The Canucks’ plan for Alex Edler’s right side appears to be Alex Edler, and it’s a bad plan

It would appear that the T.C. Williams High football program isn’t the only team obsessed with bolstering their left side. The Vancouver Canucks, too, have had an overflow of left-handed defencemen the past three seasons, and yet they went out and paid nearly $30 million for another this summer.

The Canucks succeeded with a surfeit of lefties in 2010-11 because Christian Ehrhoff was capable of playing his off-side. But when he left for Buffalo, the team discovered how rare Ehrhoff’s painless transition was. Keith Ballard couldn’t do it at all, and his inability to play with his stick (and left hip) away from the boards left him behind Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler on the depth chart. Edler couldn’t do it either, and when Sami Salo regressed right out of the top four in January, the Canucks found themselves one right-sider short. We pegged addressing this deficit as Vancouver’s major offseason need.

Instead, the Canucks paid $27.6 million for six years of left-handed Jason Garrison. Now, Garrison spent much of last season in Florida paired with another lefty in Brian Campbell, occasionally playing Campbell’s right side, so we were confident that the Canuck scouts saw enough to be at least semi-confident in his ability to go “the full Ehrhoff”.

Apparently not.

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How do you solve a problem like Edler?

It’s going to be a big offseason for Mike Gillis, who will likely be moving either Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider some time before September in what could be the biggest deal since he arrived in Vancouver. But, as important as that deal is likely to be, the goaltending situation is hardly the most pressing issue on his plate. Regardless of which backstop the team keeps, the Canucks will be just fine in goal next season.

Priority number one for the Canucks this summer has to be solving the curious case of Alex Edler. Either the Canucks need to go out and get him someone to play with, or they need to move him as part of a package for someone that can anchor a top pairing in a way that Edler can’t.

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Breakdowning Alex Edler’s end-to-end goal versus the Columbus Blue Jackets

Most of the time, we use the “Breakdowning” feature to unpack busy goals. Back in December, for instance, we broke down two Sedin goals versus the Minnesota Wild. Both featured a great deal of movement and, eventually, a tiny defensive error on which the twins were able to capitalize. We also looked at a powerplay goal versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. In it, the Leafs’ penalty-kill unit made an error, and the Canucks were able to pull off a complex scoring play as a result.

Alex Edler’s end-to-end rush Saturday versus the Columbus Blue Jackets was hardly complex. Basically, the Swedish blueliner just skated straight up the middle of the ice.

And no one stopped him. If you’re wondering how this goal happened, let me make it very clear: typically, a skater isn’t allowed to do that. But Edler was, and thus we break down exactly what allowed Alex Edler to go coast-to-coast like Space Ghost on the Columbus penalty kill.

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Breakdowning Sami Salo’s 5-1 goal versus the Toronto Maple Leafs

It’s not hard to spot the big mistake the Toronto Maple Leafs made in allowing Sami Salo’s 5-1 goal midway through the second period of Saturday’s game in Vancouver. With the Canucks on the powerplay, James Reimer makes a save on an Alex Edler shot, and the rebound bounces into the slot, where Matthew Lombardi has a chance to fire it the length of the ice. He whiffs on the clear, however, instead putting the puck right back on the stick of Edler at the point. The next time the Leafs touch the puck, they’re fishing it out of their net.

It was one of a salad bar of errors the Leafs served up to the Canucks.

It’s not difficult to see why many in the Toronto media call for Ron Wilson’s head on a regular basis: his team is abysmal defensively. All six Maple Leaf goals against Saturday were the result of defensive errors. Furthermore, four were the direct result of a senseless turnover, and two of those four were the result of a series of defensive errors after a senseless turnover.

Salo’s goal falls into the final category. Lombardi’s failure to ice the puck is one of two mistakes he makes on this play. Furthermore, while the flubbed clear undoubtedly enables a goal, it’s not the mistake that eventually causes it. Let’s take another look at this one:

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Canucks-centric highlights of the 2012 NHL All-Star Game

The 2012 NHL All-Star Game might have been a letdown if you were expecting playoff intensity, but for everyone who went in expecting a fun game of shinny featuring some incredibly talented hockey players, the game completely lived up to expectations.

For Canucks fans, there were a number of highlights, with Daniel and Henrik Sedin playing a major role up front, while Alex Edler was second in icetime for Team Alfredsson and third overall in the game.

Henrik tied Daniel Alfredsson’s team-high with 3 points, while Daniel (Sedin, that is) had two points of his own. And, while Edler was held off the scoresheet, he did tie Scott Hartnell and Shea Weber with a team-high plus-2 rating in a game Team Alfredsson lost by 3 goals.

Check out the highlights after the jump.

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Drance Numbers: Chris Tanev’s demonic possession

Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at Chris Tanev’s legion-like possession skills.

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Expectations are high for Chris Tanev, especially within Canucks’ management

Chris Tanev burst onto the scene during the Canucks injury plague of 2010-11. He showed himself capable of playing quiet, steady hockey in some high-pressure situations (including Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final) and looked poised to establish himself as staple of the Canucks’ blueline in seasons to come.

After he made the team out of training camp in September, Tanev appeared to be on track. Then, was sent down to the AHL after playing only three games. What gave?

Two things: the return of the injured Aaron Rome put the Canucks over the 23-man roster limit and necessitated a move of some sort. With the team unwilling to sacrifice depth on the waiver wire, Tanev’s waiver exemption made him the ideal candidate to go elsewhere for the time being. The second, which no doubt justified the first, was that, while Tanev had indeed proven himself capable of handling a bottom pairing role, he was clearly capable of more. The Canucks hoped that a little time with the Wolves would afford Tanev some powerplay, penalty-kill, and offensive zone experience.

Wednesday afternoon, Tanev was recalled, much to the delight of Canuck fans.

In a sense, you have to feel for the kid. He doesn’t join the team as a raw prospect looking to prove he can play. That he already did. This time around, Tanev joins the team as a proven prospect expected to be better than he was last time, maybe even capable of a top-four role.

And I’m not talking about the expectations of Canuck fans here — I’m talking about the coaching and management staff. For Tanev, this is a massive tryout.

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Why Shea Weber to Vancouver makes a lot of sense (and no sense whatsoever)

While British Columbia is a hotbed for silly homegrown-star-wants-to-come-home pipe dreams — the foremost of these being the annual “Joe Sakic to finish his career in Vancouver” rumours of yore — it should be noted that sometimes these dreams do come true.

In 2006, fans coveted unrestricted free agent Willie Mitchell of Port McNeill, and he took a little less to play here. Then, when he left town in 2010, the Canucks replaced him in free agency with the equally coveted Dan Hamhuis of Smithers, who also took less.

In short, there’s precedent for the “Shea Weber to Vancouver” murmurs. But there isn’t much reason to them.

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Drance Numbers: Alex Edler deserves the All-Star nod, but Dan Hamhuis deserves the Babe Pratt

When Alex Edler first came into the league, he quickly endeared himself to Canuck fans and management team with his calmness and ability to make smart passes in both zones. His development has accelerated over the past couple of seasons, and while he continues to struggle with his consistency at times, he’s become a top defenceman in the NHL. On Thursday morning, the league noticed, naming Edler to the 2011-12 NHL All-Star roster.

Edler has more tools than Inspector Gadget: at 6’4″, 210, he’s big, and when he has a mind to, he can hit like it; his shot is lethal, whether it’s a quick, accurate wrister or a high-velocity slapper; and his puck control occasionally causes me to drop my jaw, as if my jaw were hot. The 26 year old Swedish defenceman has channeled all these tools into a fabulous first half of the season. Edler is fourth in scoring, both on the Canucks and among all NHL defensemen, on pace to notch 13 goals and pile-up 55 points this season.

He’s emerged as an excellent defenseman and a deserving All-Star, but I’d suggest to you that he’s not the team’s most valuable blueliner. As Harrison Mooney wrote yesterday in his discussion of whether or not Alexander Edler was “the right choice” for the All-Star game, “Dan Hamhuis… has been the steadiest Canucks’ defenceman for well over a year now.” I tend to agree.

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Alex Edler among four Canucks invited to All-Star Game; was he the right choice?

On January 11, 2011, Alex Edler was left off the All-Star ballot, and he took it hard. Edler channeled his secret rage into a major production increase, scoring 7 points in his next 8 games, but the rage, like Tony Stark’s arc reactor, ate away at his body from the inside, and a week later, he had to undergo surgery to repair damage in his back. Tru fakt*.

In any case, there will be no rage-induced hot streak/back explosion this year, as Edler, along with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, has been named to the 2012 All-Star Game. Cody Hodgson’s been invited as a rookie representative as well. That sound you heard is Tony Gallagher loading up the typewriter for a piece criticizing the management of Hodgson’s All-Star weekend icetime.

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Ryan Kesler on Blake Comeau: Canuck hit of the year?

One of the loveliest moments of the Canucks’ performance Sunday night versus the Flames was Ryan Kesler’s thundering open-ice hit on Blake Comeau. Midway through the first period, with the Canucks on a powerplay, the puck came to Comeau at the side boards, and he attempted to clear the zone. Unfortunately, only a split second after the puck arrived, Ryan Kesler did as well. He absolutely flattened Comeau.

Now Before you say “Not sure what Comeau’s so upset about”, keep in mind that, clean as this hit was, Comeau probably still didn’t enjoy it all that much. Canuck fans likely did, however, especially since, with Raffi Torres now in Phoenix, these hits are a little less frequent than they were last year. But don’t be misled: this wasn’t the only one. Hit of the year though it might have been, there are indeed other candidates. Here are five.

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Pass it to Comics: Alex Edler and Sami Salo are a perfect match

Pass it to Comics is a biweekly collaboration between PITB and cartoonist Chloe Ezra. It will run on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the season. Today, Alex Edler with Sami Salo just works.

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Tuesday night, just after the Edmonton Oilers scored three goals in the opening half of the second period, Alain Vigneault abandoned the defense pairings with which he had begun the game in favour of two familiar duos.

Kevin Bieksa, who had started the game alongside Keith Ballard, was returned to last season’s standout pairing with Dan Hamhuis. Alex Edler, who had begun the game with Dan Hamhuis, was reunited with Sami Salo, the blueliner with whom Edler played in the Canucks’ top pairing two seasons ago.

Immediately, the Canuck defense improved. It was a noticeable enough difference to make one wonder why the Canucks hadn’t stuck with these pairings before. The past two seasons have provided ample evidence that each worked, and yet, for whatever reason, the Canucks were averse to sticking with them. Early in the Canucks’ contest with the Blues, even, Edler saw a few shifts with Kevin Bieksa. What are the Canucks up to?

Blame Alex Edler.

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It’s very easy to look at the Canucks’ 2-3-1 start and place a large portion of blame on their goaltender, Roberto Luongo. After all, his 3.70 GAA and .856 SV% places him near the bottom of the league. This is one of those cases, however, where the stats don’t tell the whole story. The defensive breakdowns in front of the Canucks’ goaltenders have been a major contributor to the Canucks’ struggles so far and it’s clear that the coaching staff is thinking the same thing.

The juggling of defence pairings has begun in earnest, as even last season’s stalwart duo of Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa, or HamJuice as they’re affectionately known, have been split up. The reasoning is simple: the Canucks just don’t have enough right side defencemen.

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Last month, when asked if the Canucks would miss Christian Ehrhoff, Henrik Sedin said no, confidently explaining that the team had other guys capable of taking Ehrhoff’s place. Let’s take a look at what the first game of the regular season tells us about who these guys might be, and how they might be utilized to mitigate Ehrhoff’s departure.

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Stathead Thomas Drance takes a look at the Canucks’ goal projections for the 2011-12 season, both as a team and player-by-player. It’s some full frontal nerdity.

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Before having his season cut short by back surgery, Alex Edler was coming into his own as the Canucks’ premier defenseman. After a slow start to the 2010-11 campaign, with only two goals scored in the first three months of the season (both in November), Edler caught fire in January, scoring the final six of his eight goals in nineteen days. But then the back spasms started. And, after playing through the pain for one game, the team agreed surgery was the best option. After an incredible recovery allowed Edler to rejoin the lineup just in time for the playoffs, he never got back to where he was in January.

In truth, it was a lot to ask of Edler that he return to top form — with no setbacks whatsoever — after such a major surgery. But, with a full (albeit somewhat shortened) offseason in which to get his rhythm, there are high hopes for the Iceman next season. At his ceiling, Alex Edler has the potential to be the best skater, passer, shooter, hitter, and overall defender on the Canucks’ backend. Can he get there?

What Vancouver gets from Alex Edler next season may be one of 2012′s greatest mysteries (the other being how the world will end). And while, today, we look back, not forward, one imagines that every goal Alex Edler scored last season might be an indication of what he’s capable of next season.

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Yesterday’s big story was the ongoing saga of Christian Ehrhoff, whose rights have become such a hot topic of conversation that Sean Avery recently appeared in a PSA for their support. That said, Ehrhoff isn’t the only coveted UFA blueliner on the market. While Ehrhoff negotiations (with Vancouver, then New York, then Buffalo) dominated yesterday’s hockey news, the Chicago Blackhawks quietly acquired the last days of rugged defender Steve Montador’s contract with the Sabres for the paltry price of a 7th round pick.

Early today, Greg Wyshynski looked at the reasons the Blackhawks made the move, noting both his physicality (he’s mean) and his right-handedness (he’s not left-handed), both qualities Chicago’s back end lacks. But, truthfully, there’s another reason why it makes sense for the Chicago to go after Montador today, rather than try their luck tomorrow: he’d be a fabulous fit on the Canucks and, if he makes it to the open market, there’s a pretty good chance that’s where he’s headed.

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So we’re five games into the Stanley Cup Final, and Boston has outscored Vancouver 14 to 6. Tim Thomas is the Conn Smythe favourite. The Sedins have two points between them. Ryan Kesler has one assist. The Canucks’ powerplay is 1-for-25. That said, the only number that matters right now is the 3-2 series lead they take back to Boston. Many thought there was no way they could recover after the most unsuccessful trip to Massachusetts since the East India Company’s 1773 delivery of three shiploads of tea, but the Canucks regrouped, refocused, then forced the Bruins into a complete reenactment of game 1. In that game, Vancouver eked out a one-goal victory with a third-period marker from the third line. Sound familiar? I recognized the similarities because I watched that game nine days ago. And then, yesterday, I watched this game.

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a hockey fan that would claim last night’s bizarre series-clinching goal was not the strangest OT-winner they’d ever seen. The goal, scored by Kevin Bieksa when the puck hit a stanchion and squirted out to him at the point, fooled almost everyone, including every play-by-play guy calling the game (except for John Shorthouse). Chief amongst the players fooled was Antti Niemi, who lost sight of the puck, and didn’t find it again until it was bouncing out of his net and Kevin Bieksa was streaking down the ice a hero.

But Game 5 also saw another hero emerge, and his story is only beginning to be told. Here I refer not to Ryan Kesler, who fought through a leg injury of some sort to tie the game up with thirteen seconds to go, but to the Rogers Arena stanchion that orchestrated BOTH the game-tying and game-winning goals.

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Going into the third period of last night’s contest, I began to wonder if these two teams were stuck in some sort of Groundhog Day (or classic X-Files episode “Monday”)-style time loop, fated to repeat game one over and over again, until they got it right. Everything was just a little too familiar: Vancouver’s inability to put distance between themselves and Nashville, Ryan Kesler’s dominance, the one-goal lead heading into the third period. I soon suspected that Barry Trotz’s trap wasn’t a neutral zone trap at all, but rather, a time trap, where time just reset itself after undesirable outcomes. It was terrifying to consider the possibilities of a coach that could manipulate time, but it might explain why Trotz had retained his NHL coaching job for an absurd 11 years– David Poile still thinks this is Nashville’s debut season. Thankfully, however, Ryan “Timecop” Kesler broke through the time trap with a Van Dammean solo dash, preserving both the win and the natural progression of time. Yeah, I watched that movie. I also watched this game.

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The Canucks went into game 2 of their opening round playoff series with the Blackhawks hoping to do something they had failed to do in two previous tries: win the damn game. They succeeded, too, although it was no picnic, perhaps because this isn’t the National Picnic League. Tonight’s Blackhawks had more jump, more grit, and more offense than the Chicago team from two nights ago, but unfortunately, they didn’t get to play the Chicago team from two nights ago. They played the Canucks, who had more jump, more grit, and more offense than tonight’s Blackhawks. I watched this game:

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One of the most impressive elements of the Canucks’ game one victory over the was their physical play. After finishing 20th in the NHL in hits in the regular season, averaging 21.85 hits/game, the Canucks came flying off the bench like they were The Hart Foundation, finishing the night with 47 hits. Alex Edler and Maxim Lapierre played the roles of “The Hitman” and “The Anvil” respectively, leading the way with 15 combined hits, many of the genus holy jumpin’. This was a little surprising: after all, Edler is coming off mid-season back surgery and Maxim Lapierre seemed to lack the advertised aggravation after being traded to Vancouver at the deadline. The Canucks’ generosity with their hits, their physical philanthropy if you will, received an enthusiastic response from the Rogers Arena crowd and no response from the Chicago Blackhawks, much to Joel Quenneville’s chagrin. But is this the start of a larger trend or just a one-game anomaly?

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Canucks news comes fast and furious, and sometimes we find ourselves playing catchup. Thankfully, the Dreaded Two Goal Lead–often called “the worst lead in hockey”–is super easy to come back from. Everybody knows it’s a guaranteed death sentence for those that hold it. Well, much like an ice hockey team coming from two goals down, [...]

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I had intended to write this article prior to hearing that Edler was out one game and then indefinitely. Now, it almost seems in poor taste to write it, as the consensus seems to be wailing and gnashing of teeth now that Edler is gone for the foreseeable future. However, I noticed that Puck Daddy [...]

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