The public-address announcer at Rogers Arena was in the middle of informing spectators of a Vancouver Canucks power play in the third period Wednesday, when the puck quickly slid over to defenceman Alex Edler after a faceoff.
Before the announcer had finished his words, Edler catapulted a one-timer from the blueline to the back of the net. The power play was over five seconds after it began.
The goal put the Canucks up 2-0 against the Nashville Predators, a mostly meaningless game the home team would win, and it was relief for Edler, the marker only his sixth of the year, ending a goalless run of a dozen games.
The rarity of an Edler goal this season highlights how wrong things have gone for the defenceman who will turn 28 in a month. Several years ago, the Canucks imagined Edler, 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, would reach the top ranks of defencemen in the NHL.
The promise has never become reality. While he played for Sweden at the 2014 Winter Olympics, this NHL season has been the most difficult of his career, punctured by injury and suspension, defined by a lack of offence and struggles on defence, and spiked by bad luck.
The Canucks played their best hockey this season last December, when Edler was hurt – and some chatter around the Canucks was about how the team would have been better off trading him last summer before a new contract and no-trade clause kicked in.
On the crude measure of goals for and against (plus-minus) Edler ranks among the worst in the NHL, at minus-29. In the more than 1,200 minutes he has been on the ice this season, the Canucks have been outscored nearly two to one (61 against, 34 for) – a major reversal of seasons past.
And yet this is happening while the Canucks outshoot opponents. When Edler is skating, the Canucks account for 54 per cent of all shot attempts, a healthy figure.
Even Edler is jarred to hear the numbers.
“That’s the stat?” he said in an interview, surprise in his voice.
(Edler is well aware of where he’s at in goals against, the red blaring light on an almost nightly basis reminds everyone.)
There is at least some bad luck involved, given the Canucks and Edler have a terrible shooting percentage of just 5.2 per cent when Edler is on the ice. Such a figure is unusually low and is a big reason the Canucks are badly outscored when Edler is playing.
However, history suggests it will spring back, that Edler isn’t doomed. Sportsnet analyst Tyler Dellow on Thursday noted in a statistic assessment that defencemen who have been in a similar situation as Edler had their team’s scoring percentage jump to around 8 per cent the year after such a season in the wilderness.
Edler tries to ease the stress, compounded by an entire team struggling, by detaching from it away from work.
“When you’re not here, I think it’s good to just try to forget it,” Edler said. “Think about other things, do other things, and not think so much about hockey. It’s not always easy but that’s what I try to do. And then when you come here you make sure you do everything you can.”
Edler’s rise is one of the most unusual stories in the game. At 17, in his small and remote hometown in Sweden, he played on the local men’s team in the third division of the country’s hockey system. He was discovered by scouts, and four years later, played his first full NHL season in Vancouver.
Long-time teammate and Canucks captain Henrik Sedin cited one theme that various people on the Canucks have pushed: that because Edler “really cares,” he thus has difficulty shaking off poor play. Sedin also cited bad luck.
“When you see him out there, it’s not like you watch him and say, ‘Well, that guy is a terrible defenceman,’” Sedin said. “It’s one of those years where he ends up on the wrong side of a lot of things.
“That’s the way things go. His play doesn’t show up in the plus-minus this year. He’s played a lot better than that.”
A hole for the whole team is the power play, ranked near the bottom of the league all season long. In 2011-12, the last time the Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy, Elder had a career-best 49 points – nearly half (22) were on the power play. This season, he has 10 power-play points in his total of 19.
For Edler, the power play is where the solution to a lot of problems begin. And Wednesday in Vancouver, for one night, it went in the right direction.
“It doesn’t have to be difficult,” Edler said after his goal. “It’s probably better when it’s just simple.”