Canadiens: With Future Uncertain, Karl Alzner Finds New Line of Work

LAVAL, QC - MARCH 09: Karl Alzner #16 of the Laval Rocket looks on during the warm-up prior to the AHL game against the Utica Comets at Place Bell on March 9, 2019 in Laval, Quebec, Canada. The Laval Rocket defeated the The Utica Comets 5-3. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
LAVAL, QC - MARCH 09: Karl Alzner #16 of the Laval Rocket looks on during the warm-up prior to the AHL game against the Utica Comets at Place Bell on March 9, 2019 in Laval, Quebec, Canada. The Laval Rocket defeated the The Utica Comets 5-3. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

In the history of the NHL, there have been a lot of bad contracts, though, for the most part, not for the Montreal Canadiens.

While there are some that are quite simply ludicrous to think about in both the past, present and future, like Rick Dipietro’s 15 year, 67.5$ million deal with the New York Islanders, or Ilya Kovalchuk’s 17-year, 102$ million deal with the New Jersey Devils (seriously) there’s also ones that are less bad, yet still bad.

NHL free agency isn’t exactly a fix all solution, more so an antithesis to the blockbuster frenzy of leagues like the NBA. While there have been exceptions in recent years, like John Tavares move to the Toronto Maple Leafs or Artemi Panarin’s signing with the New York Rangers, every July 1st still manages to bring up at least one regrettable contract. David Clarkson to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Frans Nielsen to the Detroit Red Wings, Wade Redden to the New York Rangers, the list goes on.

Despite this, the Montreal Canadiens, unlike other teams in the NHL, have mostly gotten out of free agency unscathed. While the team has acquired a few bad contracts in the past, like Tomas Kaberle’s ill-fated three-year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes, or Scott Gomez’s absolute mess of a contract, the Habs have typically understood free agency for what it is. A chance to patch minor holes in the lineup, rather than commit any pre salary cap mistakes that leave your franchise paying off a risk that never really payed off. (Bobby Holik to the Rangers, anyone?)

That was until, Karl Alzner, the Burnaby, British Columbia native who now exists as nothing more than a stain on the Canadiens salary cap, and a former top-line defender who seems prepared to move onto a new choice of career. After having his contract with the Canadiens bought out this past October, Alzner has found work as an analyst for NBC Sports Washington, making his television debut last Tuesday, in a 5-4 OT loss for the Capitals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

For Canadiens fans, Alzner is a memento of a difficult time for the team following what was seen by many as an upward trend in general. The 2016-17 season was, in many ways, the Canadiens last truly successful season, as the team took a rejuvenated offense under breakout season’s from depth players like Paul Byron, and the performance of newly acquired KHL star Alexander Radulov, to a division title and a 47-26-7 record. Heading into the 2017 off-season, the team had numerous players in need of new contracts, like Radulov and longtime star defenseman Andrei Markov. Having rebounded from a shaky 2015-16 season, Habs fans hoped the team would go all in in free agency to build on what had been a solid season overall.

Still unsigned with the NHL Season Well Underway, Former Canadiens Defenseman Karl Alzner seems to have found a new line of work.

As we would soon find out, though, that wouldn’t be the case. While Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin made a number of acquisitions in this year’s off-season, signing Tyler Toffoli, and acquiring Jake Allen, Josh Anderson, and Joel Edmundson, July 1st, 2017, was, in my opinion, the start of Bergevin’s long string of inactivity in free agency. Both Radulov and Markov ended up heading elsewhere, signing with the Dallas Stars and in the KHL, respectively, after being offered less than ideal contracts as compared to other teams.

Pretty soon thereafter, most, if not all of the major free agents left signed elsewhere as well, leaving a Canadiens team that was lacking in past additions from last season, and without any new additions to make up for it. So, in need of a major signing to make up for the numerous losses, and without many options, Bergevin signed one of the few players left in Alzner, to a 5 year deal worth 23.125$ million. Now, admittedly, at the time, this acquisition wasn’t seen as an entirely bad one, with Alzner having had quite the track record in his 9 seasons with the Washington Capitals.

The team’s 5th overall pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft, Alzner benefited from the continually talented cast of players around him, with the Capitals establishing themselves as a perennial regular-season powerhouse. Heading into the 2017-18 season, Alzner had played in 540 consecutive games, dating back to the 2010-11 season. He was reliable in his own end, and had solid passing abilities on the powerplay. While it had been a quiet off-season overall for Bergevin, Alzner brought at least a little bit of excitement for Habs fans.

However, things would soon give way. While Alzner managed to play in all 82 games once more in 2017-18, the Habs limped to the tune of a 29-40-13 record, playing behind four different goaltenders and an offense led by Brendan Gallagher and not much else. It became evident quickly that much of Alzner’s reliability depended on those around him, which, on a Canadiens team having little if any reliability, left Alzner being a hinderance more often than not. With 1 goal, 11 assists and a -7 rating, it was a less than ideal start to Alzner’s time in Montreal, and things would only get worse from here.

After Bergevin made numerous changes to the Canadiens roster heading into the 2018-19 season, trading away regulars like Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty for Max Domi, Nick Suzuki and Tomas Tatar respectively, Alzner quickly fell out of favor with the Canadiens front office, and eventually, their lineup altogether. While originally being held as an injury fill in for the first half of the season, the return of Captain Shea Weber from the injured reserve led to Alzner being placed on waivers in November of 2018, subsequently being sent down to the Laval Rocket. On a Rocket team lacking in much depth, Alzner quickly became a key part of the lineup, and a steady presence on the backend for head coach Joel Bouchard. After being bought out prior to this year’s free agency period, however, Alzner is a free agent once more, and with little NHL takers, his future remains uncertain.

While he had seen interest from teams like the Boston Bruins, as many veteran NHLers signed one-year deals to serve roles on teams taxi squads, Alzner has still yet to find a home, and, at this point in the season, it seems unlikely he will. While he managed to be a reliable presence at times with Montreal, his skating made him a liability when facing most any NHL forward. Simply put, Alzner is a player of a past era, as to keep up in the modern NHL, strong skating is an absolute must, something that is one of the weaker aspects of Alzner’s game. While there’s always a chance he ends up somewhere, I doubt it’ll be in any overseas league.

For now, he’s seemed to have found his new line of work, covering statistics rather than defenders, as both the Montreal Canadiens and Karl Alzner, try to move on, from one of the more unfortunate contracts, in NHL history.