THE SECOND, Calif. – Alexander Edler does not consider himself a superstitious person. But in the days leading up to Saturday morning’s game between the Kings and Philadelphia Flyers, the modest Swede wasn’t particularly interested in having a group discussion about the meaning.
Playing in 1,000 NHL games is a big deal. But Edler has learned never to take any day for granted, and so he’s gotten used to not giving the milestone much thought until he’s finished another day of service, as he has for 17 seasons.
“I prefer to play it and then talk about it,” he said. “But I understand it. Everything is alright.”
The reasoning for the reluctance is that injuries can happen at any time, and he has had his share. “I could get hurt in warm-ups,” Edler said, referring to when a puck hit him in the face as he prepared to play Detroit in October. “I’m just trying to take one game at a time.”
But he understands why there would be interest in how he sees himself achieving a status that 375 others in league history have attained. The Kings blueliner will also be the 122nd defenseman to play in 1,000 games. He cuts back further and will be the sixth Swedish defender to get there, joining Nicklas Lidström, Börje Salming, Calle Johansson, Ulf Samuelsson and Fredrik Olausson.
It is not easy to get there. And when you were a top pair back line, as Edler was for many prime seasons in Vancouver, you’re a target who must routinely move pucks under pressure but execute a power play to succeed, try to kill plays on your own end either on full force or understaff and be a physical presence when needed.
“It’s very difficult because there are a lot of nights where you can’t hide,” said Kevin Bieksa, his Canucks teammate of nine seasons. “Especially 10 years ago, when all the third and fourth line guys were finishing their checks on you. That’s all the coaches preached to the forwards: finish your checks. Especially in the defenses that were playing a lot of minutes. That’s Alex’s entire career. Playing a lot of minutes. All teams are told to finish reviewing it. So, you’re taking a lot of abuse. You are wearing yourself out a lot. You’re blocking a lot of shots if you’re an all-around defender like Alex is.
“He’s broken his feet before blocking shots like all of us. He has had shoulder injuries. He has had back surgeries. You have to be durable. But you also have to have mental toughness and perseverance to not let a couple of injuries derail you. Because rehab and recovery are so tedious and monotonous and when you go through it for the fifth or sixth or seventh time, there comes a point where you just say, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. ‘Alex is over all of that.”
Edler has only been with Los Angeles for two seasons. The 36-year-old is no longer the player he once was, playing fewer minutes, mostly in the Kings’ third pair, and not the kind of offensive threat that made him a highly effective two-way defender for those 15. years with the Canucks.
The Kings have seen him as valuable as anyone in their room since the moment they signed in the summer of 2021. “He’s huge,” says coach Todd McLellan of the veteran’s influence.
“If you look at his coming into the league as an elevation to play a certain role and where he is now, he had to reinvent himself on the ice,” McLellan continued. “Off the ice, he’s been the same person for 1,000 games and many years. He cares about people. He cares about the team. He is professional as they come.
“He reminds me a lot of Nick Lidstrom when we had him in Detroit. He gives everything he has but has accepted a role. It’s not about Alex Edler ever. And we couldn’t ask for a better example of a human being, a hockey player, and a person committed to an organization than we have in Alex Edler. By the time he walks in the room, he’s professional. All the way through.”
The way McLellan sees it, there’s a long list of Reyes who can absorb everything he described about Edler. That list starts with the organization’s young advocates. Tobias Bjornfot. Jordan Spence. Jacob Moverare. Sean Durzi, who is in his second season, is doing just that.
“It’s unbelievable,” Durzi said. “From my point in the NHL and meeting all these older guys and veterans and whatnot, he’s at the top of the guy list for me. Team first. true professional. There isn’t much else I can say about him as a leader in what he does on and off the ice.
“You know, he’s a good guy to be around. He is kind. He’s a fun guy in the room. He’ll give it to you when he thinks he’s funny and he’ll have your back too. There aren’t enough good things I can say about him. He probably meant more to my career than he knows. A thousand are many games. I’m happy for him.”
The first 925 of those games were with Vancouver, making him a third-round pick in 2004 and the 91st player overall. A product of the Jämtlands and MODO programs, Edler made his first transition to hockey in North America when he played one season in the Western Hockey League with the Kelowna Rockets.
Bieksa remembers “this tall, lanky Swedish defenseman” making his breakthrough pass and not realizing what kind of target he had become to control NHL forwards.
“I would just look at the record and guys like Chris Neil and Jordin Tootoo would blow it up,” Bieksa said. “And then he learned quickly through some self-learning and then guidance and mentoring from Mattias Öhlund. He learned to throw that reverse punch at guys when they were coming to hit him.”
Now Bieksa estimates he’s seen Edler deliver that kind of punch thousands of times, using his 6-foot-4 frame to create just enough separation to consistently make plays under pressure.
“I saw him play the other night in Los Angeles when they played Calgary,” Bieksa said. “And it was the same. There was a guy coming into front control, it was (Adam) Ruzicka. He’s going to hit Edler. Edler moves the puck and the timing is amazing. He explodes on Ruzicka and puts it on his butt. I’ve seen it thousands of times over the years and it’s one of its staples.”
Last season, Edler made his return to Vancouver and the Canucks faithful recognized his contributions with a standing ovation, highlighting his legacy as the greatest blueliner in franchise history. The moment may be a year old now, but it still tugs at his heart. The cosmopolitan city is his adoptive home. It’s where he met his wife, Amanda, and where they raised his daughters, Emme-Rose and River.
“It was definitely special,” Edler said. “Being there for so long and being welcomed and everything. I have been playing with so many great players. He had so many good coaches, staff, trainers, everything. The entire organization. All. They have been very good to me. … There are many special moments from those years up there.”
Once he started talking about his days in Vancouver, Edler thought about the teammates he learned from and fought for so long. When he first entered the league, it was Markus Naslund and Trevor Linden. And then he was the core that he became a part of. Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Ryan Kesler and Dan Hamhuis. Bieksa. Alex Burrows.
Edler was particularly attracted to Öhlund when he made his debut in 2006-07. Öhlund was a left-shooting defender who played in all situations for the Canucks and made an impact on both ends of the ice. Edler could easily identify with him.
“I think he took me under his wing right away,” Edler said. “He was great to me because he was a guy I looked up to before I met him. Watching him. He always wanted to be the type of player that he was. The way he played his game. How hard he played he. How he never complained. He was so consistent every game. And, you know, meeting him, how he was off the ice as well.
“I think it was perfect for me. That’s how I wanted to be, both as a player and as a person.”
Ultimately, Edler passed Öhlund on Vancouver’s all-time list for scoring between defensemen. He has more goals (99), assists (310) and points (409) in franchise history than any other linebacker and still sees Öhlund as the standard. “If I’m ever compared to Mattias Öhlund, it’s certainly an honor for me,” he said.
Öhlund would move to Tampa Bay and helped shepherd a young Victor Hedman before a knee injury ended his career prematurely. For Bieksa, Edler has that same calm leadership that resonates beyond words.
“The best mentors and the best leaders are the ones who don’t even know they’re doing it,” Bieksa said. “Just because they have such good habits and do everything so well, you just want to follow them and be like them. And Alex is like that now for (Adrian) Kempe and some of the young defenders. Mikey Anderson. Sean Walker. I’ve talked to him and he says great things about Alex. Because he just does things the right way. He doesn’t complain and works hard.
“He’s a natural leader for all these young guys coming into the league.”
“Above all, I try to lead by example,” Edler said, thinking of the impact he has left on others. “Just everything I learned from the elders when I was young. I think it’s great. You can learn a lot just by watching what they are doing on and off the ice. That’s how I learned a lot, I think. I try to do the same. Any of the youngsters have a question or something, I’m always open to try and help them.”
Durzi is not shy and eagerly asks for any advice Edler can offer. He handles power play duty, which Edler used to have in his Canucks days, and wants the veteran to step in if he sees something the opposition is doing tactically that he can adapt to or even exploit. “Because he’s done it and he’s a guy I trust to listen to,” Durzi said. “I’ll go there next shift and trust what he saw, and he’ll be there. It’s nice to have him breaking it down.”
The Canucks plan to put Edler on their Ring of Honor when his playing days are done. Bieksa, who officially retired in October and was honored by the team at a ceremony in November, knows Edler won’t like being in the spotlight. Every time that night happens, the love sent to him will be guaranteed. “He definitely deserves it for sure,” Bieksa said.
But while he may remember the days when Edler would sit quietly in the locker room and drink coffee while exchanging comments with his teammates, Bieksa wants the low-key defender to keep playing for as long as he can. He’s been a value player for the Kings and has stayed relevant by adjusting his preparation and taking more morning skates on game day to warm up a body that’s “getting a little old and beat up.”
His current club wants to give back some of what he has given them by making their historic game memorable: by winning.
“Well, I sure hope (today) that our guys play,” McLellan said. “Because Eddy gives the game so much more than he takes away. And our group owes him a night. The coaching staff owes him a good night. The players owe him a good night. It’s our job to give him that night. He will give us the best, so we better give him ours.”
(Alex Edler Photo: Ron Chenoy/USA Today)