The Montreal Canadiens have agreed to a deal with Washington Capitals free agent defenseman Karl Alzner. According to Aaron Ward of TSN, it’s a five-year deal, and colleague Darren Dreger has it at just over $23 million total.
Alzner, 28, made $2.8 million against the cap on his last four-year deal with the Capitals.
So what are the Canadiens getting with Alzner?
A workhorse, for one. Alzner hasn’t missed a regular season game in the last seven seasons, playing between 19 and 21 minutes per night. He’s cracked 20 points only twice in his career, earning a reputations as a stalwart defensive defenseman while playing with more offensively minded players like John Carlson.
But they’re getting a player whose game has really fallen off in the last two seasons, where he’s been a negative possession player in each. Last season, on a good possession team, Alzner had a Corsi percentage of 47.2. He’s a minus-148 in shot attempts over the last two seasons, the worst on the Capitals by a country mile in that span.
What created such a drop-off this season? Alzner said off-season hernia surgery contributed to it. From the Washington Post:
“It’s kind of been standing still at a certain percent,” Alzner said. “There are days when I’m stiffer than other days and I can’t quite move as good, and so I have to manage the game a little differently. … I’ve never been the fastest skater, but I’ve always been a good enough skater where I can a lot of times skate myself out of trouble or catch up, if need be, and this year, I’ve been a little bit slower.
“Part of it, I’m sure, is mental just because you want to guard it a little bit. Of all years, this would be a year where I wouldn’t want that to happen because the team is good and I want to be able to help as much as I can. But at the same time, it’s hard to get over that mental hurdle.”
Frankly, a player struggling like this after sports hernia surgery should scare the bejeepers out of teams, but there is also a conventional wisdom in the NHL that it just takes more than a season to recover from them.
If the number is $4.6 million, that’ll likely make Alzner the third-highest paid defenseman on the Canadiens next season, barring what happens with Andrei Markov.
So is this a good move for the Canadiens?
It’s amazing what about $400,000 can do.
At $5 million over five years, this probably gets thumbs-down immediately. At $4.6 million – that’s Jason Demers and Anton Stralman territory – it gives you pause. Yes, the stats were atrocious last season. Yes, this a wager from GM Marc Bergevin that Alzner needed a season to work through his surgery recovery.
But if the question is whether you want Alexei Emelin at $4.1 million and 31 years old or Karl Alzner at around $4.6 million and 28 years old, you take the latter option every single time, because he’s a better player. And it’s not necessarily a contract you’re saddled with if things don’t work out in, say, three seasons.
Smart move for both the player and the team here.
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