Only in the NHL would a $1.7 million raise for a 28-year-old defenseman who admitted he hasn’t recovered from hernia surgery be considered a good deal, but the Karl Alzner signing on a five-year deal worth $4.625 million a season will likely get rave reviews.
Alzner will undoubtedly help the Canadiens, who could have had P.K. Subban and Mikhail Sergachev anchoring their blueline for the next 10 years, in their own end. Their defense corps suddenly looks a little thin and its ability to move the puck will be an issue, something with which Alzner will not be able to help them.
But when it comes to keeping the puck out of their own net, Alzner will help. He has been considered one of the league’s elite stay-at-home defensemen for years and has been part of a group that has been among the NHL’s best in goals and shots against the past three seasons. He is big and, prior to the hernia problems, was relatively mobile and able to take care of his own end. Even though Alzner has been able to eat minutes in the past, his ice time dropped by two minutes this season to under 20 minutes a game. If he becomes Shea Weber’s defense partner, you can expect him to play significantly more than that.
But Alzner missed five playoff games with what was being called an upper-body injury and admitted in the midst of it that he was still being hobbled by his surgery the previous summer.
“It’s kind of been standing still at a certain percent,” Alzner told Isabelle Khurshudyan of the WashingtonPost in late April. “There are days when I’m stiffer than other days and I can’t quite move as (well), and so I have to manage my game a little differently. I’ve never been the fastest skater, but I’ve always been a good enough skater where I can a lot of times skate myself out of trouble or catch up, if need be, and this yare, I’ve been a bit slower.”
Where Alzner won’t be able to help the Canadiens is in getting the puck up to their forwards. David Schlemko will certainly help in that area of the game and Weber still makes a very good first pass, but you have to wonder about Montreal’s puck-moving ability from the back end, particularly if they can’t come to terms with veteran defenseman Andrei Markov.
But the Canadiens have to start somewhere and signing Alzner is as good a start as any. Remember, they’re in the process of convincing goalie Carey Price that it’s worth his while to commit to spending the rest of his career there. And to do that, they want Price to be able to look around and see a roster with which he can win in the future. Part of that will be trying to keep him from being under siege and a healthy and productive Alzner would go a long way toward doing that.
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