A few days ago, NoVa Caps looked at the potential cost of re-signing right wing T.J. Oshie. But while all the focus has been on the popular winger due to his outburst of production this season, there is another pending unrestricted free agent that is just as important to the Capitals: defenseman Karl Alzner. The longtime stalwart on the blueline has once again been the Caps’ most reliable shutdown defenseman and despite his value to the team, will the Caps be able to meet his expected salary demands?
The fifth overall pick of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Alzner has played 585 consecutive games since making the Capitals’ lineup in October 2010 and has been one of few active NHLers to be able to play that many games consecutively. Last season he set the Caps’ franchise record for consecutive games played, when he surpassed former Capitals forward Bobby Carpenter. His durability and endurance are a true testimony to his hard work and offseason conditioning.
While he’s not going to blow someone away with his offensive numbers (117 points in 585 games played), his defensive prowess has made him one of the NHL’s most effective shutdown blueliners, which is why he is one of the best defensemen available this summer. Alzner has led the Capitals in blocked shots for the past few seasons and is one of the team’s most valuable penalty killers. He currently ranks 21st in franchise history in games played and tenth in defensive point shares (points contributed due to a player’s defense) with 28.2.
While he has struggled this season with a career-worst 50 giveaways and a Corsi rating of 46.4, Alzner has also played well enough to make up for it. He once again leads the Capitals in blocked shots with 157, and ranks third amongst skaters in average ice time (19:59) and fourth in total ice time (1,519 minutes). He is fourth in plus/minus and as mentioned above, is one of the team’s most reliable penalty killers. Which makes his potential asking price one the Caps may not want to meet. Currently playing the last of a four-year contract with an annual salary of $2.8 million, Alzner is likely going to command a salary north of $5 million, which, given the Capitals’ current salary cap situation, could force General Manager Brian MacLellan’s hand to choose between Alzner and restricted free agent Dmitry Orlov, who is having a career year.
Whatever the future holds for both Alzner and the Capitals, it will have an enormous impact either way. If he goes, the Caps will be losing one of their best defensemen and the longest-tenured blueliner on the team, as well as a trusted leader and penalty killer. If he stays, the Caps will be retaining the aforementioned qualities, but also risk losing other key free agents as a result of Alzner’s large asking price. His play through the rest the final games of the regular season and the playoffs will likely decide his fate.
By Michael Fleetwood