. That’s luck folks and it’s bound to rebound.

Moreover, when Edler was on the ice, his goaltending failed him. When he was on the ice at evens, Edler only enjoyed a .902 save percentage. That is well below replacement level. At 5×5, Vancouver goalies in the 2013-14 season batted a .923 save percentage. They just didn’t do it when Edler was on the ice.

The stat we use to discuss this kind of 5×5 luck (we are leaving aside special teams here for the sake of brevity and because they enjoy even larger luck-induced swings of randomness) is PDO.

PDO is simply the addition of a team’s Shooting Percentage when a player (in this case Edler) is on the ice (3.54) PLUS a team’s Save Percentage when a player is on the ice (.902). A score of 1000 is concidered the mean. Players greatly above 1000 are considered to have enjoyed excellent luck, those below poor luck. Added together, Edler’s PDO for the season was 938, which happened to be the 3rd worst in the NHL (of those who played at least 40 games).

PDO: 938 (3rd worst in the NHL >40Gps)

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Edler did not lose contact with scoring and defensive play. Luck bit him in the ass. Bet on a regression to his career averages, or better numbers next year.

Underlying Numbers

CorsiOn: 5.13 (2nd of D on team >40gps); CorsiRel: -1.0 (5th)

The CorsiOn number tells us that when Edler was on the ice, the Canucks were driving the play and enjoyed the majority of the shot attempts. Edler had the second best CorsiOn number of the D on the team. That is a very good sign. The CorsiRel number, however, tells us that compared to his own teammates (all of them, not just D), Edler was well below the magic men getting the prime zone starts (the Sedins so out rank the rest of the team in shot differential metrics that the CorsiRel numbers of all their teammates pale in comparison). In general, what the Corsi stats tell us is that despite his poor luck, Edler played a very effective season.

TOI: 1,467:03 (4th in Over All minutes played); TOI/60 5×5: 17.28 (3rd)

TOI/60 5×42:51 (1st); TOI/60 4×5: 2:11 (4th, 0.01 behind 3rd)

The Time On Ice stats tell us that Edler played a ton. He played all 3 disciplines in substantial doses (esp. on the Power Play). The 5×5 number shows that Edler played in the 3 hole behind the Hamhuis and Bieksa pairing. It’s worth noting that over the past several years Vancouver has alternated its preference for top billing on the left side between Edler and Hamhuis.

Here’s his player usage chart from extraskater under Tortorella:

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What this chart shows is that Edler is in the “two-way” or “optimizing” quadrant. That is, Edler is thought of as a defensively reliable defenseman who doesn’t need to be sheltered (he’s playing moderately hard competition), but who deserves an offensive push. It also shows that in this role, Edler was effective (the light blue bubble represents his Corsi numbers).

His extraskater player card for the past 3 years:

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Here we can see that Edler’s total TOI has remained consistently c. 22 minutes a game. His CorsiFor% also remains consistently in the black. You can also see how his team’s shooting and save percentages cratered this season when he was on the ice. There also hasn’t been a substantial change in the quality of his competition or teammates.

His Behind the Net player card:

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Basically, this player card is the same as above, however, it gives you a look over the totality of his career. One thing that stands out: a career of mostly exceptional corsi numbers.

Here’s the same player card graphed by somekindofninja (I’ve used CorsiOn here):

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This visual of the behind the net player card, lets you get a sense of Edler’s usage and underlying performance over the years. Blue nearly everywhere. You can also see the progression from “sheltered” up to “two-way” or “optimizing” over the course of his NHL development. This is a very nice looking career so far.

Here’s his WOWY numbers for 2013-14:

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The WOWY (with or without you) numbers attempt to contextualize corsi numbers (which reflect the play of the 10 players on the ice) to the individual player. Here we can see that Edler split time with Bieksa and Garrison pretty evenly this season. Both pairings were largely effective, though the Bieksa pairing more so. Looking down the list, excepting the Herculean Sedin-line, players play better with Edler than without him. This too is a good sign.

Here’s his WOWY chart over the past five years:

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Here you can see that Edler played well with every defenseman he played more than 500 5×5 minutes with (Bieksa, Salo, Ehrhoff, Garrison). Of the 4 pairings, only Bieksa played better over the past 5 years without Edler and only marginally so (+.09).

Goodbye Cruel World

Bottom line: this is a damn good player on a long-term, reasonable contract. He’s currently undervalued, if we believe the drumbeat from the MSM regarding his poor season. So, he may not cost 100 cents on the dollar. If he’s available, MacTavish should be first in line to see if he can make something work.

The last time the Oilers tried to trade with the Canucks, Mike Gillis was still the GM and tried his damnedest to extract an in-division tax from Craig MacTavish (MacTavish reportedly balked at the cost of the 2013 7th OV pick, Marincin and a 2nd round pick for goalie Corey Schneider, who went to New Jersey for the 2013 9th OV pick).

It’s unclear if new Canucks GM, Jim Benning shares Gillis’ interest in trading Edler, or his insistence on in-division taxes. If I was the Canucks GM looking to shed aging, salaried D, Edler is not the player I’d be looking to trade. He’s still young enough and good enough to help a team compete for the Cup. His reputation (based largely on his luck-deprived year) is arguably at its lowest ebb, so he’s unlikely to command full value at the market.

I’d trade Bieksa.

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