On Ultra Boy, Alex Edler, and Bounces

One of my favourite comic book concepts is the Legion of Superheroes, which can be summed up in a simple sentence: a thousand years in the future, superpowered teenagers battle to save the universe. One of my favourite members of the Legion of Superheroes is Ultra Boy, the result of a pure comic book question: what if a character had the powers of Superman, but could only use them one at a time?

Ultra Boy has many phenomenal powers: super-strength, invulnerability, flight, super-speed, and various vision powers, including x-ray vision and heat-vision. With that combination of superpowers, he ought to be one of the most powerful superheroes in the universe, but for that one weakness: he can only use one of those superpowers at any given time.

Why am I talking about Ultra Boy? Because he is, essentially, Alex Edler. (The main difference is that Edler has never been eaten by a space whale.)

Edler has all of the abilities of a number one defenceman. He has one of the hardest shots in the league, he can pass the puck with sublime vision, he can score goals on end-to-end rushes, he can make incredible defensive plays, he can hit like a mack truck, and he can play big minutes in all situations. His main problem has been putting all of those elements together at once.

It feels like Edler should be Superman, but, too often, he’s Ultra Boy: in one game he’ll be a physical defenceman, throwing big hits at every opportunity. The next game he’ll be a risk-prone, purely-offensive defenceman. In one game every pass will be tape-to-tape, but in the next he’s drop-passing the puck to the other team’s best player.

It’s possible that one of the reasons Edler meshed so well with Christian Ehrhoff is that Ehrhoff’s ability to skate with the puck and be creative in the offensive zone restricted Edler in a good way. Instead of trying to be a do-everything defenceman, Edler settled into a more limited role as the safe, reliable member of their duo. But Edler has all the skills necessary to be more.

We’ve been tough on Edler this offseason, which is a little odd considering he posted career highs in shots, goals, assists, and (of course) points, but he struggled down the stretch during the regular season and had some disastrous moments in the playoffs. But an oddball statistic I saw recently got me thinking about Edler and how much bounces, both good and bad, can shape a player’s season.

That statistic was most posts hit this season, which was tracked by Dirk Hoag at the Nashville Predators blog On the Forecheck. Edler tied with Nicklas Lidstrom for most posts hit by a defenceman this season with 8. Although Edler had a career-high in goals with 11, he also rang shots off the iron an additional 8 times. While this statistic alone doesn’t mean that Edler was particularly unlucky this season, as he took a lot of shots, giving him many opportunities to hit the post, if you start to look at other elements of Edler’s season, the bounces seemed to be against him almost all year.

Consider the epidemic of Edler’s broken sticks this past season. I don’t have any official statistics, but if I had to guess, I’d say Edler broken eleventy kajillion sticks while shooting, passing, stickhandling, and breathing. Many promising plays in the offensive zone died on Edler’s broken stick and many promising plays for the opposition came as a result of the same.

As for actual statistics, Edler’s shooting percentage was actually the second lowest of his career, despite his career high in goals. In addition, the shooting percentage of himself and his teammates when he was on the ice was the lowest of his career. The save percentage of the Canucks’ goaltenders when he was on the ice was also the lowest of his career, which means his PDO, which is a combination of on-ice shooting and save percentages, was also the lowest of his career.

All of this adds up to a player who, despite scoring 49 points and getting picked for the All Star Game, actually had a lot of bounces go against him this past season. And for a player who has lacked certainty in his own ability to be a top-tier defenceman, it’s not a stretch to think that those bad bounces could wreak havoc on Edler’s confidence. If enough bounces go against a player, it’s pretty natural for that player to start wondering if it isn’t the bounces that are bad; it’s him.

Combine that with the lack of consistent partner over the back half of the season and Edler’s struggles begin to make sense, at least to me. I’m sincerely hoping that this offseason brings a new partner and a dose of cockiness to Edler: I want him to be Superman next season, not Ultra Boy.

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17 comments

  1. Dave Robinson (@dcrwrites)
    June 20, 2012

    As a man entering his thirty-eighth year as a Legion fan I am forced to mention that Ultra Boy possesses Penetra-Vision and Flash Vision rather than the more Prosaic X-Ray vision and heat vision possessed by Kryptonians.

    As a hockey fan, I think you’ve made some excellent points. It would be really interesting to know what Edler’s season would have been like had he been even a little less unlucky, particularly with his sticks.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      June 20, 2012

      Heh, I was wondering if anyone was going to call me out on misnaming his vision powers. I went for clarity rather than accuracy on this one.

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      • Dave Robinson (@dcrwrites)
        June 20, 2012

        I figured you did – but I just couldn’t resist – besides, there is absolutely nowhere else in the world where I can get my Legion and Hockey fixes in the same place. :)

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  2. Chris the Curmudgeon
    June 20, 2012

    So I guess the Alex Edler hat-trick could be:
    a. hitting the post
    b. power play drop pass that gets picked off
    c. broken stick
    Edler certain has a great skill set, but I’m not sure if his ability to learn quite matches up with his physical abilities. After seeing the Boston Bruins sit on that drop pass, he should’ve taken it out of his arsenal for good, but instead he just kept trying it even though it hardly ever works. Perhaps Newell Brown deserves some blame there too, but Edler has become entirely too predictable, and the revolving door of unsuitable partners has become a little worrisome too.

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    • jrc
      June 20, 2012

      The problem, as I see it, is in the difference between a set and a list.

      Right now, Edler has a list of skills, which we would like to see cohere as a skill set.

      Like a coach with a team of skilled players who can’t play together, off each other, etc., he needs an asset management strategy. There’s no question that Edler is a gifted defenceman. He needs to manage his skill assets into the some equivalent of a team.

      Maybe some quality one-on-one management with a defensive coach – one of his own, the equivalent of a personal trainer – will teach him the zen and harmony of his skills so he can bring them to the ice at the same time. If he can, it will be a thing of beauty to watch, the defensive equivalent of Kesler in Beast-Mode, or wizardous Sedinerie.

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  3. Tamara B
    June 20, 2012

    I really think that Edler will still prove valuable, especially if we can a) find out who makes his sticks and beg them to make them stronger and b) find him a good partner.

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    • jrc
      June 20, 2012

      Yeah – that’s the other thing. He needs sticks that don’t break, or a Stanley-Cup-loss-indemnity clause in his agreement with his current supplier :)

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  4. Kenji
    June 20, 2012

    Drop passes are addictive and harmful, they are the bath salts of hockey skills. Trevor Linden, Himself, could not get them out of his game.

    I won’t blame Newell Brown for anything, his book on offensive drills is required reading although that does not explain why I found it at the Salvation Army. The broken sticks, though, that seems to be something that can be improved with technology or dare I say a different sponsor. Hell maybe Edler needs the old fashioned wood. I mean stick. I mean…you know what i mean.

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  5. akidd
    June 20, 2012

    is it bad taste to mention the back surgery? all this analysis of edler seems rather incomplete without speculating about how his back may have impacted his play. is their a code in hockey reporting where writers just don’t ‘go there’?

    sticks and posts are important sure but if his movement has been restricted( and it looked that way to me) then it’s all rather superfluous.

    here’s hoping edler has a great offseason of conditioning and that he comes back stronger, faster and more nimble next year.

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  6. iceman
    June 20, 2012

    I had this lingering question all season long and am still a bit confused by it. My question is this: “Is the shuffling of d-men pairings such a big issue for the other NHL clubs as well, or is it just for Canucks?”

    From what I have seen throughout the season (and also perhaps the season before), we constantly seem to be one injured defenceman away from having a total defense system meltdown – even if the player is not one of our top 4. As soon as we get one or two d-men short, all hells break loose: The coaches begin flip-flopping with the defensive pairings like a mad scientist changing gears, the local media begins scrutinizing the long and short each pairing for every shift, and some of freaked-out fans begin yelling “Pair this guy & that guy! Wait, no, trade that guy and send this guy down! And while at it, also fire AV!”

    The weirdest of all, however, is none of them really matters. More often than not when our blueliners get switched around it’s pretty much a disaster waiting to happen. Allowing odd men rushes, coughing up pucks in our own zone, missing their checks, sprawling across the ice instead of taking bodies etc. Not that I’m saying those things never happen with the “regular” pairings, but it was painfully more obvious especially when AV was experimenting with different d-men pairings at some point last season. I understand the intricacy of mixing & matching left- and right-handed players but still, whenever I saw the fire drill happening I couldn’t help but thinking, ‘Does this happen to the other teams too? Surely we can’t be the only team who deals with the situation. I wonder if they go through the same ordeal as ours…’

    Now back to the subject of Edler, we all know he has the physique, tools and skills to be the d-man whom every cup winning team had. He’s been on the verge of that breakout for a few years now, teasing everyone waiting for the moment. Maybe that elusive stable defensive partner is the only missing link. We thought Sami was the one but he’s getting close to a curtain call of his career.

    I certainly hope that we can find a stable partner to release the full power of superman in Edler. And also that, once Edler reaches the level he becomes a stabilizing force himself and will make his teammates better regardless who he plays with.

    After all, how many defensive partners Nick Lidstrom played with throughout his career?

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    • John in Marpole
      June 20, 2012

      Although I agree that there seems to be an over abundance of shuffling on the back end, the way you described it as being full of errors and disasters makes me want to go back to check the standings from the past 2 years to make sure that the Canucks did in fact come in first overall both seasons and I wasn’t just hallucinating these past 730 or so days.

      In spite of all the shuffling of d-pairings (and forward lines for that matter), the Canucks have been the most successful regular season team in the NHL for 2 seasons, and were 1 win short of a Stanley Cup victory. I can’t think of too many cities other than this one where that would be seen as anything other than success.

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      • J21 (@Jyrki21)
        June 21, 2012

        I think Iceman’s point is a fair one, though, that the Canucks’ back end did seem particularly prone to breakdowns when conditions were not optimal. We even saw it in the 2011 playoffs during the ‘bad’ games (although food poisoning also had something to do with that during the Chicago series, even though the entire world has collectively decided to pretend that crippling physical restraints don’t matter or didn’t happen, just because the team didn’t issue a press release about it).

        That said, I think John’s point is also correct: based on the over-the-top reactions on sites like HFBoards following every goal-against or every loss (fire the coach, send everyone down, etc.) there probably is a bit of tunnel vision happening here ever since the team got really good. If not for defensive breakdowns, no goals would ever be scored, so clearly they happen a fair bit everywhere. I mean, we’ve seen the Sedins create a plethora of them for the other team.

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  7. Gimmic
    June 20, 2012

    Nice article. Didn’t realize he had a career low in sh%. Of note, he played the ‘toughest’ minutes this year than any other time as a Canuck. I think if Gillis can find a stable d partner for him, he’ll be ok next yr (Garrison please). He had an unlucky yr in terms of underlying numbers.

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  8. ArtemChubarov
    June 20, 2012

    Great stuff Daniel.

    I somehow hadn’t realized that Edler carried a sub 100 PDO this season. Canucks should try to re-up him before his luck changes and he becomes a 60 point, 15 goal defenseman!

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    • C
      June 20, 2012

      Agreed. We shouldn’t give up on him just yet and make sure we re-sign him. He definitely has the skills but he needs to work on his mental state more than anything. He needs to be more confident in his skills.

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  9. Tom Benjamin
    June 21, 2012

    Is it fair to evaluate a player against the standard: “Is he as good as we think he should be?” I think you make too much of the fact that Edler struggled down the stretch drive. If he had struggled out of the gate and finished strong, we’d be saying that he had a great season, his best in the NHL. Which d-man from his draft class would we trade him for? Smid? Mike Green? Goligoski? Meszaros?

    I agree with the idea that he still has an upside – he just turned 26 – but even if his less than assertive personality does affect his development and he never realizes the potential described by his skillset, he is a long way from being chopped liver. At worst, he’s going to be a very good player for another 10 years.

    So he’s not Shea Weber and Alex Edler ends up being damned good instead of great? Isn’t that okay? Maybe being Ultra Boy is worthy of some admiration. Being able to use only one super power at a time seems to me to be a lot better than being without any super power at all.

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  10. the real bob
    June 21, 2012

    I hope edler makes like a ball next season and bounce back

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