Montreal’s big unrestricted free agent signing so far has been defenceman Karl Alzner, who inked a five year deal. Is he the right fit for the Habs? Our writers offer up their thoughts on the signing.
Hilding Gnanapragasm: The signing of Alzner to a five year deal worth just over $4.6 million per season has been met with mixed reactions from Habs fans. While Alzner is widely regarded as a solid, hard-working top-4 defenceman, the trepidation among the Canadiens fan base has to do with the fact that Alzner is a shut-down defenceman, rather than a puck mover who can help jump start the offence. While this is true, the cap hit is reasonable, as is the term. Many see Alzner as the replacement for Markov, which he is not; if anything, he replaces Alexei Emelin on the left side of the defensive depth chart and in that context, he represents a significant upgrade. The Canadiens will have to look elsewhere for offensive help from the back end and it looks as though they may need to pray for a long shot surprise like KHL import Jakub Jerabek or former first-round pick Joe Morrow to fill that role.
Brian La Rose: I like the signing if they plan to primarily play him with Jeff Petry on the second pairing. The two have skill sets that would complement each other well and Alzner isn’t an ideal top pairing player to play with Shea Weber. The move at the very least should help the penalty kill (along with a full season of Jordie Benn) and late game defensive situations.
If the plan is to make him the final piece of the puzzle on the blueline though, then there’s cause for concern. There isn’t much mobility or offensive ability on the back end as things stand and for a team that’s lacking in production, that’s not good.
The contract itself isn’t terrible – it’s actually a bit less than I thought he’d sign for. It’s a year longer than I’d have liked to see but that’s not uncommon for UFA signings, especially one of the top ones available at his position. Yes, most stay-at-home guys aren’t getting the big bucks like they used to but Alzner is a step above a lot of those players. Montreal has gotten better defensively with this signing – now let’s see how they follow that up to help their attack.
Paul MacLeod: I am a little conflicted on Alzner. He is a decent defenceman, an upgrade on Emelin certainly, but they don’t have any real puck moving defenders until Markov re-signs and continues to defy time or Jerabek is an unexpected revelation. In short, they have moved out a lot of defencemen in the last two seasons but it seems like they are treading water rather than improving. Thus, Alzner leaves me the same as before – anxious and hoping that there is a real plan behind all of these sideways seemingly random moves.
Norm Szcyrek: I am okay with the Alzner signing for a few reasons. Alzner is a defensive defenceman and he appears to represent a substitution on Emelin. As such Alzner is a better player since he makes much fewer mistakes in that role. Emelin is a much more proficient hitter however it seems the Habs’ defensive coach had been trying to coach that style out of Alexei ever since he signed his last contract. In nearly every other category Alzner is a superior defender than Emelin including shot blocking, giveaways and takeaways. Karl is a solid shutdown player capable of handling top-4 minutes without any issues.
What’s working against Alzner is the reputation of playing through injuries. That may not seems like a negative since he’s been such a durable defenceman having played every game of the last seven seasons. In May of 2016 he underwent sports hernia surgery after finishing the post season with a broken thumb, hip flexor and strained oblique before suffering the groin injury. After starting play last fall, several Capitals fans reported that Alzner was not the same player, playing somewhat slower and more tentatively with and without the puck. The speculation was he was not ready to start the season after the multiple injuries and surgery he suffered. If so it may explain the sub-par season Karl had, but it represents some risk the Habs need to consider since they are now tied to him for five seasons.
Dave Woodward: Given the available UFAs, the signing of Alzner is certainly positive for the Canadiens. Alzner is a solid, durable, stay-at-home defenceman who will strengthen a left side that would have been undermanned by the departure of Emelin, Nathan Beaulieu and Mikhail Sergachev. Alzner’s contract (about a $4.6M cap hit) is, in this writer’s view, reasonable, particularly when compared to Alexei Emelin’s contract ($4.1M cap hit).
However, the Alzner signing does not complete Marc Bergevin’s work on the back end. With the current roster, there is a glaring absence of puck movers among the Canadiens’ defence corps, even with the addition of David Schlemko. While Alzner is a consistent, solid defensive defenceman, Alzner is not a puck mover. The Canadiens need another year or more of elite play from Andrei Markov who remains unsigned and there are few other UFAs who can deliver the puck movement that is such a material part of today’s NHL. Karl Alzner is an upgrade on Alexei Emelin on the left side but there is more work to be done.