One of the New Jersey Devils’ biggest off-season priorities is improving their blue line. With an aging Andy Greene whose best days are behind him, Ben Lovejoy traded to the Dallas Stars and one year left on Sami Vatanen’s contract, general manager Ray Shero needs to take a good look at the available defensemen this summer.
Should the Devils elect to use free agency to re-tool their defense, one potential target is 33-year-old defenseman, Alexander Edler.
The Case For Signing Edler
The Devils have been dreadful in producing offense from their blue line over the past few seasons outside of Will Butcher and Damon Severson. In an injury-shortened season in 2018-19, Edler managed to put up 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) in 56 games. If he played a full season, the veteran defenseman might have come close to matching, or surpassing, his career high 42 points from the 2009-10 season.
Despite just playing two-thirds of the season, Edler’s 34 points would have put him second in defensive scoring on the Devils last season, behind Severson (39) and his 10 goals would have been second in goals by a defenseman behind Severson (11).
Edler also finished the 2018-19 season with an 8.7 goal above replacement (GAR) and 1.5 wins above replacement (WAR), which is by far the best mark of any Devils defenseman outside of Butcher (9.8 GAR, 1.7 WAR). Even at age 33, Edler can still produce as a top-four defenseman when healthy.
Bringing in a guy like Edler won’t necessarily break the bank either. According to Evolving Wild, the veteran defenseman is projected to earn a three-year deal with an average annual value of about $5,850,908. With over $35.6 million in available cap space to work with, Shero has enough money to bring in Edler and still have money to address other roster needs.
Also, off the score sheet and away from the metrics, Edler can assist Devils captain Andy Greene in mentoring some of the young Devils defensemen such as Ty Smith and Jeremy Davies, and help take some of the pressure off them as they ease their way into a full-time NHL role. Outside of Greene and Vatanen, no other Devils defenseman has over six games of playoff experience under their belt.
The Case Against the Devils Signing Edler
There are a couple red flags when it comes to Edler.
For starters, he might be looking for job security through the end of his career and could be looking for a deal in the four-to-five year range with a full no-movement clause to protect him from trades and/or the looming 2021 expansion draft for Seattle. If so, it might not be in the Devils’ best interest to pursue the blueliner.
Second, Edler isn’t exactly an ironman, as he’s dealt with numerous injuries throughout his career. Not including the 2012-13 lockout season and his rookie year in 2006-07, Edler has dressed in 70 games or more in just six of his eleven full NHL seasons. You can’t predict injuries, but when dishing out a decent amount of money and term, injury history always comes into the picture.
Lastly, despite being an offensive threat, possessing great playmaking ability and logging on average over 24 minutes a game, Edler isn’t a shutdown defender by any means. Over the course of his 13-year career, the he has a dreadful minus-41 rating. The Devils already have a fair share of offensive defensemen with poor career plus/minus ratings, and adding another one might not be in the club’s best interest.
All in all, Edler is an interesting free agent that the Devils should keep their eye on. If the price is right and the term is fair, Shero should at least explore the option of bringing the veteran defenseman into the fold.