Karl Alzner cleared waivers, and the Toronto Maple Leafs made the right call in not claiming him.
In case you missed it, the Montréal Canadiens waived defenseman Karl Alzner to their minor league affiliate in Laval. Alzner, 30, was not claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs or the 29 other teams in the NHL. This wouldn’t be that newsworthy if it weren’t for this…
Alzner was in the second season of a five-year, $23,125,000 contract which carries a cap hit of $4.625 million and a total salary of $6 million. He now has the largest contract being buried in the AHL. Ouch.
This signing has become an enormous misfire by the Canadiens. In his first season, he played in all 82 games and recorded 12 points (0.15 points per game) and in eight games this season he had 1 point (0.13 points per game). Possession wise in 90 games he had a -1.4% relative Corsi, not exactly worth amount he was being paid. The demotion comes over 10 years after Alzner was a promising top five pick in 2007.
2007 NHL Entry Draft
Alzner entered the 2007 NHL Entry Draft as an 18-year old left-handed defenseman who played in the WHL for the Calgary Hitmen. He was drafted fifth overall by the Washington Capitals, ahead of forwards Jakub Voracek, Jaime Benn, Logan Couture and Max Pacioretty as well as fellow defensemen P.K. Subban, Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh. While I’m not criticizing the Capitals for taking Alzner ahead of these players, it is fun to see who was chosen after the number five pick.
During his 260 games in Calgary, where he was named captain in his final season, Alzner recorded 19 goals and 98 assists and in 2008 won the Bill Hunter Trophy (Top WHL Defenseman), the Four Broncos Trophy (WHL Player of the Year) and was named to the WHL First All-Star Team.
After being drafted, Alzner played 103 games for the Bears, recording 41 points and being a key defensive piece for the Bears in their back-to-back Calder Cup runs in 2009 and 2010. Alzner was called up by the Capitals permanently for the 2010-11 season.
Washington Capitals: 2008-2017
Including his 30 and 21 game stints during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, respectively, Alzner played 591 games for the Captials over nine seasons. After being called up full-time in 2010, Alzner played in every regular season game for the Caps from 2010-17. During his time with them, he recorded 117 points with the team (0.20 points per game), with his 21-point campaigns during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons being his career high.
His possession wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t the worst either. His career relative Corsi in Washington was -2.9%. Again, not the best, but decent enough to be trusted to maintain possession of the puck. In the playoffs he wasn’t much better, he scored 11 points in 64 playoff games with the Caps (0.17 points per game) and had a rough playoff relative Corsi of -10.8%.
Alzner was never a presence on the score sheet and he wasn’t good statistically, so what made him so special to the Capitals? For that, look no further than his physical play on the ice. With the Caps, Alzner blocked 1,121 shots and dished out 688 hits and still averages 20:12 minutes a night. Same goes for the playoffs, where in 64 games he had 108 hits and 137 blocked shots. Alzner was a physical freak who played in 598 games for the Caps (540 of them consecutively) and was a presence every night using his body, it’s no wonder he was always in the line up.
Montréal Canadiens: 2017-Present
After multiple playoff failures in Washington, Alzner took his chances in free agency. He was rewarded for this decision with a 5-year contract worth $23,125,000 from the Montréal Canadiens. His AAV of $4.625 million was a significant raise from the $2.8 million AAV he had during his final year in Washington.
Alzner played in all 82 games in his first season for the Canadiens, only putting up 12 points (0.15 points per game), a -0.9% relative Corsi, 144 blocked shots and 141 hits (A career high). This was about average when it comes to point production for him, but he was now making much more money that he used to. It didn’t help that the Canadiens went 29-40-13 and missed the playoffs, meaning the fan base and talking heads would be far more critical of his play, unlike in Washington where the team made the playoffs in seven of Alzner’s seasons with the team.
This season, Alzner was mainly used as a healthy scratch, playing in only eight games for the Habs. He averaged 17:36 minutes of icetime during his appearances (His lowest since the 2009-10 season), usually in a pairing withe Mike Reilly. He would record his only point of the season in his final game on November 24th, a primary assist on Jonathan Drouin’s second period goal against the Boston Bruins. He was placed on waivers on November 26th, and cleared them one day later.
What Went Wrong?
The Habs signing a physical defenseman who was 28 to a five-year deal that would end after he turns 33 wasn’t a very smart move. Alzner’s style of play has its benefits, but blocking over 1,000 shots and laying out over 600 hits in less than 10 full NHL seasons will eventually catch up to a player. Waiving him was arguably the right move, as his play had declined greatly, but signing him in the first place was a mistake.
Marc Bergevin should be on the hook for this, another mistake in what has been a poor few seasons for the general manager. As important as the defense is, you have to make smart decisions, and flinging almost $5 million at a player who never made more than $3 million wasn’t the right call. In free agency, you over pay, that’s how it has always been, but the amount paid to Alzner for his production made him an anchor on the team’s cap space.
The Habs could end up buying Alzner out or keep him in Laval but going from number five overall in 2007 to the largest contract to be moved down to the minors this year is something of an anomaly. Alzner not being claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs or any other team just goes to show that Alzner was never worth his deal. It took the Habs a year to realize what everyone else in the NHL already knew.
There is still a possibility that Montreal could eat some of the contract and work out a trade for Alzner, but here is hoping that the Toronto Maple Leafs are not the team that does that.