Terrible hockey operations decisions are sometimes made with the best of intentions. During Jay Feaster’s tenure, the Flames kept Joey MacDonald as their backup because they were concerned about losing him on waivers. Two seasons ago, the same concern about losing fringe NHL goalie Joni Ortio on waivers led to the team keeping three goaltenders and losing breakaway king Paul Byron on waivers instead. Two years hence, Ortio is playing in Sweden and Byron is one of Montreal’s most impressive players – whoops.
The decision-making that saw the Flames lose Byron for nothing could rear its head during next month’s expansion draft. The logic is simple: the Flames traded a second round pick to acquire Curtis Lazar, so it’d be foolhardy to expose him in the draft because then they would be out the draft pick and the player.
But would they? Would the Vegas Golden Knights take Lazar if he was exposed?
Sunk cost fallacy
A key component of nearly any discussion about Lazar relies, at least in part, upon the economic concept of the sunk cost and the sunk cost fallacy. A handy explanation, via LifeHack.org:
In economics, a sunk cost is any past cost that has already been paid and cannot be recovered. For example, a business may have invested a million dollars into new hardware. This money is now gone and cannot be recovered, so it shouldn’t figure into the business’s decision making process.
Or, let’s say you buy tickets to a concert. On the day of the event, you catch a cold. Even though you are sick, you decide to go to the concert because otherwise “you would have wasted your money”.
Boom! You just fell for the sunk cost fallacy.
In the Lazar situation, the fact that the Flames gave up a second round pick colours their decision-making. In every explanation of why the Flames will protect Lazar I’ve read, it’s some version of, “Well, they gave up a second so of course they’ll protect him…” The problem with that conclusion is this: Lazar being traded for a second rounder has nothing to do with him being good or not.
Ignoring the sunk cost issue, the bigger question for the Flames is whether protecting Lazar is more advantageous than the other options available to them.
Lazar: Actually good?
Is Lazar worth protecting? Looking at his underlying numbers and results over the past two seasons split between Ottawa and Calgary, the answer is “not really.” Adjusting for score and venue effects, he was among Ottawa’s worst regular players over the past two seasons; if you look at his possession stats, his placement in the press box was wholly earned.
Here’s his rolling Corsi percentage for the past two seasons.
Not only does Lazar not get anywhere close to the vaunted 50% mark, but he barely breaks the 45% plateau. These numbers are bad. And the scariest thing is that this is Lazar after 180 NHL games to get his legs under him. Young players should be expected to struggle early on in their NHL careers because the NHL is a really, really tough league. But after a few seasons, players that succeed in the NHL tend to figure it out. (Sidebar: Wonder why “hockey people” are so impressed with Matthew Tkachuk’s rookie year? He figured the NHL game out rather quickly.)
While Lazar hasn’t been good in his NHL career, he also doesn’t compare well against similarly aged players that the Flames will likely expose in the expansion draft. Throwing out Lance Bouma, Matt Stajan and Troy Brouwer for their cap hits, which should be enough to scare Vegas off, here are the prominent young Flames and their NHL careers. It’s sorted by career Corsi For percentage.
Lazar is the worst of the bunch, despite having the second-most NHL experience in the cohort. If you’re Vegas GM George McPhee, taking Kulak or Chiasson may be a better bet. Granted, Lazar did suffer from mono to kick off last season, but it’s not like his late-season numbers were substantially different to support claims that his early season play was an aberration.
Based on his performance to date and ignoring the cost of acquiring him, Lazar probably wouldn’t be a big loss if he was claimed by Vegas. Since there are several players available who appear to be a lot better, it’s unlikely that Lazar would even be claimed, though.
Choices to make
Brad Treliving has some interesting choices to make between now and the expansion draft:
- He can protect Lazar.
- He can protect somebody else, perhaps Chiasson or Kris Versteeg, and expose Lazar.
- He can acquire another forward that would need protecting and expose Lazar.
Lazar has had 180 games to prove that he’s something more than a borderline NHLer. He hasn’t, and using a protection spot on him would rob the Flames of a chance to upgrade their roster for 2017-18. The Flames will likely be exposing several players better than Lazar in the expansion draft process and if he’s claimed, it doesn’t seem like he’d be that big of a loss.