Karl Alzner is signed, sealed, and nearly delivered to his new team in Montreal.
The 28-year-old defenseman is in the midst of packing, training for the coming season, and also enjoying some of his summer after having signed a five-year, $23.125 million contract with the Canadiens on July 1.
Alzner has left the only National Hockey League team for which he’s played – the Washington Capitals – and during a Wednesday morning radio interview on Calgary’s Sportsnet 960 he shed some insight into the process that led him to choose his new locale.
For all unrestricted free agents under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, a key cog in the wheel involves the interview period in the days that precede the opening of free agency each July 1.
“From my understanding, it used to be just kind of the day before pretty much you’d get a bunch of calls from teams and you almost had teams just going against each other trying to give the best offers out,” explained Alzner. “You’d have multiple offers on the table and you’d have to kind of quickly pick something.
“With the week leading up, you get an opportunity to visit some places and really feel out some of the interest level, and make a more informed decision.
“It was pretty interesting though because things did change daily and sometimes hourly, depending on which teams were interested and which ones had to bow out and which ones wanted you to come and visit.
“It was pretty crazy. You like to have a little bit of time to make decisions, but like I say – it was non-stop change. That’s not really great when you’re trying to plan things for families.”
Before signing his deal, the defenseman did have a chance to visit Montreal.
“Montreal was actually the first place we went to and ended up being the only place we went to,” noted Alzner. “So it worked out kind of cool. Got to see the city and the facilities and stuff like that. I didn’t really know what Montreal was like besides the area downtown beside the Bell Centre. It’s the same way with all of the cities, pretty much. You don’t really know what they have to offer until you get to spend some time there away from the season.
“So once I got to see it and realized how great it was, it was pretty much a no-brainer decision.”
Alzner went more in-depth into the Montreal visit.
“We got in the night before – I think it was a Monday – we got in Monday evening and we kind of hung out and just took the city in that night,” he began. “The next day we went to the practice facility. We went with Marc Bergevin and we talked with him for it seemed like maybe a couple of hours. The nice thing was it was just an easy conversation. It wasn’t just question after question about hockey. It was just a conversation, and that was something that I thought was pretty cool and I know my wife did as well.
“That was neat. Then we met some of the training staff downstairs, looked around the facility. After that, there was a guy who I guess kind of works for the team. But he took us around the areas where the guys lived and a couple of spots downtown, and just tried to get a feel for the city.
“We ended up meeting probably I would say six-to-eight people with the organization, and then the rest was just on our own to try to get a feel for things. Once that meeting was done, we spoke with a couple of people who were more involved in what it’s like for school for the kids and those kinds of extra-curricular things.
“Then I got in touch with Shea Weber and talked with him about what it was like to play there, coming from obviously a big-time different hockey market in Nashville to Montreal – what that was like. Because I feel like that was more of a similar situation that happened for me.
“Then we took off the next day. It was a quick visit, but we got everything done that needed to be done.”
Free agency, even through the interview period itself, is such a fluid time. Teams are having to implement Plans B, C, D, and E on the fly as players make their choices, and vice versa.
Alzner was asked from how many teams he was essentially picking, and what was it that tipped the scales toward Montreal.
“Essentially, in the end, it was I guess three,” revealed Alzner. “One bowed out right before and then there was two. But realistically it was what made most sense for the family, career, and which one seemed like they were most interested.
“It’s still tough decisions because you want to make the right call because you only have so many years in this league. But the way that Montreal was pursuing us and just everything they had to offer, it’s seriously probably the best organization in the league. I haven’t officially played any games, but just from hearing everything and talking to the guys and the way the city supports the team. You have to put up with maybe not having as much privacy as you would in some other cities, but in the end – to be treated the way it sounds like they are treated there, and I know from playing in that city, that’s pretty much everything that you want.
“So it just made the most sense when we were talking about it. It was definitely our best opportunity.”
Money and family needs aside, one element to consider for most free agents is at which stage of the winning cycle an organization finds itself.
“That was one of the questions that I had,” indicated Alzner. “You want to know how far off the organization is from winning. You want to see what they’re doing to try to put all of the pieces together. Obviously not getting Radulov back is a big hit, but it frees up a little bit to make some moves and try and figure out what pieces need to be added as the season goes on.
“I wanted to know that and it sounds like everything is going in the right direction. They have their eye on a couple of pieces that are going to help the team. And then obviously locking up Carey Price is a huge step because he’s one of the best goalies in the league and one of the best ones we’ve seen in a long time.
“I think Montreal is always going to be in a ‘win right now,’ and they have that ability and desire to do whatever is necessary, so that’s a big factor.”
All five years of Alzner’s contract include a modified no-trade clause, through which he submits a seven-team no-trade list.