Free agency is just over a month away in the NHL, and already rumours are flying about which players would be a fit on the Calgary Flames.
Still stinging from an opening round sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks, the Flames could be looking to fill some gaps ahead of puck drop for the 2017-18 season.
While it likely wouldn’t be wise to smash the piggybank and splurge on three or four free agents, the Flames are in a good position to attract a UFA to town.
A young team on the rise with some money coming off the books this off-season, that might be the perfect storm for signing an impact player from the free agency pool.
And with his previous experience in the city, Karl Alzner should be a name that’s thrown around in Brad Treliving’s office.
With almost 600 career games to his name, Alzner has proven to be a steady and reliable commodity with the Washington Capitals over the years.
Never a big point producer in the league, the best statistical season of his career came during the 2014-15 season where he scored a mere five goals and 21 points.
This past season was undoubtedly a setback for the Burnaby, BC native as he regressed to 13 points, the lowest total in an 82-game season in six years.
Add to that a scoreless playoffs where he only suited up for seven games thanks to a broken hand, it was a rough way to end a contract season.
Missing time due to the hand injury was actually a rarity for the 28-year-old, as he previously strung together six straight 82-game campaigns along with a full 48-game schedule during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 year.
Making $2.8 million over the last four seasons, Alzner has been a bargain for the Capitals thanks to his heavy workload and being matched up against the NHL’s top snipers night in and out.
But, with Alzner now entering his prime as a defender, that price tag should jump steeply this off-season.
It’s not out of the question that he could be earning in the ballpark of $4.5 to $5.5 million starting next season, and will likely want some term after parts of nine seasons in Washington.
The Capitals are in a bind after yet another second round exit to the Stanley Cup bound Pittsburgh Penguins, as Alzner is one of five pending UFAs along with pending RFAs Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, and Dmitry Orlov.
Alzner himself has even said that the odds aren’t good for returning to the red and blue next year.
Pending UFA Karl Alzner on #Caps changes coming: "This is a pretty good window that we had here, and unfortunately it's not there anymore."
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) May 12, 2017
So with Alzner set to hit the UFA market, why would it make sense for the Flames to make a move?
Money to spend
Well, Calgary has some big money coming off the blueline to start.
After five years in Flames silks, Dennis Wideman will become a free agent himself with the Flames expected to let the 34-year-old and his $5.25 million contract walk.
Wideman’s tenure at the Saddledome ended with a whimper, as he was a healthy scratch for much of the tail-end of the regular season and playoffs.
Michael Stone and Deryk Engelland are also slated to become free agents, though both are more likely to be re-signed than Wideman.
But still, if the Flames let that trio leave they would save a collected $12.15 million on the cap.
Having three defenders leave your team in one off-season would sink most teams in the league, but Calgary still has Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton to rely upon for big minutes.
Adding Alzner to that mix would allow head coach Glen Gulutzan to spread out minutes more evenly throughout the lineup, and give the Flames a shutdown defenceman that they sorely needed during playoffs this year.
Of course, a veteran NHL defender in his late 20s signing a lengthy deal for $5 million plus per season rings echoes of Wideman’s signing in 2012.
Alzner isn’t getting any younger and what limited offensive abilities he had seem to be fading as well, but Calgary doesn’t need someone to score 15 goals and 40 points from the back-end.
They need a steady blueliner that can hang back in the defensive zone, begin breakouts, and match-up against the likes of Connor McDavid and Joe Pavelski of the Pacific Division.
That brings us to possibly the biggest draw for Alzner to Calgary, his former home for four years.
Alzner cut his teeth in the Western Hockey League for the Calgary Hitmen between 2004 and 2008, becoming a fan favourite and one of junior hockey’s top defencemen.
— Calgary Hitmen (@WHLHitmen) May 22, 2017
A two-time gold medalist with Team Canada at the World Juniors, including once as captain, Alzner still sits 18th in Hitmen games played (260) and 13th in assists (102).
This culminated with the fifth overall selection in the 2007 NHL Draft by Washington, where he has spent his entire pro career.
Signing Alzner would undoubtedly come at a major cost for the Flames, a cost that maybe would be too great for a team trying to become a contender in the Western Conference.
But if the Flames can get Alzner under contract for reasonable money and term, he’d be a great fit back in Calgary.