Karl Alzner spent his entire nine year NHL career with the Washington Capitals, but on Saturday, July 1, the Burnaby, British Columbia native took his services north of the border, signing a five-year, $23.125 million contract with the Montreal Canadiens. Alzner’s deal has an annual average value of $4.625 million through the 2022-23 season. The contract includes a seven-team no-trade clause.
The defensive defenseman described leaving the only organization he’s known as “bittersweet,” but was “extremely excited” about his new opportunity in Montreal.
“I think the organization is willing to do anything and everything to help us achieve a goal and just thinking about the possibility of winning with the Montreal Canadiens, it just puts a smile on your face,” Alzner said. “It makes me laugh about how crazy things would be — not just in Montreal, but in Canada.
“I would absolutely love to be able to get to the promised land with this team.”
Of course for Alzner, the 28-year-old former first round pick never got remotely close to the “promised land” in Washington – though he did win a Calder Cup with Braden Holtby and John Carlson as prospects with the Hershey Bears. The Capitals were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs six times during Alzner’s nine years in Washington, including the last three seasons.
The Capitals, built around Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Braden Holtby, won two-straight Presidents’ Trophies as the league’s best regular season team, but routinely wilted in the postseason.
“There are a lot of things I see (in Montreal). I see potential,” Alzner said. “That’s one of the main things because there are a lot of good players, really good young guys, one of the best goalies in the league, one of the best defensemen in the league. There’s some pillars there that really get you excited.
“We had good teams in Washington, but we couldn’t quite get over that hump,” Alzner continued. “I have an opportunity this year to get a chance to get over that hump with a new club so I took that.”
In late November, Alzner was rumored to potentially receive close to $6 million per year on a new deal if he hit the free agent market, but ended up receiving over a million less. Alzner described a tumultuous market for his services that was exacerbated by the expansion Vegas Golden Knights franchise.
“You don’t really know exactly what to expect because markets can change so fast,” Alzner said. “It was such an unknown with Las Vegas on what was going to happen there. We had originally a plan on what we thought was going to happen. It changed one day. Then it would change three hours later. Then it would change five hours later. The next day everything would be different. You try to make a plan and it doesn’t quite go that way.
“We had a lot of interest, but the landscape would change. It wasn’t necessarily us weeding out teams, but it was teams trying to figure out what they were going to do and you kind of sit by the phone and wait for the next change to happen. It was pretty funny to see it all happen.”
During the 2016-17 season, Alzner struggled through a difficult recovery from sports hernia surgery, putting up some of the worst possession numbers of his career. Late in the season, Alzner even admitted to The Washington Post that he was “a little bit slower.”
“Yeah. It was difficult,” Alzner said when asked about his groin injury and subsequent surgery last summer. “It was one of those things that you don’t really think anything is affecting you, but deep down your brain works in a weird way. Whether that was the case or not, I thought I got better and better as the season went on and was able to get over the fact that I had an injury. By the end of the season, I was feeling great and I still feel great right now.”
Regardless of what happens in the future, Alzner will forever be remembered in Washington for his consistency and sacrifice. Alzner led the Capitals with 162 blocked shots last season. He owns the team’s consecutive games streak and was a key member of some of the best teams in the franchise’s history. He was also selfless and gracious with his time, while always giving back to others.
— Gary Kriebel (@GaryKriebel) July 1, 2017
“It’s very emotional to leave Washington, the city and the people, because we have a ton of great friends, people we’re going to stay in touch with regardless of where we end up at the end of hockey,” Alzner said. “That part is difficult, but at the same time, I want to win. That’s the reason why we all play hockey. It was frustrating to keep getting stumped in the second round. That’s something I couldn’t really overlook.”
Headline photo: Amanda Bowen
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