Many of us expected a quiet trade deadline. The Flames didn’t have assets worth buying, they didn’t have any immediate needs, and they didn’t really a reason to start mortgaging the future. Things were on the upswing, why change things?
But then, in the final seconds before the deadline passed, the Flames acquired Curtis Lazar. The first rounder turned fourth liner had fallen out of favour in Ottawa, and with one point in 33 games, it was easy to see why Ottawa was selling him.
What was – and still is – difficult to understand is why the Flames bought him. Sure, they got rid of Jyrki Jokipakka, but he had already cleared waivers the day before. The Flames sent away a second round pick for Lazar even though he didn’t fill an immediate need.
A month after deadline, it’s still confusing. Lazar has factored into four (4) games with the club, two (2) of them being of actual consequence. During the winning streak it was understandable why Gulutzan wasn’t placing him into the lineup, but now that things have settled down, he still can’t factor in. Troy Brouwer was visibly the worst player on ice for the Flames for a period, and Lazar still couldn’t get in.
This all raises the question of why bother? Why did the Flames give up a potentially high value pick (before someone says that it’s “only a second,” look at the past two drafts) for a guy who has barely played, even when he can’t be any worse that some of the players the Flames have now? What is the plan here?
The short term
As we’ve seen since the deadline, there’s probably no way that Lazar comes in for the short term. Especially considering the “short term” is now the playoffs.
Although Ari suggested it in her post game embers, and even though he has three points in four games as a Flame, I would be wary of him as a playoff player. He’s really only had one good game, and he was playing between Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik. Otherwise, he’s been a fourth liner.
They aren’t pushing out Brouwer, especially with the expansion draft looming. Lance Bouma is an option for exclusion, but is Lazar an upgrade? Corsi wise, not really. Bouma is a -5.21CFrel%, while Lazar is -9.94CFrel% in his short stint with Calgary (he was a -9.86CFrel% in Ottawa, so it’s probably not a sample size issue).
You can barely argue that Lazar is an upgrade over Freddie Hamilton at this point. The Flames probably aren’t going to use him in a high stakes situation, they barely used him in low stakes situations. His short term use is eating popcorn.
The long term
Here’s the interesting part.
Lazar is a high value asset, either through natural or artificial means. You have to think that if the Flames were willing to pay a second rounder for him, someone else was also willing to pay a similar price. Ottawa was not going to expose him on waivers because they know someone was going to pick him up. The flip side is that the Flames were stupid enough to pay such a high price for him that it would be foolish and embarrassing to give him up.
There’s no way they’re going to expose him in the expansion draft. They’re going to re-sign him in the offseason. Even if he has finished the season with five points in 37 games, there’s a lot to like about Lazar. He’s young and right handed, two things the Flames need. Despite early returns, he appears to be a kid who can break out and be a useful bottom sixer if he puts it all together.
First, he’s going to have to unseat someone. Either Alex Chiasson (likely) or Brouwer (hopefully) will be claimed in the expansion draft. That opens up a RW spot. Easy peasy. The tougher thing is to hold back the dogs. The Flames have plenty of talents in the AHL who are looking for a similar forward spot. Lazar is in their age group, and will have the advantage due to his waiver status.
I speculated a while back about the Flames either acquiring (Lazar) or kicking tires on players aged 21-24, perhaps suggesting that the team feels there is a weakness in that age group from non-NHLers. Either younger players aren’t coming along as fast as they once thought they were and they need to buy time, or they’re readying to move on from some prospects.
That would make Lazar a stopgap: a player who holds a place not because of himself, but because he is simply a better option than the next player up. He’s there until someone better comes along. Unless he significantly improves, I can’t see Lazar staying past his next contract. Lazar being a stopgap makes the most sense: there’s a lot of prospect depth that isn’t here yet, and he is young, cheap, and with a bit more upside than your usual stopgap.
But why are the Flames still tying themselves down to stopgaps? That made sense two years ago when the team had a bunch of spots and no young depth. This year should be the last of the rebuilding era, and the Flames still made a playoff spot. They could possibly get a huge leg up on the competition this offseason, why tie yourself down to two years of a player who is trending poorly?
The same thing that makes the most sense about Lazar also makes the least sense. Why do they need a stopgap? The Flames found Alex Chiasson for practically free last offseason. He stepped in, didn’t hurt the corsi, and scored a few goals along the way, then he’ll (likely, but not hopefully) leave. That’s what the Flames should be looking for if they need someone to fill that bottom six hole while they’re waiting for prospects.