Curtis Lazar is a Calgary Flame. The 22-year-old was the only player to be added by Calgary on trade deadline day, with Michael Stone already being added the previous week. Lazar came to the Flames with depth defenseman Mike Kostka, while Jyrki Jokipakka and a 2017 second round pick were sent to Ottawa. Kostka and Jokipakka are essentially a wash, so we are going to focus on the trade as it being Curtis Lazar for a 2017 second round pick.
Lazar Was a Highly Regarded Prospect
Curtis Lazar was drafted by the Ottawa Senators 17th overall in 2013. A right-shooting centre, he was playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL at the time. In his draft season, he posted a stat line of 38 goals and 23 assists for 61 points in 72 games. This is the first red flag, as generally you want CHL prospects to be a point-per-game in their draft year if you are going to expend a high pick on them. He followed up his draft year with 41 goals and 35 assists in 58 games, a more promising look but not a dominant one.
Then the Senators rushed him to the NHL. Instead of going back to the WHL, they brought him into the NHL as a 19-year-old. In his rookie season he scored 6 goals and 9 assists in 67 games. Not sensational, but many young players have had seasons like that and gone on to have great careers. However, it was probably a sign he should not be in the NHL at that point in time. Lazar was loaned to Canada for the World Junior Championship that year, where he played a big role as Captain and played a prominent part in the team capturing Gold.
Last season he posted 6 goals and 14 assists in in 76 games, a slight step forward. This year, things have completely fallen apart for the guy. After missing the start of the year due to mononucleosis, he was behind the curve. He struggled, was briefly sent to the AHL where he had just 4 points in 13 games and then returned to the Senators, where he continued to have a rough time. In 33 games with the Sens, he had no goals and 1 assist. It has been a tough ride.
The Numbers Do Not Look Kindly on Lazar as an NHLer to This Point.
1 assist in 33 games is not great. The possession numbers do not make him look better. This season, he has a Corsi For percentage of 39.8%, with a relative CF% of -10.1%. Abysmal numbers to be sure.
Taking a look at his HERO chart courtesy of OwnThePuck, here is how he compares to other NHLers over the span of his career. To this point, he has been a below replacement level player. He has no areas that he has excelled at in terms of offensive stats or possession. That does not mean he cannot improve, as he is only 22, but there will be a lot of improvement needed.
Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic and The Hockey News takes a variety of aspects into account for his Game Score tool, which can be used to measure impact a player has on their team. You want your score to be as high above 0 as possible. Lazar’s is negative, indicating negative impact on his team so far.
Curtis Lazar has really fallen of a cliff since his rookie year. A second round pick is generous. pic.twitter.com/OwQLVj1Elk— dom (@domluszczyszyn) March 1, 2017
Essentially, all the information we have says that Lazar has some work to do for this to be a reasonable trade at all for Calgary.
How does this impact the Flames?
From all the information above, it seems evident that Lazar has been acquired with a look to the future, so do not expect Lazar to come in and be a player that helps the Flames push for the playoffs. He will be in the line up for sure, but it appears unlikely that he will be a difference maker for the team.
The Tkachuk-Backlund-Frolik line is set. Gaudreau-Monahan-Ferland has been terrific together as of late, so I cannot see Gulutzan breaking up that unit any time soon. Could Lazar slot in on the right-wing with Versteeg and Bennett on the third line? This move would send Brouwer down to the 4th line, where frankly he is better served at 5-on-5. Maybe Lazar will be on the 4th line for the duration of the season, bumping Alex Chiasson out of the line up, but it may not be best served to acquire a forward for a second round pick and keep him on the 4th line if you want him to develop into a productive player.
Lazar is 22, so while there are some bad results so far, there is still opportunity for him to grow into a valuable NHLer. It is not a sure thing either way at this point. He is on the last year of his entry-level contract and with his poor play this season, he will not cost much to re-sign. However, Lazar is in his third year of professional play, so he will need to be protected if the Flames do not want to risk losing him in the expansion draft. It would be poor asset management to spend a second round pick on him and lose him for nothing at this point, so they are likely to protect him. It seems obvious that Monahan, Gaudreau, Backlund, Frolik and Bennett were going to be protected no matter what. It seemed as though Brouwer and Ferland would take the last couple of spots, but now Lazar factors in here. It would be obscene for them to protect Lazar and expose Ferland, but is it possible that they would be willing to expose Brouwer to protect Lazar? If that were to occur, I already like this trade much more.
There were rumours the Senators wanted a first round pick for Lazar. Thankfully, the Flames did not part with theirs for Lazar. However, a second rounder has value, albeit in a draft projected to be of lower quality. Between the Lazar and Stone deals, the Flames have traded away their second and third round picks in 2017. They have drafted quite well the last couple of years, but are going to have less lottery tickets this season.
Lazar is a risky bet. However, he is young, a right-shot (which the Flames desperately need) and he has upside. Perhaps a change of scenery and a fresh start, along with an opportunity to play with good players, could help him develop into the player the Flames think he can be.
The Flames are another step closer to acquiring the entire first round of the 2013 NHL Entry-Draft, with Monahan, Lazar, Poirier, Shinkaruk and Klimchuk all members of the organization.
I’ll leave you with a positive take from Corey Pronman of ESPN, via Twitter