When it comes to July 1, we often focus on the mistakes and over-payments made by GMs in their frantic attempts to improve their teams and get on track for a Stanley Cup. But, in some cases, a player might make a mistake too.
Now, it’s worth remembering that the Washington Capitals were right up against the salary cap last summer and had to lose a bunch of players because of it. Justin Williams up and left for Carolina, Kevin Shattenkirk for New York. Marcus Johansson was shipped off to New Jersey in a trade.
Karl Alzner was another UFA who the Capitals had no more room for, so it was never really an option for him to return. But when you look back at the reason why he signed with the Montreal Canadiens for five years and $23.125 million, it’s hard not to wince a little.
His former team is just one win away from winning the Stanley Cup after years of falling short and being upset many times along the way. Alzner’s new team in Montreal, meanwhile, underachieved themselves in 2017-18, so much so that they hold the third overall pick in the draft later this month.
So how does Alzner, the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft by Washington, feel about watching his former team move within one win of glory?
“Super jealous,” he told Dean ‘Boomer’ Molberg on 960 the FAN in Calgary. “You’re jealous of any team that wins the Cup regardless of if you know anybody on the team, don’t know anybody, lost against them, doesn’t matter. You want it to be you that’s got that chance.”
He said it’s maddening to watch another team win the Cup in any given year, but there’s a bit of a different feeling when he watches the Capitals in their journey this year.
“I know pretty much everybody on that team, but I’ve got legitimately 10-15 really good friends on that team. To be able to see them most likely win, I think at least, that’s gonna be a pretty cool feeling. I know the struggles the team and the city have gone through with some upsets so I can only imagine how happy everybody is going to be. That, to me, is a little bit of a bonus, something that puts your mind at ease.”
There are a lot of demons being exorcised by the Caps this spring. Barry Trotz, a lame duck coach without a contract next season, is so close to his first championship since joining the NHL with Nashville in 1998. The Capitals themselves finally got past the rival Pittsburgh Penguins, and took back a landmark in their own city.
And above all, Alex Ovechkin is so close to winning the biggest prize in hockey after for years being labelled as someone who didn’t take his game to the next level when it mattered most. Now he’s close to not only winning the Cup, but is a top contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Alzner was asked which individual he’s pulling for personally because of how a Stanley Cup win would change that player’s legacy. He acknowledged the obvious was to root for Ovechkin, but also shone a light on another Capital who doesn’t play as big a role, but is on the verge of a unique accomplishment — becoming the first player ever to win a championship in the ECHL, AHL and NHL.
“Something that people don’t talk about enough, a guy like Jay Beagle who has absolutely battled his entire career to get to where he is now and has made one heck of a career out of it too,” Alzner said.
“If he wins I think he’s going to be the first player to win all three Cups — Kelly Cup, Calder Cup and Stanley Cup. That’s something I’d be really really excited for him to do.”
As for his own team, Alzner is optimistic the Canadiens can rebound in 2018-19. He noted that many players had down years and injuries to the likes of Max Pacioretty and Carey Price, among others, made for tough sledding. With better health and some bounce-back years the Canadiens should find improvement, and Alzner also sees the Habs being helped by the continued development of some of their younger players.
“On the back end I think we all had some up and down years, but I was pretty impressed with Noah Juulsen the young guy we got,” Alzner said of the 26th overall pick from 2015. “He’s got some serious upside to him. Another year under his belt this year and I think he’s really going to help the back end.”
Will it be enough to get the Canadiens back to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1993? Few thought this year’s Capitals would challenge for the Stanley Cup, so they’ll attest that if you just get to the playoffs, anything can happen.