Another playoff disappointment—as well as a host of expiring player contracts—has left the Capitals with a ton of questions to answer this offseason. Over the next month, Jill Sorenson, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir will take a close look at the 20 biggest issues facing the team as the business of hockey kicks into high gear.
Karl Alzner has been a rock on the Capitals’ blue line since 2010, appearing in a franchise record 540 consecutive regular season games. He’s been a good player and a good soldier, often suiting up despite injuries that might have sidelined someone else because, well, he knew his steady presence on the blue line was needed that night. And now, after everything he’s been through in Washington, the Caps’ fifth overall pick in 2007 is set to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time. And although he recently said that he’d like to stay, he also acknowledged that he’s not sure what outcome to expect. Which brings us to today’s debate: Is there a deal to be had? Or do both sides need a fresh start?
Today’s question: Should the Caps re-sign Karl Alzner?
Sorenson: I think this question really depends on money. I would absolutely want to sign him to return to Washington. The problem is, how high are the Capitals willing to go, and how low is Karl Alzner willing to go? If there is a way to make re-signing Alzner work within the confines of building around a core, then the Caps should make this a priority. I believe Alzner will get more than a few offers with some good money, and the potential of being a part of a shutdown top pair. As evidenced by his Ironman streak, his overall attitude, his winning of the media’s “Good Guy Dave Fay” award last year, and his stability on defense, Alzner is a no-brainer for any roster. He is open to growing his game and we saw some increased offensive output from him, especially two years ago, and I believe he has not reached his ceiling in that regard. I don’t think the question is whether or not the Caps should sign Alzner- I believe they should. I believe the question is, whether or not Alzner would be willing to take less money to stay for the possibility of winning a Cup with the Caps.
El-Bashir: Like most tough business decisions, it’s important to separate what the heart wants and what the head knows is necessary. The heart wants Alzner to finish his career as a Capital. The head knows that No. 27 will be able to get more money and term on the open market. Let’s look at the pros and cons of what figures to be another difficult decision for GM Brian MacLellan and Co. First, the pros: Alzner is a pro’s pro. He logged top-4 minutes on the NHL’s stingiest team this season, anchored the league’s seventh best penalty kill and blocked more shots than any other Cap. Now, the cons: Alzner acknowledged that he’s still working his way back to full health from the groin and sport hernia injuries that plagued him at the end of the 2015-16 season. The negative effects of that protracted recovery were, at times, evident in his play this year. That, to me, is a bigger red flag than the subpar analytics. You’ve also got to consider fit vs. cost. If the top-four next season is, as some expect, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson and Nate Schmidt, where does Alzner factor into that equation? That fit becomes even harder to find when you consider the fact that he’s likely to command significantly more than the $2.8 million he earned this season and potentially a long-term commitment, as well. My take: I never expect players to take less than market value, and I don’t expect Alzner to do so, either, no matter how much he likes it here. I suspect he’ll find his fit (and significant payday) elsewhere and the cap-strapped Caps will use the space saved to retain other free agents who are in need of raises.
Regan: The reality of today’s NHL means the Caps can’t sign Karl Alzner to a big money deal, it means they can no longer give him a top-four role and it means they can’t bring him back unless they move Brooks Orpik. Alzner is a stay at home defenseman and great shot blocker, but in today’s NHL puck moving defensemen are more important. Alzner will be 29 at the start of next season, the age when players look for their “big deal,” but Alzner was frank at breakdown day saying he was not looking forward to free agency. Maybe he saw what happened to Kris Russell, another stay at home defenseman who wanted to get his big deal last summer. Instead of cashing in, Russell had to settle for a one-year contract for $3.1 million from the Edmonton Oilers. Maybe Alzner would be willing to sign for cheap to stay in Washington. That brings us to the second sticking point. If you want to have a stay at home defenseman on your team, fine, but I am not comfortable going into next season with two spots in the top six committed to Alzner and Orpik. I also am not comfortable with Alzner taking playing time away from players more suited to today’s NHL like Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt. I am only considering re-signing Alzner if two things happen: First, he would have to take a very team friendly contract and second, the team would have to move Orpik.