40Curtis Lazar Profile
Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

On the Bubble: The bizarre case of Curtis Lazar

With the Calgary Flames’ training camp well underway, many of us are sitting on our hands waiting to see the roster take shape.

It’s likely that the defensive pairings will be Giordano – Hamilton, Brodie – Hamonic, and Kulak – Stone. Only the seventh spot is really up for grabs, with either Matt Bartkowski or Tyler Wotherspoon the likely candidates. As much as we want to see either Rasmus Andersson or Juuso Valimaki crack the lineup, it would not be optimal if they spent most of their time in the NHL as scratches. By the season opener, the defensive pairings should be intact.

However, when it comes to the forwards, things get a little bit trickier. If you’ve tried your hand at penciling in the Calgary Flames’ forward lines, you’ve probably found yourself stumped by the time you made it past Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland, and Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik. There has not been anything concrete regarding the line combinations outside the top six.

Sam Bennett and Kris Versteeg are all but certain to be fixtures on the third line, with their winger to be determined. Troy Brouwer and Matt Stajan will likely see time on the fourth line, though it would be their spots to lose if they underperform in the coming weeks. It’s abundantly clear that there’s very little room for the remaining players to earn their spots.

Thankfully, the bottom six has the flexibility for players to interchange their positions, with all four players already mentioned able to take draws or play on the wing, meaning any of the Flames’ prospects could potentially make the jump and become an NHLer.

From what we’ve seen at training camp so far, the most likely candidates to round out the roster are Curtis Lazar, Mark Jankowski, Emile Poirier, Spencer Foo, Marek Hrivik, Hunter Shinkaruk, Andrew Mangiapane, Morgan Klimchuk, Freddie Hamilton, and Garnet Hathaway (Daniel Pribyl would be here too if not for his untimely injury). These players will often find themselves playing musical chairs for the last spots on the bench, with the losers heading to the press box or down south to Stockton. It wouldn’t be surprising if Brouwer and Stajan end up rotating amongst these players, too.

While it’s up to management where they want these players to spend time over the course of the year, it’s entirely possible that any of them could force their way into the lineup.

To kick things off, let’s look at Lazar.

The bizarre case of Curtis Lazar

When Curtis Lazar was drafted in 2013, he was pegged as one of the top prospects for the Ottawa Senators. Fresh off a Memorial Cup championship after posting 76 points in 58 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings, he was poised to become a difference maker in the NHL. After a lacklustre start to the 2014-15 season, he was loaned to Team Canada and captained the U20 World Junior team to a gold medal. Coming back to Ottawa, he was never able to produce at the level he was expected to, and was ultimately shipped to Calgary after two years of disappointment.

The Flames believed that he just needed a fresh start to reignite his offensive talent and make his mark in the NHL. We know that the Flames brass thinks highly of him, even opting to protect him during the Vegas expansion draft. Surely they have great hopes for him moving forward.

He didn’t get much of a chance last season in Calgary, however, partly due to the Flames being on their historic 10-game winning streak when he was traded and couldn’t crack the red-hot lineup. Coming to training camp in “the best shape of his life”, Flames management has vowed to give him ample opportunity to prove himself at the NHL level. Even Lazar sees this season as one of opportunity:

“I’m motivated. I’ve got a fresh start and a lot of opportunity and I’ve got to do something with it.” – Curtis Lazar

Despite all this affirmation, his slot in the roster is a question mark. Although preseason lines don’t traditionally hold as much value as regular season practice lines, we’ve seen an interesting deployment by Glen Gulutzan. Lazar’s line throughout training camp has been beside Stajan and Shinkaruk, one that doesn’t appear to feature players who have an inside track to an opening night roster spot, other than Stajan.

Even so, skating with fourth line players at best doesn’t seem to be a spot that gives Lazar ample opportunity to redeem himself this season. Perhaps the additions and emergence of fringe NHL prospects has pushed Lazar down the depth chart through no fault of his own. Maybe his supposed demotion is due to unfortunate slotting and he’ll eventually earn a full time roster spot.

Only time will tell where he ends up, but this story is one that will be interesting to follow all the way up until the season opener on Oct. 4.

Why Lazar should make the lineup:

  • The Flames have high expectations of Lazar.
  • They traded assets to get him and used a protection slot to keep him.
  • Treliving has said that he will get more opportunity this season.

Why Lazar shouldn’t make the lineup:

  • Other prospects appear to have passed him in the pecking order.
  • He’s largely unproven at the NHL level.
  • His roster spot could be better used on a more intriguing player with a higher apparent ceiling.

Coming up: Mark Jankowski

  • Newbietwo

    It’s not that complicated.. the Flames will slot two centres on each of the bottom lines.. the combo could vary but it’s likely to start the season the flames will want Lazar next to Bennett to have a left and right combo and that gives Jankowski time to ease into NHL next to Stajan with Freddie as the extra Centre..

    Injuries are going to occur and it adds to flexibility of the roster.. if in an instance for example someone in top six say Chucky or Johnny get hurt then Bennett moves up to bebwinger for a while.. etc etc

    It also allows the flames to game manage players so that if they get a little banged up they get rested.. with the ultimate goal for everyone to peak come end of the season..

    It’s a game of chess as much as anything.. if you make 110 points but players come on exhausted for play offs you are done:: “capitals”

    Also older folks like Stajan, Brouwer will not be playing every game.. I see flames giving them no more that 65 to 68 games each

    • Kevin R

      Agree with most you said but Benny had a pretty good game last night & if Chucky can’t go for the start of the season, I see Janko moving to that 2nd line. Benny needs some continuity to have his break out season & flip flopping him from centre to wing is not the answer. In fact, I really hope Foo sticks & that line of Bennett/Versteeg/Foo gets some chemistry out of the gate.

  • Southboy

    I still believe he was a huuugge gamble!! Yes he could work out to a steal, but realistically he is a filler 3rd line C when there is an injury, but mainly a 4th liner. Giving up a 2nd, and an expansion protection spot on a guy that is easily replaced from what we have internally is bad asset management.

    • Kevin R

      Until he proves otherwise I agree, Lazar doesn’t have top 6 ceiling. Not sure why everyone is maing such a big thing about the expansion protection. Who did we expose that made that such a risky management decision. Doing that did two things, sent a message to Brouwer & deep down we all hoped Mcphee would have taken the bait & picked off Brouwer. Who would have thought he would have wasted the pick on Engellend. This expansion draft point shouldn’t even be in the conversation.

      • Newbietwo

        He was a gamble of course he was however less of a gamble than most make him out to be.. the kid can skate, he can defend and he has a scoring touch that needs to come out and he’s a right shot.. every NHL team wants a possible 3rd line future right shot centre

        • dontcryWOLF88

          Id love to hear which 2nd round pick, from any NHL team, wasnt a huuuuge gamble to make the top six.

          Even first 1st round picks are a gamble. Hell, even 1st overall picks have historically been gambles to make the top six. For instance, only 25% of 2nd round picks make it to 200 games. Of that 25%, how many make the top six? I couldnt find that stat, but its probably just a half or a fourth, or less, of that initial 25%.

          So if Tre had opted to use his 2nd round pick, we are comparing, essentially, a percentage less than 12.5% of getting a top six, VS whatever chance Lazar has. Im still fine with that decision.

      • Cheeky

        As far as proving, same goes for everyone. We keep comparing to other prospects such as Janko and Foo but in all honesty the Brouwers and Stajans are the true blockers. If not for their salaries it wouldn’t be an issue with those earning it (and those we keep talking about deserving) making the team….

      • deantheraven

        I called the Engelland thing before the trade deadline last year. Several times. The deal worked for both sides, even though it looks like McPhee was asleep at the switch. Don’t be surprised if Brouwer doesn’t end up in Vegas by the 2018 draft…

        Tre knew he was going to protect Lazar before the first phone call about Kevin. Lazar may have lowered his own ceiling these last two seasons, or maybe it was the situation. I believe that the Flames believe he’s still an NHLer. He’s going to get the chance and make the most of it. Worst case, he ends up as 13/14 fwd with one of the above mentioned o’er leapers earning a regular spot. I have higher hopes for this deal than the Mike Smith deal.

    • Danomitee

      At the time, yes it looked like a huge gamble. Now not so much. We gave up Jokipaaka & a 2nd. Jyrki was garbage, and Lazar is a better gamble then a 2nd round pick. That expansion protection spot didn’t mean anything as Vegas picked Engelland who was a free agent in a week anyways. It was Lazar for a 2nd straight up.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    The reasons why he should-according to the article-make the lineup have nothing to do with Curtis and his ability to play hockey.

    You might as well say he should make the team because the Flames spent the money/assets on him. You know, like Troy.

  • OYYC

    “Maybe his supposed demotion is due to unfortunate slotting and he’ll eventually a full time roster spot.”

    It isn’t a demotion. Lazar has been skating with Stajan and Shinkaruk by default. The team wants as much time as possible to evaluate Poirier and Foo. In practice to start the camp, Poirier was with Tkachuk and Backlund, and Foo was with with Versteeg and Bennett. They want Janko skating with Mangiapane and Brouwer.

    In the split squad game in Edmonton, the team even threw Poirier and Foo on the top line with Bennett as the centre. That might have been because Tkachuk sat and he would have been playing somewhere, but the team rightly saw no point in playing him against Edmonton with a supposedly bum-hip-for-a-day.

    GG has said that every veteran will be getting 4 games this pre-season. That seems a bit too rigid of a plan in my mind, but it looks like they’ve had a plan throughout camp. Versteeg and Bennett in preseason will get Lazar on their wing eventually, but it is more important to feature Poirier and Foo so far.

    Lazar’s playing time isn’t really a demotion at all, although it looks like it on the surface.

    • Baalzamon

      That seems a bit too rigid of a plan in my mind

      I would agree. Honestly, I’m starting to think that teams just have way too many players in training camp.

      • OYYC

        They’ve chopped 21 already. Calgary has 47 players remaining at training camp (5x goalies, 14x defencemen, 28x forwards). From NHL.com. There also has to be a certain number of vets for the split squad games. I’m not sure it is that big of a deal to be honest. The vets & top prospects ready to make the team were definitely in one group, and the fringe players in another group.

        • Baalzamon

          That’s just it though; 47 is the high end of what they should have had before the split squad match, not after. The fact that they’re cutting 21 players–none of whom played, by the way–after the matches and got down to 47 is pretty ridiculous. They should be at like 30 right now, at most. The players who are actually going to play need to spend time playing together. Sitting on the bench or playing with randoms for no reason doesn’t help anyone prepare for the season. Remember Gaudreau – Monahan – Versteeg to start last season? How much better would that line have been if they had played like three preseason games together instead of one practice?

          Have I mentioned that I hate split squad matches?

          • Baalzamon

            thinking about it 30 might be a bit low at this stage, but the point still stands. There are not 24 players vying for spots (in addition to the 23 or so “incumbents”) on this team.

    • Skylardog

      I sure hope, and think, that you are right. Putting Lazar with Stajan and Shink is really placing him in a position to fail. He may not look bad with Stajan, but he isn’t going to get a chance to show his upside either. Not saying Shink is bad either, but he is getting a raw deal too by not getting top line minutes with Bennett.

      That line also got the short end of the stick due to the penalties taken last night.

      • OYYC

        @Skylardog. It is just a numbers game right now. Not sure who they start tomorrow at home against the Vancouver B team. But the Flames will smoke them, and everyone will get to feel good about themselves again. Fans included.

          • OYYC

            I’m inclined to think that no prior scrimmage here was a part of the Edmonton games. Smith looked nervous as hell as well. I watched the game in Calgary, and the Flames got much better in the last 30 minutes. At the very least they’ll get to practice the PP and PK the way the refs are calling the slashing and faceoff infractions.

    • Baalzamon

      That’s a little disingenuous. Nash was traded from Columbus after his worst season in five years, and aside from the lockout-shortened year (in which Yakupov was also excellent, btw) and one other year, his production has been noticeably lower with the Rangers than it was with the Blue Jackets (three of the four seasons in which he scored fewer than 40 points have been since the trade).

  • Nick24

    Lazar: 180 games played 39 points. Those are hardly inspiring numbers. He hasn’t done anything of note in the NHL, aside from eating a hamburger off the ice.

    They should give opportunities to the other players in the system. The team has already used a 2nd round pick on him, it’d be awful if they played him over other players who haven’t had the same opportunities as him.

  • Just.Visiting

    From what I’ve seen so far (and assuming he will end up having a spot on the ice when the dust clears because of waiver status, etc.), I see him on the fourth line until he shows enough to warrant being moved up. He sees himself as a C, so trying him there and shifting Stajan to the wing could be a good transition.

    This assumes that Brouwer doesn’t earn a spot on the third line. That would presumably then see a fourth line of Janko, Stajan and Lazar, which would actually be a much better fourth line than what we’ve rolled historically.

    • freethe flames

      3 centers. Brouwer in the pressbox. So a possible team like this based upon who played well last night: Johnny/Monny/Ferland, Tkachuk/Backs/Frolik, Versteeg/Bennett/Poirier, and Stajan/Janko/Lazar with Brouwer watching.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I am getting mixed signals on the treatment of Lazar. He has been given a free pass ahead of some more deserving prospects… Until camp that is. He drew the short straw in line pairings at the start of camp compared to players like Foo, Mangi and Poirier.

    Lazar does not deserve to jump the que, but he will because he is no longer waiver exempt. Personally, I think he has drawn weaker line mates to remind him that his free pass will only carry him so far. I like Lazar as a person but I don’t believe he has the offensive ability that Janko, Mangi, Poirier, and Shink have shown in the AHL.

    The truth is most teams have players like Stajan and Brouwer that are over paid based on production and as a result are gifted roster spots. As well, most teams have budding prospects that get either pushed to the minors or down the line up as collateral damage. Janko is too good to be a fourth line utility player and I expect he will show it.

    • Baalzamon

      Lazar does not deserve to jump the que, but he will because he is no longer waiver exempt.

      Neither are Shinkaruk and Poirier. Why does Lazar’s waiver status matter more than theirs?