Monday, July 4, 2011

How Much is Karl Alzner Really Worth?

So now that the Washington Capitals are pushing up against the salary cap, at least according to those who look at and do not factor in the idea that Tom Poti is likely to start the season on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) or retire; we Capitals fans turn our attention to the two unsigned Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) who might get offer sheets: Karl Alzner and Troy Brouwer.

There is certainly a lot of speculation about just what sort of offer sheets they might get; here's an interesting blog post from a Montreal Canadiens blog; I hope it's not right, I like Karl Alzner but $4.7M per year, I just can't see another team offering him that much and also being willing to forfeit the draft picks that would cost them. That said if some other GM wants to target the Capitals and make the sort of offers that "Eyes on the Prize" suggests (Alzner 1-4 years for $4.7M/year and Brouwer 1-3 years for $3.1M/year), I'd take them up on it and let both players go to those teams. The Capitals have the bench strength to let that happen without nearly the negative impacts that matching such offers would create in their current plans/roster. Also the draft picks they'd pick up would no doubt only further strengthen the talent pipeline they already have in their system. That's why I think we DON'T see many GMs using the "screw your neighbor" tactic too often. This isn't a parlor game or a card game after all, well maybe it is but it's real high stakes and for real. It's one thing to go target a young, promising talent like Alzner or Brouwer with offer sheets that provide them a 10-15% premium in terms of cap hit or a contract term with a year or two of extra length but quite another to "overpay" by any more given the compensation the acquiring team must also put up to close the deal. So we are back to really trying to gauge what these two players are really worth. Recognize, they both already have qualifying offers in hand from the Capitals so there's really no risk on there part to wait and see if the market offers them something more, especially in Brouwer's case, it's not like he has any reason to have any allegiance to Washington. So let's look at the 22 Year Old British Columbian and locate a few "comparables."

Karl Alzner:
Position: Defense
Age: 22
Height: 6'-2"; Weight: 210 pounds; Shoots: Left

Last season Alzner had a salary cap hit of $1.675M ($875K salary, up to $750K of performance bonuses and then the prorated $87.5K portion of his signing bonus) on the final year of his entry level deal. He was drafted in 2007 by the Capitals in the first round with the fifth pick of the draft. He was a blue chip prospect and his development to this point in his career has tracked and delivered on those expectations. Alzner didn't miss a game for the Capitals last season - he played 82 regular season games and 9 playoff games. He was usually paired with rookie John Carlson and they were, in many games, the Capitals "stoppers." As Alzner generally played the role of "stay at home" defenseman of the two, he is generally seen as the soundest young defender in the Capitals organization when it comes to hockey fundamentals. His ATOI last season was 19:00 minutes and he was a regular on a penalty killing unit that was very good. Because of his partner John Carlson and "young gun" Mike Green's scoring prowess, many often overlook Alzner's excellent abilities when it comes to his slapshoots from the point. In short Karl Alzner is the total package and he had 98 hits during the 82 game regular season and his Corsi On was 3.45 and Corsi Off was 2.45 during 5 on 5 play. In short, he had a solid season and he is definitely a top four defenseman at the NHL level by just about any measure. Is he worth more than a basic qualifying offer for sure and I'd bet he has one in hand. If I were Montreal would I offer Alzner anything like "Eye on the Prize" suggests - No, that price is too high for him, especially when you consider the draft picks you'd have to forfeit. That said if I were Vancouver, Alzner's "hometown team", who have a little bit of Cap Space and who could make more room, I'd offer him $3.5M/year and a four year contract to see if he'd like to "come home." Alzner would be a great fit for Vancouver and they could use another "Steady Eddy" top 4 D-Man to replace the loss of Christian Ehrhoff to Buffalo in free agency. Now that would be decision time for Caps GM George McPhee as I'd expect $3.5M would be on the order of $500K more than the Capitals would prefer to pay Alzner but not so much so that I wouldn't consider strongly matching the offer. What do I think Karl Alzner is worth, based on what I've seen to date I'd say he's a $3+M player...and after giving Roman Hamrlik a two year $3.5M/year deal, I'd say that the Caps Organization wouldn't argue with that. Also looking around the league, there aren't many clearly top four blueliners who have finished their entry level contracts that aren't making $3+M and maybe as much as $4M/year though I think the likely number starts with a "3". The best comparable I think out there for Alzner is the NY Rangers' Marc Staal, though Alzner's body of work isn't quite yet up at the same level of the 24 year old Staal brother.

There are actually quite a few teams who I think could be and should be interested in Alzner. Another team besides Vancouver, that could present Alzner an offer sheet might be Saint Louis, they could really, really use a guy like him and they have a TON of salary cap space, as does Ottawa who like Saint Louis could use another top four defenseman and Alzner would make a great pairing for Sergei Gonchar, IMO. Of course as mentioned there is Montreal, also Minnesota, Florida, Dallas ..and the list could go on, but the one thing that might actually help the Capitals avoid seeing any ridiculous offers made for Karl Alzner, is if you were an NHL GM who was willing to make a run at and possibly overpay for a young RFA D-man, why not "swing for the fences" and take a run at Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators or Drew Doughty of the LA Kings?

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