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Karl Alzner was a high-priority target for the Montreal Canadiens

Marc Bergevin targeted the former Capital very aggressively in the days leading up to free agency, but is this move meant to complement Andrei Markov or replace him?

Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

On Canada Day, the Montreal Canadiens made an early splash by signing Karl Alzner to a five-year contract worth $4.625 million per year.

Alzner’s acquisition could be categorized as somewhat surprising. Most expected Marc Bergevin to secure long-time stalwart Andrei Markov, which would likely leave the team with insufficient cap space to make a serious run at the former Capital.

However, the general manager evidently made Alzner a primary target.

Unusual for a team and GM that usually keep their cards very close to their vests, rumours of the signing first broke more than two hours prior to the opening of the free agency window, as Aaron Ward unofficially announced details that would be fairly close to the actual conditions of the contract.

Francois Gagnon tempered expectations, but the signing was effectively confirmed by Darren Dreger at 10:48 AM EDT and then announced by the club itself minutes after the clock struck noon.

Alzner was the first big-name defenceman to be signed, with Kevin Shattenkirk — the other star of this year’s blue-line UFA cohort — not locked up until hours later around 2:30 PM.

Despite this move appearing unlikely as recently as a week ago, Bergevin appears to have pursued Alzner very aggressively. The player himself reported that Montreal was the only city that he visited, and that all other potential suitors were limited to telephone communications.

Additionally, despite a relative lack of competition for Alzner’s hand, the contract issued by Marc Bergevin was quite generous, especially relative to how the UFA market would define itself throughout the first day. Surprisingly, at the moment, it is Alzner’s contract, not Shattenkirk’s, that is the trend-setter for term.

Clearly, the Canadiens’ general manager saw something he liked in Alzner and did not have any intention of risking anyone else swooping in and snapping up his prized target. The question now is whether Bergevin views Alzner as a complement to Markov in the top four of the left side of the Canadiens defence, or as a replacement.

Bergevin’s affections rapidly shifting from one big-name UFA left-handed defenceman to the other within very short order may be more indicative of the state of negotiations between Markov and the Canadiens than anything else.

In the event that the Markov situation becomes untenable, the Canadiens would be stranded with a left defence corps of David Schlemko, Brandon Davidson, and Jakub Jerabek. Facing this, Bergevin’s aggressive pursuit of Alzner is a fully understandable response, as he was the only other legitimately viable option available to anyone seeking a left-hander on the free-agent market this year.

Taken in a vacuum, the signing of Alzner to a five-year term — especially absent signs of serious competition for his services — seems questionable. However, only Bergevin truly understands where negotiations with Markov stand at the moment, and if The General is no longer an option, then the Canadiens General Manager has done what he felt necessary.