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Laval Rocket season review: Is Karl Alzner destined for another year in the AHL?

The Canadiens need to consider all of their options with the B.C. native’s contract.

Club de hockey, Canadien, Inc.

It wasn’t what anyone on the Montreal Canadiens was hoping for with defenceman Karl Alzner. Especially with a hefty price tag.

Alzner’s second season in Montreal saw him don more bleu-blanc-rouge jerseys with a Laval Rocket logo than of the NHL parent club. The fifth overall pick in 2007 played only nine games with the Canadiens and picked up an assist. Alzner suited up 34 times for Laval, scoring one goal and a total of six points.

The Canadiens placed Alzner on waivers a handful times last season, but no takers wanted any part of his $4.625-million cap hit on a contract that expires in 2022.

Alzner wasn’t keeping up with the speed that opposing offences were throwing at him, becoming a defensive liability. In numerous situations, the Canadiens were better off with him off the ice than on. The graphs below are from his nine games this past season; a small yet telling sample size.

He told media last September that he wanted to play faster, which he desperately needed to do following a disappointing debut season in 2017-18.

“I want to be able to push the pace a little bit more. I think last year, personally, I was back on my heels a little too much and waiting for stuff to come out. When you have as many good players as there are in the league, that’s not good.” Alzner said.

Instead, he was left to find his game in the American Hockey League. His slapshot was welcome at the start, picking up a goal and an assist in his first two games.

Otherwise, Alzner was leaned on more for his veteran savvy. The defenceman lined up with youngsters Brett Lernout and Cale Fleury at various parts of the season. If he were making a lot less than he currently is, having him mentor younger blue-liners in the AHL would be much easier to swallow.

However, paying a rearguard who isn’t getting any faster nearly $5 million a year to sit in the AHL, or the press box, isn’t ideal. Alzner, obviously, wants another shot at playing in the big leagues. This off-season, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin will have to pick his poison: give Alzner every opportunity to succeed at the NHL level again next year, bury his salary in the minors at a slightly reduced cap hit, buy him out and have a smaller salary on the books until 2025, or work hard at finding someone who can take on his contract.

The Habs deserve credit for taking Alzner out the lineup when they did. They wanted a faster lineup, and the one they settled on almost brought them to the playoffs. It’s clear that he isn’t the best fit for the style they’d like to have moving forward. He isn’t even the favourite to hang around the Canadiens if they re-sign Jordie Benn, if Noah Juulsen is healthy enough to play and has a great camp, or if the team signs another depth defender.

Buying him out won’t solve matters, either. Not only would the Canadiens be on the hook for two thirds of his salary over the next six seasons, his cap hit would be nearly as high as the current amount in 2020-21 anyway, extending further into years Montreal is hoping to contend in.

There’s the trade market, but if teams weren’t fishing for him when he was on waivers, why make a move for him? If the Canadiens find someone interested, there’s a good chance salary will have to be retained or the team will have to take on a bad contract in return.

Finally, there’s the option of keeping him in Laval. He’s already played with the team and tried his best to keep his spirits up while with the team last year. He could continue to mentor younger defencemen coming up through the ranks, including prospects like Fleury and Josh Brook.

If he were to remain in the minors, Alzner’s cap hit would be reduced by $1.075 million, meaning only $3,550,000 would count towards the NHL salary cap. This relief would increase to $1.125 million in 2021-22, coincidentally the final year of Alzner’s deal. There are fewer fluctuations, and no additional years, in his cap hit in this scenario, versus the buyout option.

Bergevin undoubtedly has considered Alzner’s situation for quite some time, and maybe some regret over handing him such a large contract. It’s on him to make the best of his conundrum.