The big free agent addition for the Montreal Canadiens in the summer of 2017 was the signing of veteran defenseman Karl Alzner to a five-year, $23.125 million contract. Given Alzner’s style of play, the way he seemed to dramatically decline toward the end of his time in Washington, and the direction the NHL is moving in terms of style of play from the blue line it was, to say the least, a curious move.
Just one year in things are not going as the Canadiens may have planned.
After a difficult debut season in Montreal, Canadiens coach Claude Julien announced on Wednesday that Alzner will be a healthy scratch for the team’s season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“They’re never easy decisions,” Julien said. “I think it’s pretty obvious that there’s two things happening there to those players, but I think at the end of the day we’re all mandated to do what’s best for the team first. That doesn’t mean we don’t sympathize with certain things, but at the end of the day that’s what we’re all here for, including those players.”
This is a significant move because it will be the first time since the 2009-10 season that Alzner has missed a regular season game, putting an end to his 622-game ironman streak that is currently the 11th longest in NHL history.
It also has to be concerning for the Canadiens that Alzner — who still has four years and more than $19 million remaining on his contract — isn’t viewed as one of the six best defenders for the opening night lineup on a team that not only isn’t particularly good or deep defensively, but is already playing without its best defender in Shea Weber.
Alzner isn’t the only veteran that will be a healthy scratch for the opener.
Long-time center Tomas Plekanec, who returned to Montreal on a one-year contract this summer after being traded to Toronto at the deadline, will also be a healthy scratch.
General manager Marc Bergevin refuses to utter the word “rebuild” when it comes to the 2018-19 team, but the opening night roster certainly seems to indicate the team might favor youth this season.