For the past few days - the past few weeks, really - the elephant in the room that is CapsNation has been the question of how to keep Karl Alzner on the roster
if once the team finally got healthy.
From his first game, Alzner proved he could play at the NHL level. In 19 games, the Caps' rookie blueliner has a plus-six rating (which ties him for second among the team's rearguards), has played more than twenty minutes in a game 14 times (and that includes only 2:48 on the power play), and has yet to take his first penalty as an NHLer (!?). His five-on-five +/-ON (Plus-Minus, On Ice, per 60 minutes) ranked eighth in the entire League among defensemen with at least ten games played and 15 minutes of five-on-five time per game heading into Tuesday night's game (teammate Mike Green ranks fourth, incidentally), and all of that has been accomplished while playing against the toughest competition in that group.
And yet, he might heading back to Hershey soon - the easiest solution to the Caps' cap quandary is the most likely.
Don't get me wrong, I don't like it one bit. Not when the team is potentially competing for Division and Conference titles. Not when the team is trying to ready itself for a deep playoff run. Not when the kid has done everything - and more - that has been asked of him.
Yes, putting Tom Poti on LTIR is a short-term solution to the problem, and who knows who might be injured in the interim (on a totally unrelated point, perhaps setting Michael Nylander up in front of the net on the power play and having AO firing away from the point would help that unit get clicking).
When healthy, the current Caps roster has 14 forwards, 8 defensemen (not including Brian Pothier) and two goalies. By my math, that's 24 players (the easy part) at around $58,256,101 (the harder part, and really, no one on "the outside" really knows what that number is). But that's without the $250,000 buyout of Ben Clymer's contract (didn't think that would come back to haunt, did you?), so we're really at $58.5 million. That means the team needs to shed one player and just over $1.8 million in annual salary, and Alzner's cap hit is $1.675 million. Throw in Sean Collins at $850,000 and you're in the clear. (Sidenote: $850k? Really?)
But perhaps there's another way. [Update: Actually, there's not. At least not the one noted below, as Eric Fehr would have to clear waivers to be sent down, which wouldn't happen.]
Start with Collins to Chocolatetown, then here's where it gets tricky. The only players remaining with two-way deals, if I'm not mistaken, are Nicklas Backstrom, Jeff Schultz, Eric Fehr and Alzner. Forget either of those first two going anywhere... but what about Fehr? You'd think he's in line to be scratched once Tomas Flesichmann returns, and he makes $735k. Besides, maybe Fehr can find his mojo in Hershey.
The final move, then, is putting John Erskine and his $537,500 salary on waivers. The team has shown the depth at D in recent weeks that they may not have thought they had when they signed Ersky to his two-year/$2.5 million extension, so if Erskine clears waivers, great. If not, the loss is manageable.
All of this would leave the Caps with 13 forwards (one of whom can play on the blueline in a pinch), six defensemen and two goalies. It's tight, but it's the best team the organization can put on the ice, which is the whole point, isn't it?
Of course, my numbers could be off a bit and my judgment and thoughts on Erskine and Fehr could be even further afield (though the team could likely have signed the latter to a one-way deal at a lower salary if they had no intention of even considering a demotion). And perhaps the team wouldn't want to play it as close to the cap as that might leave them (needless to say, GMGM has been more than a little cryptic in his discussions on the matter). But when you consider all Alzner has done for this team already - and that, as we noted more than a week ago, losing Alzner is like losing two effective defensemen given his impact on Milan Jurcina's game - the team really needs to do all it can to keep King Karl in D.C. for now and for good.
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Twenty-five years ago today, Bengt Gustafsson had five goals in a game against the Flyers. Top that, AO! Seriously. Please.... Simeon Varlamov reacted to his All-Star snub the way you'd hope and stayed red hot.... Stefan Della Rovere - whom GMGM "loved" in Ottawa - will be honored before Saturday night's game in Barrie as part of Canada's gold medal-winning WJC team. Actually, he'll be honoured.... Dmitry Kugryshev was named QMJHL Rookie of the Month for December.... Finally, I don't really have a dog in this fight, but I've always liked what The Big Lead delivers, so go vote for 'em. UPDATES: Boswell on hockey again.... Dan Daly, too.... Ed Frankovic has interviews with Boyd Gordon and Sean Collins.... Apparently a synonym for "Briere" is the fifth-most popular online password.