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Canucks GM is betting on revival of Alex Edler

Vancouver Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler (R) tries to shoot the puck past Dallas Stars right wing Radek Dvorak during overtime in their NHL hockey game in Dallas, Texas February 26, 2012.

MIKE STONE/REUTERS

Jim Benning remembers looking down at sheets of statistics during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, Benning an assistant general manager for the Boston Bruins, up against the favoured Vancouver Canucks. The impact of a 25-year-old Swedish defenceman, Alex Edler, was obvious, a physical force up and down the ice.

Game 1, a Canucks win, Edler with seven shots, two hits, two takeaways, and five blocked shots.

Game 5, the third, and last, win for the Canucks, Edler booking a bang-up 10 hits, and two blocked shots.

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Game 6, when Boston wrested the series back, Edler still potent: three shots, four blocked shots, six hits.

It was such performances, especially in the crucible of hockey in June, that had people thinking the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Edler was poised to become a Norris Trophy candidate.

It never happened and by last year, Edler's game was a mess, no confidence, hurt by injury and suspension, and badly compounded by rotten luck.

Expect a revival. Potentially a big one.

It began on the ice in Whistler, B.C., on Friday morning at the Meadow Park Sports Centre, where new coach Willie Desjardins had Edler, a left-hand shot and offensive-minded defenceman, paired with his seemingly obvious partner, the right-handed defensive force with a powerful outlet pass, Chris Tanev.

The two saw little ice time together last year. Edler instead spent most of his time with Kevin Bieksa and Jason Garrison. The Edler-Tanev pairing looks and feels ideal, full of potential, with Dan Hamhuis and Bieksa partnered as the shutdown pair.

Benning's betting on an Edler renaissance.

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"He was a dominant physical player," Benning said of the 2011 Cup final. "He'll get back to where he is a dominant player."

Edler and Tanev, a 24-year-old from Toronto, are similar guys, quiet, get the job done. In their little time together last season, communication was smooth, their style and tenor simpatico. Neither would shout or grind at the other. Miscues were talked on the bench out civilly. "We go together very well together," Tanev said on Friday morning.

Mike Sullivan, the assistant coach last year who was fired along with John Tortorella, was less quiet. He would berate Edler, chewing over the many times things went wrong. Shouting didn't work.

What worsened the situation was awful luck – and this is the fount of the revival. When Edler was on the ice at even-strength, the Canucks scored an abysmal 3.5 goals per 100 shots, a shooting percentage of 3.54.

This put Edler dead last games in on-ice shooting percentage out of 174 defencemen who played at least 50 games in 2013-14. Edler was an incredible full percentage point below the next worst showing, John Scott of Buffalo.

These numbers illustrate what hockey people mean when they talk about bounces, and Edler's bounces are surely set to improve, at least somewhat, if not a lot. Defencemen at the bottom of the list in on-ice shooting percentage in the truncated 2013 season saw their numbers surge in 2013-14. Edler can expect the same.

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In 2013-14, the median figure was 8 per cent, which means average luck would have seen eight goals per 100 shots for Edler at even-strength, not 3.5.

One example of a rebound: Defenceman Brendan Smith of Detroit was near last in 2013 with an on-ice shooting percentage of 4.43 per cent. His figure nearly doubled to 8.55 per cent in 2013-14.

"I know I'm a good player, and I know we have a good team," Edler said on Wednesday. On Thursday, the 28-year-old Swede said: "I've just got to believe in myself."

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About the Author
National correspondent, Vancouver bureau

David Ebner is a national correspondent based in Vancouver. He joined The Globe and Mail in 2000 and worked in Toronto and Calgary before moving to Vancouver in 2008. He has reported on a wide range of stories – business, politics, arts, crime – and has covered sports since 2012. More

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