Karl Alzner: Blue-line signings ‘huge’ for Capitals


(Associated Press)

Because it’s the middle of July, and because this is roughly the time when the NHL collectively packs its suitcases and heads on vacation, and because the Washington Capitals spent more money during free agency than any other team this offseason, and because they also hired a new coach and new general manager several months back, we find ourselves enrolling in the DC Sports Bog School of Transcription-Based Content to hear what defenseman Karl Alzner thinks.

Joining Brady and Walker on SportsNet590 this Wednesday, the 25-year-old Alzner spent most of 2013-14 (72.4 percent of the time, in fact), deployed with John Carlson, and it’s this particular familiarity that new assistant coach Todd Reirden referenced in discussing defensive pairings for the upcoming season. Washington’s puck possession issues extended to Alzner and Carlson (47.8 percent Corsi-for), though both hovered around 45 percent when playing apart.

Whether Alzner reunites with Carlson, finds himself beside an old teammate or pairs with one of the high-priced acquisitions (Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik), he echoed the recent thoughts of owner Ted Leonsis about a bolstered and fortified blue line.

“It’s huge, really,” Alzner told Brady and Walker. “Those are two really good defensemen, ones that we didn’t have a whole lot of fun playing against for some years, and I think that was probably the biggest knock on our team last year, was we had so many different blue-liners coming in. It was just a revolving door with injuries, guys coming up and getting experience, which I’m thankful for that that’s what the team does a lot, we get a ton of guys called up to play games and get their feet wet a little bit, but it would be nice to have a little bit more consistency and have the same partner for the full year if you can.

“With Nisky, he’s going to be able to go out there, put some points on the board, move the puck out of the zone. And with Brooks, definitely adding some physicality to the back end, which we have with [John Erskine] a little bit, but it’ll be another level of that. I’m fired up about it. I think we have, on paper right now, one of the deepest blue lines, so I’m happy about that. I’m hoping we can all go out there and play good.”

Entering the second season of a four-year deal worth $2.8 million in average annual value (AAV), Alzner said that the money doled out by the Capitals — which bordered on $70 million including the widely panned five-year, $27.5-million deal given to Orpik – was justified provided it helps them return to the playoffs after their first absence since 2006-07.

“You know that you have to pay players to get them sometimes,” he said. “We’re happy. I’m happy for all the guys whenever they can get a good paycheck and that’s great. If we’re going to have to pay guys numbers that other people don’t necessarily agree with, and we want that player and need that player, then it doesn’t matter to us. We just got to get them. If they’re going to help us win, pay each one of those guys $10 million if we’re going to win next year. It doesn’t bother me one bit. You got to do what you got to do. I think these are two good signings, two good players for us to have and yeah, I’m hoping it can help change our team a little bit.”

It’s a lengthy and thoughtful interview, worth a listen if reading transcriptions isn’t your thing. But for those who enjoy this, here’s the remainder of Alzner’s conversation:

On Evgeny Kuznetsov:

It was really fun. He was that unknown, really. We heard so much about him. He was a really big name in Russia, we’ve been wanting him to come over for a couple years now. Took a little convincing, but once he came over, it was great. He made a bit of a splash. He showed how talented he was. He’s still a little bit older, but his body and his build are still quite young, but he’s got so much raw talent. He’s a very, very nice guy. A lot of fun and everybody really, really enjoyed him. That was great.

Hopefully he can build off what he started to do last year. He’ll get a little more responsibility now that Grabo’s not going to be back. Maybe he can step in a little bit more of a role and take on some more responsibility. He’s going to be a good player for us if he continues to grow like he did last year. I think he was maybe a little bit taken aback by the physicality at times, but he’ll get used to that and he’s got all the tools. He’s just got to continue playing and continue to get confidence.

On Mikhail Grabovski, who signed with the Islanders as an unrestricted free agent:

Well you know what, he’s a good player. He plays hard at both ends of the rink. He’s a good guy to have in the room. People like him. He’s nice. He struggled with injuries with us, and it’s hard when you kind of get out of the mix for a little bit then try to come back in. It makes it tough on the guy. But I thought he’s a good player. Good guy to have in the room. Everyone enjoyed having him around.

It just didn’t quite work out and we all know him and [Nikolai] Kulemin are good buddies there and they wanted to play together again. I’m sure if we could have made it work, we would have made it work. But he can do stuff. He can help a team win. It didn’t quite work out in Toronto, didn’t quite work out with us, but it seems like he’s in a good situation now. He can do some damage in this league.

On the coaching transition from Adam Oates to Barry Trotz:

I think it’s going to be great. He’s been known as the big-time defensive guy, which is great for me. I like that. It’s going to play right into my style of game. Nothing against Nashville, but we’re a team that spends to the cap and pay a lot of high-flying offensive guys that love to score goals. I don’t know exactly what his mentality is now with that, but it could change peoples’ perspective and their thoughts on him. Maybe he’s not just a defensive guy and he wants to show a little bit of flare as well in his coaching style. We’d be the right type of team for that.

But when it comes to defense, I’m excited about this because that’s one of the knocks on us. We let in too many goals. Hopefully he can help stabilize our team and we can start winning games, 2-1 and 3-2, instead of having to be up in that 4-3, 5-4 range all the time and getting into all these shootouts like we did last year. Everything I’ve heard about him has been nothing but positive. I’ve talked to him briefly on the phone and I think I’m going to be meeting with him later on this month in Calgary. It’s going to be good to just get a feel for the situation. I’m really, really excited about it. We’ve had a lot of change over the last, I guess, three full seasons with coaches, but I think all the guys kind of feel the same way about Barry coming in, that it’s going to be good for the team and it’s what we need at this point.

On whether he’s getting bugged for good seats for the Winter Classic:

Yeah, we haven’t gotten specific with seats yet, but we were actually talking about this yesterday. I think we have 12 to 14 people confirmed coming out, so it’s building and building. I’m sure there will be a few more as the season starts. It’s such a crazy time. Got to try to focus on the game as much as you can, but having that many people around is going to be difficult.

But it’s an experience you want everyone to enjoy. You want to enjoy it as much as family does, and you don’t get a ton of opportunities to do it. It’s pretty much like, for us, playing in the Super Bowl. That’s what it feels like. That’s what it felt like the last game. You want everyone to have fun. Obviously play as good as you can. I try not to get tied up in all the festivities and all the people being out, but my wife’s actually pregnant, so the due date’s like two weeks before that too, so my mind’s going to be everywhere. So I’m not going to be focused on people that are visiting. I’ll be focusing on the baby and hockey game and that’s it.

We’re actually going to buy probably 15, 20 air mattresses and line the whole basement with air mattresses. We’ll be like a trampoline down there. So you just get to the bottom of the stairs, roll out somewhere and just pick a bed.

(h/t Japers’ Rink)

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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