34Curtis Lazar Profile
Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

RFA Profile: Curtis Lazar

Curtis Lazar’s time as a member of the Calgary Flames has been very brief. After being acquired from the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline, Lazar played a grand total of five games with his new team, giving us very little to go on. Regardless, though, Lazar is a pending restricted free agent and due a new contract, so it’s an interesting exercise trying to determine what exactly the Flames have in the former first round pick.

This is the second of our free agent profiles this summer after our look at pending RFA Sam Bennett a few weeks ago. Following today’s look at Lazar, we’ve got two more RFA profiles (Micheal Ferland and Alex Chiasson), followed by a look at a trio of pending UFAs (Kris Versteeg, Michael Stone, and Deryk Engelland).

Lazar’s case really is an interesting one. Despite having a generally dreadful 2016-17 season, Calgary gave up a second round pick to bring him in and will likely protect him in the expansion draft as a result. Still just 22 years old, it’s tough to determine what exactly Lazar is going to be at the NHL level. Determining what his second contract is going to look like, however, isn’t nearly as difficult.

Evidence

If we’re going to judge Lazar solely on last season, well, the evidence doesn’t look good. Lazar and new Senators head coach Guy Boucher just weren’t on the same page, and the former struggled as a result. And, as we mentioned earlier, it’s somewhat tough to get a good gauge on Lazar’s time with the Flames knowing how little he played with the team.

It’s a little more helpful to take a look at Lazar’s entire NHL body of work thus far when trying to get a read. Prior to this past season, Lazar was a passable NHL forward as a rookie and sophomore in Ottawa. While nothing he did was spectacular, Lazar certainly wasn’t completely lost, either.

In his first two seasons with the Sens, Lazar was primarily used as a bottom six forward who saw some time on the penalty kill. That was particularly true during the 2015-16 campaign when Lazar averaged 1:24 of PK time per game, third highest amongst Ottawa forwards. From all accounts, including from Flames assistant coach Dave Cameron (Lazar’s coach for two years in Ottawa), he was a reliable bottom six guy, and the numbers above back that up.

Deliberation

I’m willing to call last season a write-off for Lazar, specifically his time in Ottawa. If you talk to Lazar and read between the lines, its pretty clear Boucher didn’t trust him and thus didn’t play him very much (he averaged 8:48 of ice time in 33 games with Ottawa). Specifically, it seems like Boucher wasn’t in love with Lazar’s defensive game in comparison to how he was used in the two seasons under Cameron.

It’s interesting to compare how Lazar’s two coaches used him last season, though. When he decided to dress him, Boucher barely played Lazar and kept him away from a lot of defensive responsibility. It was the polar opposite under Glen Gulutzan in Calgary, however, albeit with a much smaller sample size.

In his four regular season games with the Flames, Lazar never saw an offensive start ratio higher than 25%, which gives you an idea as to how this coaching staff sees him fitting in. Overall, I didn’t mind Lazar in his brief time with Calgary and I thought he got more confident the more he played. I thought he was at his best in the team’s final two games of the season and in his one playoff appearance in game four against Anaheim.

What remains to be seen is if Lazar has offensive upside at the NHL level. He put up decent numbers in three seasons with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings and represented Canada twice at the World Junior Hockey Championship, so he definitely had success at lower levels. But offence in junior doesn’t necessarily correlate to the next level, and it hasn’t thus far for Lazar.

Verdict

It’s tough not to root for Lazar as a media member covering the Flames, and I would imagine that translates to fans, too. He works hard, has a good attitude, and has very much earned his “Smiling Assassin” nickname. But “good in the room” doesn’t always mean good on the ice, as we all know. Lazar certainly hasn’t been bad for the majority of his young NHL career, but he hasn’t been an impact maker, either.

From a contract perspective, there’s not a ton to debate. Calgary is going to qualify him and he’ll be under contract for next season at a fairly reasonable price. A two-year deal for Lazar in the $950,000 range is probably where this thing will end up landing, give or take a few thousand on either side. For reference, Lazar’s cap hit was just over $894,000 last season.

More interesting than his contract, though, is how Lazar projects going forward. At 22, he’s still got plenty of room to grow, and the Flames clearly have high hopes for him knowing the price they paid to bring him in. Could Lazar be an effective forward for Calgary down the road? Sure, that’s not out of the question whatsoever. Whether he lives up to the expectations of being a 17th overall selection in 2013, though, is still up in the air.

  • icedawg_42

    Easy. Prove it contract. 1 season league minimum. Give him some meaningful ice time and he’ll be grateful and play his guts out. Then we’ll know what he is.

    • Just a Fan

      He already makes more than league minimum and to qualify him you have to offer him 105% of his current salary. The minimum qualifying offer will be ~940K

      The current team must extend a “qualifying offer” to a restricted free agent to retain negotiating rights to that player. Qualifying offers are for one year contracts. The minimum salary for the qualifying offer depends on the player’s prior year salary. Players who earned less than $660,000 in the previous season must be offered 110 percent of last season’s salary. Players making up to $1 million must be offered 105 percent. Players making over $1 million must be offered 100 percent.

  • everton fc

    How he does in camp later this summer/fall… I think will give us a fair impression of Lazar. Particularly if he gets a fair group of linemates to show what he has to offer. I’m rooting for him.

  • supra steve

    Winnipeg put Lazar up for sale because they were pretty certain they couldn’t protect him, and they were also fairly certain that McPhee would take him. He’s young, he’s very personable, he has some promising skills, he’s a great match for the Vegas expansion market. Having looked over the Flames probable list of exposed players, and being underwhelmed, McPhee contacts Tre and makes an offer. If you can find a way to add Lazar to your list of expansion eligible players, I guarantee I will select him, forsaking all other names on your unprotected list. Vegas wins because they value Lazar above anything else the Flames will have available. The Flames win because they now have the ability to “protect” their entire roster, including any players they MAY be able to add from other clubs desperate to get a return for players they fear losing for nothing to expansion, at a time when the price they have to pay for those players is as low as it’s ever going to be. It’s just my theory, but I think it’s entirely possible, I really hope it is the reason for the acquisition of Lazar, it would make trading for him make a lot of sense. If Tre starts loading up (top 9 winger, top 4 D) just before the expansion draft, then it will all make sense.

  • canadian1967

    I’d like to see a comparison between Lazar and Backlund up to this stage of their careers both being late first rounders with trouble scoring early on

    • Lazar’s big issue is he doesn’t shoot the puck a lot and it’s also a massive issue in predicting in if he will improve. Yost did a piece on this earlier in the year when folks tried to draw comparisons to Lazar and Niederreiter. The problem with Lazar so far at 5v5 are his actual shot contributions dropping off year-over-year.

      Backlund didn’t have this issue really, especially when you factor in TOI at 5v5 too. Lazar’s iSF60 (individual shots for per 60 minutes) last season (2015-16, so his second year): 4.93. Backlund’s second season (2011-12 when he was injured lots): 8.30. Lazar’s rookie season he had 6.74 shots per 60 minutes at 5v5. Backlund’s first full season (2010-11) he had 10.07 shots per 60 minutes at 5v5. Backlund’s 09-10 sample of 23: 9.46 shots per 60.

      Even if we look at iCF (individual corsi events for) and iCF60 (individual corsi for per 60) we see similar problems with Lazar: he doesn’t shoot a lot (14-15: 12.03 iCF60, 15-16: 8.88 iCF60, and 16-17: 8.74 iCF60). It’s something incredibly important to remember with him that folks forget. It’s also likely he doesn’t contribute as an individual driver and is a passenger. So with that comes the question: do you want to saddle a passenger who hasn’t created much at all in his NHL career to established players? Because there isn’t much pay off there either if he can’t keep up at that level, in that usage, and is expected to try to contribute.

      Now you’re probably thinking: Mike just show me the damn point totals. Lazar has 10 goals in 180 GP at 5v5. Backlund in 180GP – or close to – which is 08-09 to 12-13 had 15, which on the service seems like it’s rather similar. And I mean hey, yeah it’s pretty close. That said the Backlund early in his career vs Lazar right now comparison is just a super inane comparison. Backlund despite his offensive woes and injury problems earlier in his career still managed to provide actual positive impacts in driving shot/goal shares while on ice.

      the tl;dr is: Lazar is nothing like “young Backlund”.

    • TriPPiNvdUb

      Big difference in drafts for Backs and Lazar, Backlund was projected to be a top 5 pick at the start of the year until a knee injury saw him slide down the rankings. Lazar is a mule and needs to work harder than the next guy every shift in order to be effective…

  • Just.Visiting

    Seems like a positive player to have on the roster. Bigger than I thought he was. While he should be in the mix for a bottom six role, I would not want to see him being given preferential treatment over internal prospects because he was acquired in a trade. With the limited experience and impact he has had, I think that the same “show me” test should apply to him as will to the Stockton players.

  • everton fc

    We shall see, soon enough.

    If Lazar goes to Vegas as one writer here scripted… And Brouwer is still on the roster when the season starts… I’d say that’s a huge disappointment for the organization.

  • The GREAT WW

    If you told me 6 months ago that all we would lose in the expansion draft was a second round pick (~#46 overall?) I would be ok with that…

    If the expansion draft AND getting rid of Brouwer only costs us a second round pick I would be extatic….

    WW

  • BurningSensation

    What everyone seems to forget, and what has gone unmentioned here do far, is that Lazar suffered from a bout of mono, essentially losing a year of development tjme, plus the time required to get back up to speed.

    I maintain aquiring him for the cost we paid was astute, as he was clearly at his low point cost-wise to pick up, and there are miles of black hardtop ahead of him now that he is healthy.

    He might never be more than a Swiss-army knife 3rd line checker, but that would still justify the cost of picking him up and protecting him, and there is a good chance that he can be more than that.

    • CussingTortoise

      Lazar isn’t particularly good at anything, yet isn’t terrible at anything either. The type of player who could be aquirred for much less albeit without the upside. The 2nd rounder was an overpayment especially when there are teams trying to get expansion draft ready.

  • HOFer_dirty30

    Great trade by BT in my opinion, he put up decent numbers for a cheap young player in his first 2 seasons and we bought low after a rough season. I think he has potential to be good under the right system, can’t wait to see him next season

  • mcardoza

    I don’t buy the flames moving him. The official site just did a piece on him. The only way I see him moving is if flames were offered a first rounder for him which that won’t happen so he’s staying I believe.

  • freethe flames

    Lazar and our other former first rounders(Shinkaruk/Klimcuk/Poirier/Janko) all need to push the pile if this team wants to get better. If these 5 could be the nucleus of the bottom 6 these team would make more progress than watching Bouma/Stajan/Brouwer/FHamilton. The kids need to have a good off-season and come to camp with that fire in their bellies. I also think you can add Mangaipane and Hathaway to guys who could push the pile this year. There has been plenty of talk about how the Flames should use the number 16 pick this year and while I remain reluctant to trade it when I read about how weak the draft is and I look at the former first rounders listed above and we are +5 and +4 after their draft years there is no certainty that they will be full time NHLer’s I become more prepared for BT to move that pick for someone under 25 who is an NHLer. The old saying is draft the best player available and trade and sign for need; the Flames need a goalie and need another top 9 forward preferably a RHC who can also play RW. With the LVGK draft coming there is room on this roster to acquire 1 of those 2 needs and maybe both. We also need both a 4/5 defender but with the expansion draft looming there is no room to do so; that will need to be done after the expansion draft. BT’s job is to make this team better and if that means a boring draft for us fans that is okay with this fan.

  • Garry T

    Here is something to throw up in the wind…… Poirier is coming back!
    He has speed to burn is big, can score and nobody ever thinks of him, but,
    He could really add to that line opening things up for JG and Mony.plus he has a nasty fringe to him. Just saying ……… And what have we got to lose for trying him.