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Free agent Karl Alzner set to get 'first taste' of the NHL's business side

Free agent Karl Alzner set to get 'first taste' of the NHL's business side

Some players look at free agency as an exciting opportunity. Others view it as a nerve-racking proposition fraught with uncertainty.

Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner definitely considers himself among the latter group.

“At the end of every season, even when I was up for another contract, I always felt really comfortable,” the 28-year-old said recently. “Some people look at free agency and go, ‘Yeah, this is really awesome. I get to go see what I can get.’”

“For other people,” he continued, “it’s unknown, and they don’t like unknown. I’m curious [to see] how it’s all going to happen. But I don’t like the feeling of not having something.”

The Capitals are all Alzner has known as a professional hockey player. He was drafted fifth overall by the team in 2007, came up through Washington's minor league system and has been a rock on the Caps' blue line for the past eight seasons.

Now he’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time.   

“It’s my first real taste of what the [business side of] the NHL is like,” said Alzner, who, following the expiration of his entry level deal in 2011, re-upped twice, both times as a restricted free agent.

Just like Washington's far-too-early playoff exit, the possibility of switching teams hasn’t really sunk in yet.    

“We consider this home,” he said.

The ‘we’ is himself, his wife Mandy and children Stella and Anson.

“Whenever we say we’re going home or we’re filling out any paperwork, this is home,” he said, referring to Arlington, Va. “We feel so comfortable here. We spent the entire summer here last year. We could spend another summer here. We’ve met a lot of great people and we love it here. This is one of a handful of places around the league where if you spend your whole career here, you could easily stay here. And that, without a doubt, crossed our mind when we bought our house here and had kids. But a lot of it’s not really in my hands. I guess it kind of is in my hands, but they make the decisions upstairs.”

The durable, steady top-4 D-man also made this much clear: he doesn't want the negotiation to be all about money, at least from his end. He earned $2.8 million in each of the last three seasons.

“There’s definitely curiosity, but for me there’s lots of things that are more important than dollars in my life,” he said. “So the most interesting thing will be to see how talks go with the team here first.”

On the ice, this was a challenging year for Alzner, who had offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia and partially torn groin muscle. The recovery turned out to be trickier than expected for a player who, by his own admission, wasn’t a speed demon on skates to begin with. Still, he suited up for all 82 games—again—while matching up against top competition and playing 19:47 per game on average.

In the playoffs, Alzner encountered another injury. He suffered a broken right hand while blocking a shot in Game 1 vs. Toronto. He played hurt in Game 2 but ended up missing the next six contests.

“Just a harmless shot block,” he lamented. “Probably an unnecessary shot block.”

As for the decision makers upstairs—GM Brian MacLellan and Co.—they’ve got to sort through a lot, including Alzner's future, as they contemplate a pathway forward for a team that dominated the regular season but, once again, failed to get out of the second round of the playoffs.

There are five unrestricted free agents on the current roster. There are also six restricted free agents that need new deals. And, of course, there’s a finite amount of space under a salary cap that’s expected to remain relatively flat. 

Then there’s THE question facing Caps management: is it time for massive changes to the core, of which Alzner has been a part since 2010?

“I don’t know how I’ll fit into the makeup here if things get blown up,” he said. “But, you know, we’ll find out. …It’s definitely possible. You can only get to the second round so many times before you have to think that something needs to be changed. But I’m not an architect of a team. I don’t know how you do that exactly. I thought we were winning this year…but we still didn’t. So you have to go back to the drawing board, I think.”

Alzner didn’t know what the future held as he walked out of Kettler Capitals Iceplex last week following another breakdown day that arrived sooner than anyone had envisioned. But he was certain of this much: another golden opportunity had been allowed to slip.

“It’s definitely the weirdest feeling I’ve ever had because this was the most realistic chance of winning that we’ve had,” he said. “This is a pretty good window that we had here and, unfortunately, it’s not there anymore.”

MORE CAPITALS: How can the Caps balance pressure with joy?

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Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Andre Burakovsky

Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Andre Burakovsky

As we skate toward the start of the 2017-18 NHL Regular Season, our CSN Capitals team of Jill Sorenson and Tarik El-Bashir detail and analyze the Capitals roster.

They will take a look at breakout candidates, prospects on the rise, players in need of improvement and a look at the rest of the Metropolitan Division, all leading up to the start of the NHL regular season.

Up first are the Capitals breakout candidates.

We've detailed why Tom Wilson and Brett Connolly are destined for breakout season.

Today we are looking at Andre Burakovsky.

YOU CAN WATCH TARIK AND JILL'S FULL BREAKDOWN OF ANDRE BURAKOVSKY IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE.

2017-18 CAPITALS BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: ANDRE BURAKOVSKY

Position: Left Wing
Age: 22
NHL Seasons: 3 (196 games)
2016-17 Stats: 64 games, 12 goals, 23 assists +13 plus/minus

Tarik El-Bashir's Breakout Preview:
Due to some high-profile free agent departures this offseason, the Caps will be counting on a handful of youngsters to turn potential into production in 2017-18.

At the top of that list is 22-year-old winger Andre Burakovsky, who figures to get a full-time role in the top six forward group, possibly on the top line alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. He should also see a significant jump in power play minutes. 

The biggest challenge for Burakovsky figures to be the same issue that’s tripped him up the past couple of years: consistency. A year ago, for example, he went 26 games without a goal. But he also enjoyed a torrid 13-game stretch in which he racked up six goals and eight assists. So it’s there; he’s just got to bring it every game now. 

Former Washington forward Marcus Johansson, another first round pick from Sweden, became a 20-goal scorer in his fifth NHL season.

The Caps desperately need Burakovsky reach that plateau—or even surpass it—a full year earlier.

Jill Sorenson's Keys to Breakout:
1.  Confidence: "He really relies on his confidence to find success. So when he went through those lulls last season he didn't have a lot of confidence. But he kept shooting the puck, kept sooting the puck and he knew it would find the back of the net sooner or later. He got scratched, he came back, boom, he found the back of the net. I think going on that top line in the playoffs and looking ahead to next season is going to give him that confidence he needs to really produce."

2.  Comfort Level: He's had great mentorship from Nick Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. He understands now, that at 22 years old, he looks at those guys and sees 'hey those guys have been successful, I see what it means to be a pro. To have that connection with Backstrom, who he plays alongside on the ice and spends time with off of it, wil help him take a big step ahead."

Prediction: Over/Under 25 Goals
Tarik: 27, over.
Jill: 25, push.

RELATED: TEN BEST CAPITALS PLAYERS OF ALL-TIME

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Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Brett Connolly

Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Brett Connolly

As we skate toward the start of the 2017-18 NHL Regular Season, our CSN Capitals team of Jill Sorenson and Tarik El-Bashir detail and analyze the Capitals roster.

They will take a look at breakout candidates, prospects on the rise, players in need of improvement and a look at the rest of the Metropolitan Division, all leading up to the start of the NHL regular season.

Up first are the Capitals breakout candidates.

First, we previewed Tom Wilson.

Today we are looking at Brett Connolly.

YOU CAN WATCH TARIK AND JILL'S FULL BREAKDOWN OF BRETT CONNOLLY IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE.

2017-18 CAPITALS BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Brett Connolly

Position: Right Wing
Age: 25
NHL Seasons: 6 (276 games)
2016-17 Stats: 15 goals, 8 assists, +20 plus/minus

Tarik El-Bashir's Breakout Preview: 
After playing the last three seasons on one-year deals, Connolly finally has a little security after inking a two-year, $3 million contract with the Caps earlier this month.

It’s a hefty raise over the $850,000 he earned last season, and it’s emblematic of the higher expectations that he’ll shoulder in 2017-18.

Connolly’s first season in Washington was a strange one. It began with him sitting out as a healthy scratch, and it ended with him sitting out as a healthy scratch. But in between, the former first round pick was remarkably efficient, scoring a career-high 15 goals in 66 games, while skating fewer than 11 minutes per.

Next season, Connolly’s role and playing time are expected to increase … and so, too, are his numbers.

Jill Sorenson's Keys to Breakout:
1.  Maturity: "He's finally settling in and understands what it means to be a pro hockey player. He feels like this is a good fit for him. He's ready to handle the increased pressure and increased responsibillity."

2.  Comfort Level: "He feels like Washington is where he wants to be. He has a nose for the net, and with that comfort level now with this team, that natural scoring abillity I expect will come through."

Prediction: Total Points
Tarik: 21 goal, 16 assists
Jill: 20 goals, 18 assists

RELATED: TEN BEST CAPITALS PLAYERS OF ALL-TIME