Karl Alzner

McPhee magic: Caps re-sign Karl Alzner to two-year, $2.57 million deal; Is restricted free agency working?

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If there’s a general manager out there this summer who’s having a banner year and showing just how to get things done smartly it’s Caps GM George McPhee.

After McPhee was able to net a first and second round pick from Colorado for Semyon Varlamov and land a veteran #1 goalie in Tomas Vokoun for one year at $1.5 million, he’s gone and pulled off another coup in how he re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Karl Alzner. While Alzner remained unsigned, the prospect of getting him signed on the cheap and not to a long term deal seemed impossible.

Instead, the Caps locked up Alzner for the next two years for nearly $2.6 million. Mike Vogel from Caps365.com reports that the total worth of the deal is two years for $2.57 million with Alzner getting $1.3 million this season and $1.27 next season.

For a young and promising defenseman who played on the Capitals shutdown defensive pair with youngster John Carlson, Alzner’s deal is a salary cap dream and a steal all at once. With the Caps being in such a salary crunch, it’s all the more helpful to the team’s bottom line. With Alzner’s $1.285 million cap hit figured in, CapGeek.com has the Caps over the salary cap by less than a million dollars with everyone necessary now signed up. Finding a way to get under the cap with relatively so few dollars to chop off won’t be too difficult for the Capitals.

The hero through all this, however, is McPhee. The Caps were poised to have some very tough decisions to make roster-wise once Alzner was locked up to a deal. That contract was presumed to be another long deal with an egregious cap hit after what we’ve seen elsewhere with other defensemen. With Alzner being young (he’s just 22), talented, and still growing better as a player the sky was presumably the limit for his asking price.

Instead, he re-signs for a deal that when it ends he’ll still be a restricted free agent and still able to potentially hold the Caps’ feet to the fire for a big, long-term deal. Through all of this, however, you have to wonder just what the problem is with the restricted free agent market and the absence of offer sheets being signed. There was no better player for an opposing GM to make a run at than Alzner thanks to the Caps salary cap situation and he didn’t see an offer worth signing on to.

That either means other general managers don’t want to go through the hassle and potential negative PR of poaching a player or restricted free agency has run its course as a viable option of obtaining a player. After all, if other teams aren’t going to press the system to force big spending teams to pay for their poor cap management, why even bother with it? Then again, if this silly system is able to make smart GMs show just why they’re some of the best in the league at figuring things out, we’re not against that either.

It’s just crazy to see the Capitals land a top goalie and retain a top defenseman for a relatively small sum of $2.8 million just this season. Either this means McPhee is the smartest guy in the room, or players really are willing to swallow some short time pride to try and win the Stanley Cup before getting paid.

Lonnie Cameron, hockey-tough linesman, shakes off puck to head (Video)

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Talking about hockey toughness is pretty much a trope at this point, yet there are still moments that impress even the cynical among us.

Linesman Lonnie Cameron accomplished that for many on Tuesday, as he returned to the Nashville Predators – Vancouver Canucks game despite taking a puck to the head in a scary moment.

Judging by the Twitter feed of Brooks Bratten from the Predators’ website, Cameron missed mere minutes of time.

So, yeah, it seems like Cameron qualifies as “hockey tough.”

As far as the game itself went, the Canucks beat the Predators 1-0 thanks to Henrik Sedin‘s goal (his 999th point) and Ryan Miller‘s 30-save shutout.

Is this more than just a slump for Henrik Lundqvist?

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People have been wondering for years if Henrik Lundqvist would finally fall off track and, you know, look human. After the New York Rangers’ zany 7-6 loss to the Dallas Stars, those rumblings are probably getting a little louder.

Don’t expect the Rangers to throw their star goalie under the bus, though, especially after a wide-open game like Tuesday’s goal-filled game at Madison Square Garden.

In fact, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is already penciling Lundqvist in for Thursday’s game against the rising Toronto Maple Leafs.

“He’s going to play, he’s going to try real hard, and we’re going to try to play better in front of him,” Vigneault said, according to the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis. “This is a team.”

Lundqvist, meanwhile, said about what you’d expect:

Naturally, Lundqvist and plenty of other Rangers threw the word embarrassing around quite a bit to describe this game, or at least the first 40 minutes. It’s just that no one’s really raking Lundqvist over the coals.

Is this time different?

Again, Lundqvist is no stranger to struggles, even if he struggles less often than just about any franchise goalie in recent memory.

Still, the sample size is getting large enough for this stretch to be a concern for the 34-year-old netminder.

While goal support and stretches of good play open the door for a respectable 18-12-1 record, Lundqvist’s allowing almost three goals per game (2.89 GAA) and has a backup-level .902 save percentage this season. And that’s over 32 games.

Things get even uglier if you focus on more recent events.

He’s allowed 20 goals in his past four starts, including allowing 12 tallies over four periods during the past two games. Lundqvist has a putrid .841 save percentage in January after producing great work in November (.925 save percentage in 11 games) and nice numbers in December (.915 in eight games).

Lundqvist has given up four goals or more on nine different occasions since Nov. 23.

In other words, there are a lot of different ways in which he’s struggling:

Is this a matter of Lundqvist regaining his focus or is “The King” finally abdicating his throne?

The Rangers are going to let him try to work through this. Otherwise, they might just need to hope that this is an off-year and *gulp* at least consider how far (an eventually healthy?) Antti Raanta could take them.

Supporting cast rallies Blackhawks in win against Avalanche

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For much of the season, the Colorado Avalanche’s biggest names have let them down while many believe that the Chicago Blackhawks are getting it done despite a mediocre supporting cast.

On Tuesday, the script was essentially flipped. The Avs’ stars were productive, yet so were lesser-known Chicago forwards like Tanner Kero and Vinne Hinostroza.

The most important narrative stayed the same, however, as the Blackhawks found a way to get by the Avalanche in a 6-4 decision.

The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but the Avs put together one of their best stretches of this lousy season. Blake Comeau tied it up, Matt Nieto scored his first goal with Colorado and then Matt Duchene answered Chicago’s only goal of the second period (by Kero) to give the Avalanche a 4-3 edge.

The Avalanche doubled Chicago’s shots on goal in the second period, generating an 8-4 edge. It felt like a rare moment where Colorado’s talent actually flexed its collective muscles.

Then the Blackhawks turned it on in the third, generating a 12-5 shot edge of their own and finding a way to win.

Hinostroza ended up making the biggest difference, scoring the tying and game-winning goals before Kero iced it with an empty-netter thanks to an unselfish pass by Jonathan Toews.

(It’s not to say that Chicago’s big names outright slept through this game, either. Toews got that assist and Marian Hossa made a bunch of plays to help make life easier for Hinostroza and Kero.)

This wasn’t always pretty, but the Blackhawks are doing enough to get points night after night. On some nights, that’s the real difference between a contender like Chicago and a languishing squad like Colorado.

Blue Jackets move back to first in Metro, NHL after beating Hurricanes

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 7:  Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets warms up prior to the start of the game against the New York Rangers on January 7, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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After stumbling for a bit, Tuesday was a reassuring night for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus moved back to the top of the Metropolitan Division (and thus, the NHL) because they now match the Washington Capitals’ 64 points but have more wins (30 to 29) and hold a game in hand.

Also comforting for Columbus: Sergei Bobrovsky returned to the Blue Jackets net, allowing one goal on 25 shots.

They were probably also happy to see Brandon Dubinsky enjoy a strong night (two goals) and Boone Jenner collect an assist and this absolute beauty of a goal:

The Hurricanes actually did hold a 1-0 lead in this game, but it lasted all of 11 seconds, as that Jenner goal erased that advantage.

The Blue Jackets face the Senators in Columbus on Thursday and then host the Hurricanes once again on Saturday. They follow that up with five straight road games and six of seven away from home beginning on Jan. 22. Columbus will pass another big test if they can stick with the Capitals and the rest of the NHL’s best through that stretch.