What can the Flames expect from Curtis Lazar?

curtis lazar
Perry Nelson/USA TODAY Sports

The Calgary Flames are not contenders. They appear to be on the upswing, and odds are looking good they’ll make the playoffs this season, but they aren’t a major threat to win anything yet. They’re a team that is not in any position to rent players for a playoff run.

And for the most part, they stuck to their word. Michael Stone may or may not turn out to be a rental, but at 26 years of age, he certainly fits into the Flames’ age group.

And so does 22-year-old Curtis Lazar. He’s the fifth 2013 first round pick the Flames have acquired: a month older than Morgan Klimchuk, who has yet to make his NHL debut; and younger than Sean Monahan, Hunter Shinkaruk, and Emile Poirier. Following the trade, Brad Treliving was emphatic that this was a long-term move, and Lazar was a part of the Flames’ plans for the future.

Contrast that to, say, the 35-year-old Radim Vrbata. The Flames are aware they’re still building a team, and they decided to spend assets on someone they expect to be a part of it for years to come.

What he’s done so far

Lazar does not have an impressive stat line.

This season, he has 24 shots and one assist – a secondary assist, at that – in 33 games with the Ottawa Senators. He’s also played 13 games in the AHL this season, during which time he’s put up three goals and one assist: a very weak statline, even for someone who wasn’t a first round pick.

Go further back. He scored 20 points in 76 games with the Senators in the 2015-16 season. As a rookie, he scored 15 points over 67 games back in 2014-15.

Go further back. He’s represented Canada internationally at the World Juniors, including captaining for them in 2015, a tournament in which he scored nine points in seven games: fifth in team scoring.

Go further, further back. The Senators selected him 17th overall in 2013 as he was coming off of 61 points in 72 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings. He went on to put up 76 points in 58 games the following season. He wore a letter both years, but never actually led his team in scoring.

In 176 NHL games, Lazar has scored 12 goals and 24 assists for 36 total points. He’s 10th in games played for his draft class and 15th in scoring, with Anthony Mantha directly behind him in 120 fewer games played.

Where he’s at now

Lazar has only averaged 8:49 in ice time this season. He averaged 13:52 the season before. This season, he has primarily played alongside Chris Kelly and Chris Neil, two players it’d be awfully hard to find success with. Last season, he played mostly alongside Neil and Alex Chiasson. There’s a bit of a pattern there: Lazar is not getting to play with high potential players.

Via Corsica, Lazar’s 5v5 CF of 39.79% this season is easily the worst on the Senators. This comes with an offensive zone start ratio of 36.07%: sixth among all Senators with at least 30 games played. Or, to put it another way:

ottawa usage chart

He is that bright red dot further on the right side of the chart, away from the other red dots. Let’s put it this way: he gets preferential zone starts and he not only doesn’t score, at all, but the play is constantly going against him.

And it isn’t just this year the play is going against him. In 2015-16, he had a 5v5 CF of 42.84%, which was the worst among all Sens to play throughout the season, albeit with 25.10% offensive zone starts: sixth worst on the Senators that season.

To compare, Chiasson was a 43.66% CF guy that season, just above Lazar, with a 23.32% offensive zone starts, fourth worst among Sens regulars in 2015-16. This season on the Flames, he’s been a 52.17% CF guy – sixth on the Flames – with 39.17% offensive zone starts, third best on the team.

Where does he fit in?

Lazar is a right-shooting centre who can also play the wing.

There’s no home for him on Mikael Backlund’s line, because if the Flames haven’t messed with that line this season, they aren’t about to now.

In theory, there could have been a home for him on Sean Monahan’s line, but considering Micheal Ferland’s play up there as of late, it would be insanity to demote him for someone who has managed all of one assist this season.

If he plays on Sam Bennett’s line, then you’re bumping Kris Versteeg or Troy Brouwer – probably Brouwer, based on position – to the fourth line. As much as Bennett has underperformed this season, he has more than one assist. As much as Brouwer isn’t living up to his contract, he has more than one assist.

So then is it the fourth line? He’s not going to outplay Matt Stajan. He’s familiar with Chiasson, but Chiasson is performing at a higher level than he is at the moment. So is Lance Bouma, for that matter, and Bouma isn’t exactly a pinnacle of greatness, either.

It’s hard to see where, exactly, Lazar fits in this lineup. And because he’s waiver-eligible, the Flames likely won’t send him down; you don’t demote someone you just spent a second round pick on.

What’s the verdict?

It’s far too early to say, but at this point in time, Lazar doesn’t even look like he belongs in the NHL. There’s nothing particularly great about his game at the moment: he can’t score and despite favourable starting conditions the play consistently goes against him.

If this is a long-term project, then it’s a really long-term project.

That’s the one saving grace to Lazar: that he’s 22 years old and you have to hope this isn’t as good as things get for him. That’s pretty much it. There’s nothing else redeeming about this. (Other than the part in the press conference where it was stressed that Lazar has a great character, but I believe we already saw that show with Brouwer back in July. The reboot is younger and that’s about it.)

Although if it’s to be believed the Flames intend to keep Lazar in their future plans, then you have to think he gets protected for the upcoming expansion draft. That could be the trigger to leave Brouwer exposed. So perhaps that’s a hidden upside, as well.

That, and Lazar’s potential that we have to hope materializes. Because if the Flames can’t make Lazar a better player – and there’s really nowhere to go from here but up – well, then it just cost them a second round pick, and seemingly for no reason. And say what you will about weak drafts, but you can’t play the lottery if you don’t have any tickets.

  • TheRealPoc

    It’s kinda funny how opinion on this deal was all over the map today; there are obvious reasons for skepticism here, because Lazar has absolutely hit a wall over the last two years. But I still noticed there were a few of the better objective minds out there that didn’t hate this deal, either. Travis Yost thought Calgary was one of the more interesting places for Lazar to end up, because our sudden newfound relative depth could maybe prop him up back to par; Muneeb Alam drew a comparison to Nino Niederreiter’s situation in NYI, and had a tweet along the lines of: “I’m suspicious when a 21-year old loses 90% of his scoring output from one year to the next” (and to be fair, going from 20 points to 1 is a pretty significant crater); Corey Pronman noted that he wouldn’t be too quick to give up on Lazar, that there’s a chance for him to carve out a good career as a 3rd line guy.

    The thing is, Lazar has already shown he can play in the show – he’s did it rather competently as a 19-year old rookie. With Condra & Pageau, that line ran at 54% CF over 275 minutes of 5v5; xGF% was 59.8%, best mark of any line the Sens iced that year. They were a crucial part of a really fun and plucky team that went deeper than they were supposed to. I don’t think many of us watched Lazar through those 2015 playoffs and thought anything other than “this kid is going to be alright.” And I doubt many would argue taking him in the 1st round was unwarranted.

    How did things change so quickly? There’s no way to objectively argue that he’s been anything but lost over the last two seasons – this season in particular – but I think you need to acknowledge that, as recently as two seasons ago, he was holding his own as a teenager in the show. The full picture is important here, because we’re quite literally talking about a kid. I don’t think a less than 200 GP sample size is enough to write off someone of Lazar’s pedigree – and please, no revisionist history here, Hlinka gold + 2 WJC’s w/ 1 gold as a PPG player throughout, we’re talking about a very accomplished junior-aged player. The tools are there.

    Was the price appropriate, or steep? Hard to fret over Jokipakka, that’s a non-starter; maybe the 2nd rounder is too much. Like others have noted, maybe you can use that pick in another trade that visibly moves the needle far more. Maybe that 2nd rounder nets you another Kylington/Andersson/Dube. But as Alam noted today, if you don’t make the odd bet, you’re never going to reap the benefits of the odd anomaly. This is a long-game play, and I think it makes sense on a few fronts: a) obviously addresses a position of need in the org (RW/RH Fwd); b) he’ll cost absolutely nothing to extend; and c) assuming you’re going to roll with the newly established top six at least heading into the start of next year, a competent 3rd line winger is *exactly* what you’re looking for. With all due respect to JG Pageau, I take Bennett over him any day. I think sourcing that LW slot is an easier task as well. Not unreasonable to suggest Tre could put together an x-Bennett-Lazar line that could mimic or improve on the Condra-Pageau-Lazar line from 2014-15, probably at quite a low overall cost.

    I think that’s what makes this a worthwhile bet. As Ferland plays his way into some recency bias negotiation leverage, and we inch closer to Mickis flirting with the idea of testing UFA for a career payday, every dollar spent is going to matter. We can’t afford any more Brouwer-type misses; I’d much rather be making a bet like this, on a cost-effective & club-controlled asset. And I’d probably rather bet on Lazar over Brouwer when it comes to allocating protection slots this summer. I don’t think Brouwer will get taken, but you could still end up looking like this next year:

    Gaudreau-Monahan-Ferland

    Tkachuk-Backlund-Frolik

    [New LW]-Bennett-Lazar

    Bouma-Stajan-Brouwer

    F. Hamilton

    Or, maybe you land a stud RW, and noted play-driver Ferkland becomes Bennett’s new LW on that line. Either way, I don’t think that’s a bad setup at all.

    Tre has taken a few young player eval swings over his time here, but I think he’s hit on enough of them to warrant some trust. He was right about Nakladal (even if it didn’t translate in Carolina); he was right about Panarin (even if finishing runner-up doesn’t mean anything). He was unconscionably right on Tkachuk, Hamilton, Frolik, etc. There are a couple of misses and there are still some TBDs, but on the whole, I do think the man has an eye for what plays at this level. Stone and Lazar are the biggest leaps of faith this FO has asked us to take, but I’m genuinely intrigued to see if Tre, Maloney et. al were actually able to find a couple of buy-low bets who just needed a change of scenery and the right fit.

    • Ari Yanover

      This is a damn good counter argument and probably my favourite reply on this. I definitely hope your outlook is the one that comes to fruition, and it has the potential because of the one number Lazar actually has going for him this season: his age.

      Like, I’m pretty sure nobody wants to see Lazar fail. But seeing as how as of late virtually every single stat you can think of goes against him and the cost was a second rounder – especially when a guy like Parenteau goes for a sixth (not to say the Flames should have made that trade, because he’s strictly a rental whereas Lazar is not, which is where the Flames unequivocally got it right) – that’s what really fuels the scepticism on this. It looks like they bought a failing asset at a relatively high cost.

      It’s purely optics, but it’s a lot easier to look at this deal and say, “Yeah, sure, alright, let’s see how it goes,” if it’s even so much as a fourth being given up instead.

    • Greg

      It seems I might be the only one not swayed by your post 🙂 it’s a good one, but…

      The Niederreiter comparison – he was a 5th overall pick so there was a much higher chance he was going to go on to be something. The difference between the odds on a 5th pick and 17th pick is quite large.

      The lineup – with his current numbers, and the tight playoff race, I don’t see how you can take a chance on him and insert him into the lineup right now. Clearly you can’t bump ferland for him, and I’m not sure you can even bump chaison for him let alone Brouwer. There’s no merit based argument for either.

      And heading into next year… what’s he done that warrants penciling him in on the third line? I don’t see any indication he’s earned more of a chance than klimchuk, porier, shinkurak, etc so if none of those guys get us excited, why would we feel better about slotting Lazar there? Because he’s new and shiny and stuff?

      And, ugh, we’re going to pay $10M for our 4th line next year??? Actually, maybe I’m still just mostly annoyed about the bad value Brouwer contract. 🙂

      I’m sticking with my original answer: lazar is not a great bet against a 2nd round pick, but if this bumps Brouwer to the exposure list and Vegas takes him, then it’s good. Otherwise we paid a decent price for what appears to be a square peg for our round RW hole.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    Stupid expansion draft rules and being confusing. Im compelled to put this in here because I was inadvertently spreading some misinformation (my bad!) about the need to protect RFA’s/UFA’s in an earlier thread. If anyone else was confused, like me, this may be informative:

    “At least twenty of the thirty players selected by Vegas must be under contract for the 2017–18 season, and they will be required to select a minimum of fourteen forwards, nine defencemen and three goaltenders.Vegas will be granted a 48 hour window prior to the draft to sign any pending free agent (RFA or UFA, one per team) that was left unprotected. If a team loses a player to Vegas during this signing window they will not have a player selected from their roster during this draft.”

    So Vegas can sign some combination of UFA’s/RFA’s (I could not find a consensus on what the break down for that is 5+5, 8+2?) However, even though there is a 48 hour window for Vegas to speak with UFA’s/RFA’s, this does not mean that said player MUST sign with Vegas.

    Several sources mentioned loopholes, such as teams and players not under contract into 2017-18 making under the table deals not to sign with Vegas, and staying with the home team instead. I cant find an up-to-date consensus if this loop hole has been closed.

    I know Tre said he “had something figured out” when referring to using a protection spot for Lazar. Not sure what that means?

    Okay, I think my conscious is clear now. Later, friends.

    • cornhusk55

      The flames plan on using RFA players without a contract as a form of protecting them from being taken in the draft. Lazar and maybe even Ferland could be told they have a place on the team and not to sign with LVGN during the 48 hour window they have to negotiate RFA\UFA before free agency. LV cannot just take the rights to an RFA, they would have to sign a contract with them in the 48 hrs. leading up to the draft. This will force LV to take a player under contract for 17/18 or a UFA the flames have no intention of re-singing. (Bouma, Stajan, Engelland etc)

      Once past the draft the flames sign RFA’s

      • dontcryWOLF88

        Thanks for the input man, but that’s all in the post you just quoted 😉

        …there has been talk of putting in penalties for this in the form of lost picks or players. I have no idea how they could enforce that though. LV can’t force a player to go to their team…and honestly, I can’t imagine many free agents would sign up to go unless they got 20% above market value.

  • Backburner

    I’m willing to try anything over Chiasson at this point.. but my only issue with this deal is where does he slot in?

    I would be interested in sitting Chiasson, and trying these lines:

    Bouma – Bennett – Lazar

    Versteeg – Stajan – Brouwer

  • OKG

    I would like to see him on Backlund’s RW. That allows Frolik to help get Bennett going a bit more.

    Gaudreau-Monahan-Ferland
    TKachuk-Backlund-Lazar
    Frolik-Bennett-Versteeg
    Bouma-Stajan-Brouwe

    • herringchoker

      I love this plan buddy. We need to put Lazar in a position to succeed. Backlund and Frolik are the rookie sensai’s. We loose nothing by this move besides Chiasson. Chaisson won’t be on this team next year anyways. We need Skill with Bennett.

      • dontcryWOLF88

        I’d love to see the team you could put together in 5 years! Most analysts pegged the brouwer deal as solid, if slightly overpriced as is the standard for FA. Looks dumb now, but that’s how it works with human beings. Unpredictable. Think anybody predicted Kopitar having 8 goals at this point in the year?

        ..and stajan isn’t on tre. Not sure about Bouma just now

        • Greg

          Not sure which analysts you read, all the ones on this site agreed it was a bad deal. Most thought it would look like an overpay in year two, but it’s actually looked bad in year one already.

          I don’t judge on hindsight, I go by how it looked at the time. That’s why I can’t really fault BT for the granlund trade, it looked like a win at the time. But the Brouwer deal was sour from day one though.

          This Lazar deal – odds are neither asset will be worth anything 5 years from now so it’s probably a wash. But you just gave up an asset for one that had to be protected, and doesn’t make your team any better in the short term, and that’s why it’s a head scratcher.

  • herringchoker

    Hey Guys, lets unbunch our panties and put this trade in perspective. A couple weeks ago we were talking about trading Ferland. Now he’s playing where we thought he should and thriving. The beginning of last year we couldn’t wait to get rid of Backland as a dud until the coach finally used him properly. Now we’re talking extensions. This trade is about a RW to grow with Bennett. Your comparisons to Stockton are all left wing aside from Pourier who to be honest needs a scenery change or a new coach to regain confidence. We have got to assume that Dave Cameron has had input on Lazar. We are basing all our opinions on numbers. Those numbers can’t predict how a chance to scenery and confidence will affect this player. I’d give that late second round pick anyday for a former first round pick who was good enough to represent team Canada at the world juniors anyday. Bennett needs a player with Lazar’s potential on his RW. Brower is an anchor for Bennett. My thought is we need Jankowski on his LW and we’ll start to see the makings of a good 3rd line. Sooner or later Bennett will start to break out. One day he will be challenging Gaudreau for best forward. In the meantime Bennett needs young smart speedy wingers to play with. I think we should be positive here. We got a high first rounder who’s still a kid for a second in a documented bad draft year. We should be excited at the potential.

  • herringchoker

    Remember as you cry about losing a second rounder. We’ve been lucky the last two years to draft potentially well ( still to be determined ). The same scouts, GM and coaches that are the reason for good second round drafts are responsible for this trade. We’re all morons if we think that somehow we can trust them to draft well but not trade well. My thoughts are that the coaches know this draft is bunk. So you better prepare yourself now to see our first rounder get traded away come the draft. Here’s a drafting lesson. Drafting is like gambling. You need to know when to leave the table. Besides our first rounders and Gaudreau the Flames have graduated NOBODY in the last 3 years. Keep that in mind when your crying about a second rounder. In my mind we got Lazar for a steal.

  • The GREAT WW

    I have the feeling that the Flames wanted this trade to include Poirier and a lower round draft pick. But Ottawa held firm for a second round pick. That’s why it took to the last minute. Just a guess…..

    WW

  • jupiter

    Jankowski gets 10 minutes of ice time on the horrible ice at Barclays center.Klimchuk gets no time in the NHL. Yet management feels that another player who has accomplished much less than these two gets to slot in ahead of them.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    Last year tre hoarded picks on account of it being a very highly touted draft. We will see in the future years what becomes of all that. This team the flames have now is as deep as its been since 88-89, in my humble opinion. I think that’s not just good luck, although there’s been that too. Tre has done lots of small, and big, things right to help get them to where it is now.

    In tres own words, he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. That’s true. However, the team is finally poised to do some damage. I’ve been waiting a long time to be able to say that. 2014-15 was fun, but that was a weird year. I’m much more confident this year. I think he’s done more good than bad and I see upward trajectory as this team goes along. I think it is generally underestimated how hard that is to pull off.

    For instance, he said weeks of research and planning went into just the lazar trade. Scouting reports. Negotiations. Cap management. Expansion draft consideration etc etc etc. He claims to have a plan for lazar and how to maintain that asset. He said that with a smirk. He’s not a dumb man. I’m sure he considered this prior.

  • I’d give him a game or two, throw him in a few different situations, see if he’s anywhere close to competing at the level of the rest of the roster. If not, have him finish the year in Stockton and start fresh next season with presumably a very cheap new 2 year deal.