Iain MacIntyre: Edler looks to put dreadful 2013-14 Canucks season behind him

 

On the rebound: Canucks hope for a return to form

 
 
 
 
‘Alex (Edler) is playing his best when he’s playing with confidence, playing aggressive and not worried about making mistakes,’ says teammate Kevin Bieksa.
 
 

‘Alex (Edler) is playing his best when he’s playing with confidence, playing aggressive and not worried about making mistakes,’ says teammate Kevin Bieksa.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, NHLI via Getty Images

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It is easy to blame John Tortorella for Alex Edler, just as it is easy to blame the former Vancouver Canucks coach for most things: The 83-point season, 29th-ranked offence, the disintegration of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the disintegration of the Mount Polley dam, bike lanes, Vlady Putin and the weather.

We get it — survivors write the history after regime change in the National Hockey League.

Was Tortorella a good fit for Edler? Like global warming was a good fit for Greenland.

As even Tortorella acknowledged last season: “Tough love doesn’t work with Eddie.”

Alas, that revelation came too late to help either coach or player.

But before the defenceman cratered under Terrible Torts and finished minus 39 with just 22 points from 63 games, previous head coach Alain Vigneault and defence-assistant Rick Bowness struggled for years to coax dominance and consistency from Edler, whose early success in the NHL led to projections of greatness that were almost impossible to meet.

Even now, eight years into Edler’s professional career, people still mention “potential” when they talk about him.

The man is 28 years old. He has a new baby and a new house. He is unlikely, after 494 NHL games, to suddenly become a superstar.

He is not going to be a 60-point, 28-minute-a-night, physically dominant defenceman who is on everyone’s Norris Trophy ballot.

Edler can still become a better player. Goodness knows, he has to be better than last season. Minus 39 is grotesque unless you play golf or live in the Arctic. But Edler’s greatest failing in the NHL is his inability to achieve the stardom predicted for him when he logged 21:20 a night as a 21-year-old in his first full season.

“So much of the game is mental,” Canucks assistant coach Doug Lidster said after Wednesday’s practice. “That’s the difference-maker, the mental side of the game. So he has to find a way to rediscover his game. That happens to a lot of athletes. That’s his biggest challenge, and it’s not insignificant. That’s a tough thing to do — to rediscover that confidence.

“To be honest, there’s probably a couple of players on our team where their confidence has been shaken a bit.”

For Lidster, the former Canucks defenceman hired by new head coach Willie Desjardins to oversee the Vancouver blue line, one of his most important projects this season will be the restoration of Edler.

Or, at least, Edler’s confidence.

The defenceman’s 22 points matched his total from the lockout-shortened season the previous year.

Two years ago, Edler had a career-high 49 points and led the Canucks with 23:51 of average time on ice, although his even plus/minus was still poor relative to teammates’.

Was he hurt by playing for the relentless, one-size-fits-all Tortorella?

“I don’t know,” Edler said. “I definitely want to say no, but maybe a little bit. But I think you should be able to handle that as a player. I would definitely not (blame Tortorella). There was a lot of stuff going on last year and I can’t put my finger on one thing why the team was not successful and why I didn’t have my best year.

“I think my first years (in the NHL) were just going up, up, up. But sooner or later, you have a period where you face some tougher times. And last season was definitely a time like that. But those things will teach you, too; you learn from going through tough times, both as a team and as a player.”

The Canucks’ new president of hockey operations, Trevor Linden, mentored Edler as a teammate in 2007 and 2008. Linden believes fervently in the defenceman.

“He is as committed as anybody,” Linden said, “He cares deeply about the way he plays and I think sometimes that can get in his way a little bit. The best Alex Edler we’ve seen is the one who plays with a little abandon and isn’t worried about making a mistake. We need to get him back to that place.

“Maybe sometimes he can overthink things a little bit and not rely on his instincts, which is probably his greatest strength.”

Since training camp began, Edler has been Desjardins’ top choice for the point on the power play, a privilege rescinded under Tortorella.

That should jump-start Edler’s confidence, as should playing with the reliable Chris Tanev on what amounts to the Canucks’ second defence pairing. With Tanev, Edler will be able to freely join the attack or stray on occasion to deliver an aggressive hit.

And you can bet when Edler makes a big mistake, no one is going to scream at him when he returns to the bench. The Canucks need Edler.

But they don’t need 28 minutes from him, just 22 or 23 consistent minutes, a little more offence and a lot fewer goals-against when he is on the ice.

“I don’t want to talk too much about last year or compare things to last year,” defenceman Kevin Bieksa said, “but … Alex is playing his best when he’s playing with confidence, playing aggressive and not worried about making mistakes. I trust his hockey instincts, and when he trusts his hockey instincts, that’s when he’s playing his best.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think it matters to him what people want him to be. He wants to play good for himself and teammates. He could be very, very good. He is very, very good, but it’s up to him.”

• • •

The Canucks skate at Rogers Arena this morning before flying to Edmonton for tonight’s pre-season game against the Oilers … Eddie Lack is expected to start in goal … The top line of Daniel and Henrik Sedin with Radim Vrbata will stay home and rest up for the Canucks’ pre-season finale Saturday, also against the Oilers.

imacintyre@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/imacvansun

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‘Alex (Edler) is playing his best when he’s playing with confidence, playing aggressive and not worried about making mistakes,’ says teammate Kevin Bieksa.
 

‘Alex (Edler) is playing his best when he’s playing with confidence, playing aggressive and not worried about making mistakes,’ says teammate Kevin Bieksa.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, NHLI via Getty Images

 
‘Alex (Edler) is playing his best when he’s playing with confidence, playing aggressive and not worried about making mistakes,’ says teammate Kevin Bieksa.
Alex Edler practises with the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on Friday, May 27, 2011.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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