May 17 2013 10:19AM
If the Oilers are going to make a heavy pitch for a defenceman they probably aren’t going to get, that defenceman shouldn’t be Shea Weber. It should be the Washington Capitals’ Karl Alzner.
What kind of defenceman do the Oilers want to add on their blue line? Ideally, they would obtain somebody young who can be a fit in a top-four role on the left side for years to come. It should be a player who skates well and is capable of moving the puck. A player used to seeing top opponents would be a good fit, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt if he had size on his side.
Enter Karl Alzner. The 6’3”, 213 pound defender turns 25 in September. He averaged a hair under 21 minutes per game in Washington this season, playing 17:17 at even-strength and 2:34 in short-handed situations. Here in part is how Matthew Coller, writing for Hockey Prospectus described him last summer:
Karl Alzner has turned out to be one of the league’s top stay-at-home defensemen. His size and skating ability make life difficult for forwards trying to enter the offensive zone and his hands make fast breakouts of the Capitals’ offense possible… Alzner is an All-Star caliber defenseman who is underpaid at $1.3 million; a restricted free agent after 2012-13, the former Calgary Hitman looks due for a major payday.
Going by behindthenet.ca’s quality of competition statistics, Alzner has led the Capitals blue line in two of the last three seasons; he has also been heavily leaned on in the defensive zone.
Why a trade is just barely possible
Then why on Earth would the Capitals trade Alzner? The answer is that they likely would not; he’s an excellent defenceman and the kind of guy every team wants. What opens the door, at least a little bit, is Washington’s salary cap situation. By my count the team has 11 forwards, six defencemen and two goaltenders signed for next year with a total cap hit of $58 million, leaving them somewhere in the range of six million to replace second-line centre Mike Ribeiro, sign restricted free agents Alzner and Marcus Johansson (34GP – 6G – 16A – 22PTS) and add one other player to the roster. It’s a tight fit.
A lot depends on how much money Alzner wants; there hasn’t been much in the way of news on contract negotiations yet (Washington’s season having ended only recently) but he’s one of those players who can be difficult to value because his primary contributions are defensive. On the one hand, he’s a top-two even-strength defenceman; on the other he’s a guy who had five points this year. He’s coming off a two-year contract where he earned less than $2 million per season; it seems a safe bet the Capitals will work hard to keep the dollars on his next deal modest.
An offer sheet is far from an ideal solution, but it might be a possibility here for a motivated Oilers club; more practical might be the threat of an offer sheet. Based on last year’s draft pick compensation rates (the salary cap is dropping, RFA compensation rates likely will too) the Oilers could offer a deal in the $4.0 - $4.5 million/year range and only need to surrender a first and third round pick next year in exchange; it’s a risk but Alzner is a good enough player to justify the trade if the Capitals declined to match. Alternately, the Oilers could threaten to offer something in that range and simultaneously offer an enticing package for Alzner’s rights.
The smart money here is on nothing happening, and Alzner re-upping with the Capitals at a modest cap figure sometime this summer. But because the player is such a strong fit for the Oilers’ needs both in the here and now and three years from now, Edmonton should at the very least talk to Washington about what it would take to make a deal happen.
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Recently around the Nation Network
In Vancouver, there seems to be some concern that young restricted free agnet defenceman Chris Tanev might attract an offer sheet from an opposing team. In Chris Tanev's Next Contract, Thomas Drance suggests that the team may need to trade the player:
To be clear, I'd much rather see Chris Tanev re-sign in Vancouver and continue to mature while completely owning secondary competition on the third pairing. But the Canucks might be wise to set an internal deadline for a Chris Tanev extension, and shop him in Newark at the 2013 NHL entry draft if the two sides aren't close by then.
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