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Free agent Karl Alzner set to get 'first taste' of the NHL's business side

Free agent Karl Alzner set to get 'first taste' of the NHL's business side

Some players look at free agency as an exciting opportunity. Others view it as a nerve-racking proposition fraught with uncertainty.

Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner definitely considers himself among the latter group.

“At the end of every season, even when I was up for another contract, I always felt really comfortable,” the 28-year-old said recently. “Some people look at free agency and go, ‘Yeah, this is really awesome. I get to go see what I can get.’”

“For other people,” he continued, “it’s unknown, and they don’t like unknown. I’m curious [to see] how it’s all going to happen. But I don’t like the feeling of not having something.”

The Capitals are all Alzner has known as a professional hockey player. He was drafted fifth overall by the team in 2007, came up through Washington's minor league system and has been a rock on the Caps' blue line for the past eight seasons.

Now he’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time.   

“It’s my first real taste of what the [business side of] the NHL is like,” said Alzner, who, following the expiration of his entry level deal in 2011, re-upped twice, both times as a restricted free agent.

Just like Washington's far-too-early playoff exit, the possibility of switching teams hasn’t really sunk in yet.    

“We consider this home,” he said.

The ‘we’ is himself, his wife Mandy and children Stella and Anson.

“Whenever we say we’re going home or we’re filling out any paperwork, this is home,” he said, referring to Arlington, Va. “We feel so comfortable here. We spent the entire summer here last year. We could spend another summer here. We’ve met a lot of great people and we love it here. This is one of a handful of places around the league where if you spend your whole career here, you could easily stay here. And that, without a doubt, crossed our mind when we bought our house here and had kids. But a lot of it’s not really in my hands. I guess it kind of is in my hands, but they make the decisions upstairs.”

The durable, steady top-4 D-man also made this much clear: he doesn't want the negotiation to be all about money, at least from his end. He earned $2.8 million in each of the last three seasons.

“There’s definitely curiosity, but for me there’s lots of things that are more important than dollars in my life,” he said. “So the most interesting thing will be to see how talks go with the team here first.”

On the ice, this was a challenging year for Alzner, who had offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia and partially torn groin muscle. The recovery turned out to be trickier than expected for a player who, by his own admission, wasn’t a speed demon on skates to begin with. Still, he suited up for all 82 games—again—while matching up against top competition and playing 19:47 per game on average.

In the playoffs, Alzner encountered another injury. He suffered a broken right hand while blocking a shot in Game 1 vs. Toronto. He played hurt in Game 2 but ended up missing the next six contests.

“Just a harmless shot block,” he lamented. “Probably an unnecessary shot block.”

As for the decision makers upstairs—GM Brian MacLellan and Co.—they’ve got to sort through a lot, including Alzner's future, as they contemplate a pathway forward for a team that dominated the regular season but, once again, failed to get out of the second round of the playoffs.

There are five unrestricted free agents on the current roster. There are also six restricted free agents that need new deals. And, of course, there’s a finite amount of space under a salary cap that’s expected to remain relatively flat. 

Then there’s THE question facing Caps management: is it time for massive changes to the core, of which Alzner has been a part since 2010?

“I don’t know how I’ll fit into the makeup here if things get blown up,” he said. “But, you know, we’ll find out. …It’s definitely possible. You can only get to the second round so many times before you have to think that something needs to be changed. But I’m not an architect of a team. I don’t know how you do that exactly. I thought we were winning this year…but we still didn’t. So you have to go back to the drawing board, I think.”

Alzner didn’t know what the future held as he walked out of Kettler Capitals Iceplex last week following another breakdown day that arrived sooner than anyone had envisioned. But he was certain of this much: another golden opportunity had been allowed to slip.

“It’s definitely the weirdest feeling I’ve ever had because this was the most realistic chance of winning that we’ve had,” he said. “This is a pretty good window that we had here and, unfortunately, it’s not there anymore.”

MORE CAPITALS: How can the Caps balance pressure with joy?

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Game 25: Capitals at Maple Leafs Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 25: Capitals at Maple Leafs Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Maple Leafs will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington Plus (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Maple Leafs game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

You can also stream the game online with no cable TV subscription on fuboTV (try for free!).

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-MAPLE LEAFS GAME?

The Capitals (13-10-1) take on the Maple Leafs (15-8-1) Saturday, November 25 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Toronto.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-MAPLE LEAFS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Maple Leafs game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington Plus. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Capitals GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington Plus following the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals at Maple Leafs
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-MAPLE LEAFS GAME?

The Capitals-Maple Leafs game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

The game is also available to stream, along with all the pregame and postgame shows, on fuboTV (try for free).

CAPITALS-MAPLE LEAFS PROJECTED LINES

Here are the Caps' projected lines for the Caps-Maple Leafs game:

Offensive lines
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Defensive pairs
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - John Carlson
Taylor Chorney - Madison Bowey

Goalies
Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches
Nathan Walker, Tyler Graovac, Aaron Ness, Christian Djoos (IR), Andre Burakovsky (LTIR)

CAPITALS-MAPLE LEAFS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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Philipp Grubauer earns his long-awaited first win of the season after another strong performance

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Philipp Grubauer earns his long-awaited first win of the season after another strong performance

Less than 90 seconds in, Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning very much had a feeling of déjà vu.

With Phillipp Grubauer getting the start against the best team in the league, the Caps took a penalty just 44 seconds into the game. Grubauer failed to freeze the puck on two different opportunities allowing the Lightning to keep the puck in play and score the early goal to go up 1-0.

“I thought early, they score a minute basically into the game and you're like, OK here we go,” Barry Trotz said.

“I was laughing, here I go again,” Grubauer said.

RELATED: 3 REASONS WHY THE CAPS BEAT THE LIGHTNING

Wins have been hard to come by for Grubauer this season. Coming into Fridays’ game, he had none. An early goal against a team as good as the Lightning could have been a backbreaker.

But not this time.

Alex Ovechkin tied the game at 1 in the first period and that’s when Grubauer took over.

“When it was 1-1, I thought Gruby made some real key saves for us,” Trotz said.

 

He added, “They were getting people to the net and they were dangerous all around. He made some real huge saves for us and we got him more than a goal.”

For the first time since Grubauer’s first start this season back on Oct. 9, the Caps gave Grubauer a lead to protect in the second period courtesy of Devante Smith-Pelly. That not only gave Grubauer confidence, it also allowed his teammates to focus more on playing well in front of him rather than taking chances in the offensive zone in search of a goal.

Bottling up a team as explosive and talented as the Lightning is not easy, but Grubauer was up to the task.

Friday’s 3-1 win was Grubauer’s first of the season. His record now sits at 1-5-1, a record his teammates know is not reflective of how well he has played for them.​

MORE CAPITALS: TARIK'S 3 STARS OF CAPS-LIGHTNING

“I know the guys are thrilled to get a win for Gruby because they know he shows up as a pro every game,” Trotz said.

That was evident after the game as Grubauer's teammates were effusive in their praise for the German netminder.

“Not an easy position to be a backup goalie and he's kept a good attitude throughout this even though we haven't played well in front of him,” Matt Niskanen said.

 

It was hard to figure out afterward just who this game meant more to, whether it was Grubauer whose family is in town for his birthday Saturday and who was in attendance Friday, or his teammates.

“My parents were here so I'm really, really proud to give them a good game and get the win for the boys,” Grubauer said.

Said Niskanen, “Everyone's smiles were a little bit bigger today for him. He played really well. He earned it.”