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.
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.
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.
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.