Even after the flurry of early offseason activity, the Montreal Canadiens still have plenty of question marks heading into the 2017-18 National Hockey League season.
General manager Marc Bergevin still has a few major problem areas on the roster. Among those, he must determine who’s going to play center and who’s going to round out the top end of the defense core.
He acquired forward Jonathan Drouin and re-signed Alex Galchenyuk, both are players who have experience at center, but neither looks to be true top-tier middle man. On the defensive side, Bergevin locked up Kontinental Hockey League standout Jakub Jerabek, former San Jose Shark David Schlemko and top free-agent Karl Alzner.
Staying on the defensive side, the Canadiens currently have Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and Alzner holding three of the four top spots on the backend. The potential loss of veteran Andrei Markov already places pressure on the existing group.
Of that group, newcomer Alzner has already drawn his fair share of criticism. After signing a long-term contract at 5 years at $23,125,000 total, it’s expected. What he’ll soon learn is that criticism will only be magnified in the city of Montreal. What kind of impact does he need to have to silence the naysayers?
How did Alzner earn his shiny new contract? He was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft going in the first round, 5th overall. He was part of a Capitals team that finished near the top of the NHL standings for the last few seasons. During his career, he has posted 19 goals, 98 assists for a total of 117 points.
Even with a limited body of work this playoff due to an injury, he still had plenty of suitors when the free agency gates opened. The weak free-agent defense market elevated his value which created a high-priced bidding war. After Kevin Shattenkirk, Alzner was the top option for many teams by default.
When I say top-free agent or best option, it’s used lightly. Alzner at best, in my opinion, is a number four defenseman. His history reflects that. With their decision, as of this article’s publishing to not bring back Markov, the Habs backed themselves into a corner and had no choice but to pay up.
Does Alzner deserve the money he signed for? Probably not, but that’s the way free agency works. With the holes the Canadiens have on their roster, it’s looking more and more like he must play more than his abilities to make a noticeable difference.
What Can Fans Expect?
As of today, Alzner is lined up to play with either Weber or Petry. Who the fourth defenseman is in that group has yet to be determined. That’s just one issue on the hands of the Habs. The other red flag is who’s going to carry the puck.
Since the loss of P.K. Subban, the Canadiens have lacked a true puck-moving defenseman. Now with Markov potentially out of the fold and with Nathan Beaulieu shipped out-of-town, it’s down to players like Brandon Davidson, Joe Morrow and Jerabek to fight for the role.
With most of their money allocated to traditional non-offensive defencemen, this could be a problem going into the season. The good news for the Canadiens is that they do have cap space to make another move at or before the deadline for a proven puck-mover.
As for Alzner, fans should expect a quiet performance. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just don’t expect a ton of flash or offense. He’s a simple player and fans in Montreal need to keep that in mind when they see him hit the ice.
Summer of Regret?
As always in free agency, there’s risk involved. Teams make aggressive decisions in short periods of time to try to get ahead of the rest of the league. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s sports and that’s the business.
This summer for the Canadiens might be one of regret. Bergevin let Alexander Radulov slip away for a total of $4.3 million spread over 5 seasons, Andrei Markov is still unsigned and he locked up Alzner on a long-term, big money contract.
These moves could very well work out for the Canadiens, in the end, however, the idea of re-signing Radulov and Markov is much more attractive than overpaying for an average fourth defenceman.
Only time will tell, but Habs fans need to temper their expectations for Alzner heading into the 2017-18 season.
Nick Guido is a Montreal Canadiens Contributor for The Hockey Writers. You can Follow him on Twitter @nickguidoTHW for his articles, opinions and general Habs talk.