The Chicago Blackhawks are interested in free agent defenseman Karl Alzner and have already “communicated with” his camp, according to the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc. Alzner will be free to sign with a new team like all other unrestricted free agents on July 1.
The Blackhawks have been shaking up their defense in a big way this summer. Already they’ve traded Niklas Hjalmarsson for Connor Murphy, lost Trevor van Riemsdyk in the expansion draft, extended Michal Kempny, and signed Jan Rutta and Darren Raddysh as free agents.
At this point, the Blackhawks have six defensemen (Murphy, Kempny, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Gustav Forsling, and Michal Rozsival) under contract for next season. They also have Rutta, Raddysh, and Ville Pokka as possible candidates to fill the seventh spot on the roster.
Alzner, 28, spent the past nine seasons with the Washington Capitals after being selected No. 5 overall in the 2007 NHL Draft. He’s never quite lived up to that billing, although he’s proven to be one of the most durable players in the league. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, he hasn’t missed a game.
That’s impressive, but his actual impact on the ice, not so much. Alzner was by far the worst of the Capitals’ regular defensemen in 2016-17 in terms of driving possession with a 47.3 percent 5-on-5 Corsi. That’s 6.7 percent lower than when he’s not on the ice.
It’s not that he’s a complete disaster defensively, but Washington’s shot generation cratered with him on the ice. With Alzner on, the Caps averaged 50.8 shot attempts per 60 minutes, per Natural Stat Trick. That’s much lower than Dmitry Orlov (59.9), Nate Schmidt (58.3), Matt Niskanen (57.8), Brooks Orpik (57.2), or John Carlson (56.9), the Capitals’ other five regular defenders.
So it should be no surprise that Alzner also isn’t much of a point producer. He’s never recorded more than 21 points in a season, and is coming off a three-goal, 13-point campaign.
With that in mind, this probably shouldn’t be a road the Blackhawks go down. Alzner just completed a four-year, $11.2 million contract with a $2.8 million annual cap hit. At age 28, this may be his final chance at a big contract, so he’s presumably not looking to take a discount.
Alzner would help grind the team’s offense to a halt, and without the big defensive benefits that Hjalmarsson created. Sure, he’s got size (6’3, 219 pounds), pedigree, and experience, but there’s a reason the Capitals comfortably let him walk as a free agent this year.
And as Kuc says, bringing in Alzner would likely require shuffling some pieces to make the money work. I’m not opposed to more shuffling, but I’m opposed to doing it for Alzner.