Before the Capitals can even consider re-signing unrestricted free agents Mike Ribeiro or Matt Hendricks this summer, they will first need to establish a price tag for what should be their No. 1 priority of the offseason: re-signing defenseman Karl Alzner.
Having developed into one of the NHL’s most reliable, albeit underappreciated, shut-down defensemen, Alzner, 24, is one of two key restricted free agents – Marcus Johansson is the other – who must be re-signed by the Capitals.
And he won’t come cheap.
Since being drafted fifth overall by the Caps in 2007, Alzner has negotiated two NHL contracts. His first was a three-year, entry-level deal that paid him $875,000 a season. The second was a two-year deal that paid him $1.3 million in 2011-12 and $1.27 million this season.
Alzner has the option of signing a short-term deal [possibly two years] in the $3 million a year range, then cashing in when he becomes an unrestricted free agent, or signing a long-term deal similar to the one John Carlson signed last summer, when he agreed to a six-year deal that paid him $3.8 million this season and escalates to $4 million over the next five years.
"It'll be fun to see how it all happens,” Alzner said. You always hope for the best and I'm excited to see how the talks will go, but this summer, I approach every summer the same.”
Alzner has played in every game for the Capitals over the past three seasons and teamed up with Mike Green to form the club’s No. 1 pairing this season. He also was third on the Caps in average ice time [20:57, behind Mike Green and Carlson], but his offensive numbers [4 goals, 30 assists in 212 games] will negatively affect his earning power and likely will keep him below Carlson’s salary.
There is also the remote possibility of another team extending an offer sheet to Alzner. If another team offers him between $3.3 million and $5 million, the Caps would have to match it or receive a first- and third-round pick as compensation. If another team extended an offer sheet of more than $5 million and the Caps refused to match they’d receive a first-, second- and third-round pick.
"I haven't really even thought about it, to be honest,” Alzner said. “That would be weird. Like I said, I don't know anything but [Washington]. It would be strange.”
Alzner said that although his numbers may not support it [1 goal, 4 assists in 48 games], his offensive game grew under first-year head coach Adam Oates and assistants Calle Johansson and Tim Hunter.
“This year, people may not have noticed it, but I started to feel better with the puck,” Alzner said. “I started to carry it a little bit more, lugging it out of the zone occasionally and trying to jump up in the play and that's something that I never ever did.
“You wouldn't catch me crossing the offensive blue line. I still panic when I get across that line. It's something that I'm trying to do more, trying to have a little more confidence with that.
“I always thought my game would be how I played in juniors, and that was being able to add in offensively here and there, and I always thought that's what my game would be here. I think over the last four, five years, I've been so worried about making sure I have a main thing down, which is defense, that I haven't really worried too much about the next part.
“So I'm hoping to sign a new deal and be able to be more comfortable and start evolving my game into something a little bit more desirable."
If Alzner and the Caps can agree to deal in the $3.5 million range, the Caps would be within about $2 million of next year’s salary cap of $64.3 million. Since Johansson is likely to eat up most of that with his new contract, the Caps would need to shed significant salary to make room for legitimate offers to Ribeiro and Hendricks.