For the first time in 2019-20, veteran defenseman Karl Alzner may finally see NHL action. The veteran defenseman has been recalled by the Montreal Canadiens for just the second time this season. The team announced that it is an emergency loan and Alzner will join the team on the road in Ottawa. Alzner, 31, has exclusively played in the AHL this season to the tune of a buried cap hit of $3.55MM.
While every off-season features regrettable signings, few have worked out as poorly in recent years as Montreal’s addition of Alzner in 2017. Alzner had established himself as a solid defensive blue liner over nine years with the Washington Capitals and leveraged that reputation into a five-year, $23.125MM contract that carried a $4.625MM AAV. Alzner actually played in all 82 games for the Habs in year one, but his combination of 12 points and a -7 rating made it arguably the worst season of his career. The Canadiens decided that they were a better team without their big free agent addition and kept Alzner buried in the minors for all but nine games in 2018-19.
This year, Alzner has been utilized even less to this point, making no NHL appearances with the regular season more than 75% complete. Yet, with Marco Scandella traded, Victor Mete on injured reserve, and Xavier Ouellet also sidelined, the Canadiens are hurting on the blue line. They also have a considerable amount of cap space and can easily afford to take on the extra cap bump of brining Alzner back to the NHL level. Whether or not Alzner, who has 13 points for the AHL’s Laval Rocket this season, will actually get into the lineup and even then make a difference remains to be seen, but the odds are that he will at least make an appearance.
As for next year and beyond, Montreal has been content to bury Alzner for two years now, but the question is whether they will continue to do so for another two years. Maybe Alzner could earn his way back into the mix with an impressive showing down the stretch this season, but that seems very unlikely. More probable is that the Canadiens could look to trade Alzner – who does have a seven-team no-trade list – or could buy him out, which would cost just under $4MM in 2020-21, just under $2MM in 2021-22, and only $833K for two years after that. Either way, this call-up could very well be both the first time this season and the last time ever that Alzner dons a Montreal sweater.