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Photo Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

It might be time to demote Curtis Lazar

Even if you ignore the price paid, acquiring Curtis Lazar was the most perplexing move the Flames made last season. He didn’t fill any immediate need, seeing as he didn’t play until the season was wrapped up. His numbers, both advanced and basic, didn’t suggest that he was an upgrade on any other Flames player. He was kind of just acquired for the sake of being acquired.

That’s simplifying things too much, though. Lazar fell out of favour with Guy Boucher in Ottawa, and was either the 13th forward or stuck with Chris Neil and Chris Kelly. Given that he appeared to be on the up-and-up (plus a case of mono), Lazar was an easy candidate for a reclamation project. Given the Flames’ deficiencies on the right side, it was a shot that management felt was worth taking.

But the reality is that Lazar has only changed his address since leaving Ottawa. He had an exciting four games where he scored three points at the tail end of the 2016-17 season, but he’s returned to normal Lazar since. His possession stats are sixth worst on the team: only Matt Bartkowski, Tanner Glass, Troy Brouwer, Kris Versteeg, and Freddie Hamilton are behind him. With regards to corsi rel, he’s the third worst player on the team.

By the eye test, he’s unnoticeable on almost every night, never really much of a factor in a positive way. I guess he’s increased his scoring output, but when you’re jumping from 0.11 points per game to 0.16 it’s not much to get excited about (to nitpick, half of his points this year are secondary assists in the late stages of blowout games. He has four primary points in his last 62 games played).

There’s no metric you can point to that shows Lazar is moving anywhere but sideways. It’s a situation that could use some attention.

Not a good spot

Last year, Lazar wanted a fresh start. And he got one when he was traded to Calgary.

Well, not so fast, because the situation hasn’t changed much either. Matt Stajan, Brouwer, and Versteeg (until recently) aren’t the same as Kelly and Neil, but they still aren’t the optimal line. It seems counterproductive to free Lazar from the dregs of the Senators only to put him with the dregs of the Flames.

He’s also still not seeing much of the ice. It’s best to describe Lazar’s usage as “sparing,” as he’s only been involved in 10 of the past 21 games (mostly due to injuries on the right side; imagine if Jaromir Jagr and Kris Versteeg were healthy). In those 10 games, he’s seen 10 minutes of ice time or more only twice, and he’s been held to seven minutes or less three times. It’s not the optimal usage of a young player.

Jan 11, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames right wing Garnet Hathaway (64) skates against the San Jose Sharks during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

But it’s also hard to say that he’s earned anything else. With the top six solidified, the third line finding some sort of rhythm, and Lazar not producing, where else do you put him? Which player, either at centre or right wing, is he a noticeable upgrade on? He’s been given shots on the third (and for one game, the first) line and not done much with them. Even on the fourth line, he’s somehow the worst centre option.

One of the ominous signs is Garnet Hathaway. The sparkplug surprised many when he stepped into that third line RW role that had seemingly been handed to Lazar over the summer. It’s not great when you’re an offensively-minded 22-year-old and you’re being replaced by a 26-year-old who, to this point in his career, has been an AHLer with a checking forward ceiling.

Dec 31, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane (88) skates during the warmup period against the Chicago Blackhawks at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The final straw could be Andrew Mangiapane. I don’t like getting excited over one game, but it’s hard to say that Mangiapane isn’t already an upgrade on Lazar. Even though he doesn’t play centre or right wing, Mangiapane made the fourth line actually watchable for maybe the first time in a long time this season. Many would agree that it’s not even that ridiculous to say that Mangiapane has earned a better look after one game than Lazar has all season.

The small-ish winger just offers more than Lazar can. His AHL performances have been dominant this year and last, which is why people have been clamoring for him. With Mangiapane, you are getting someone who at least looks like a promising offensive weapon, which is hard to say about Lazar over 200 games into his NHL career.

(If you really need any more proof, let’s see what happens around 10:00 when the fate of F. Hamilton comes in. If the Flames recall someone else, that would make three Stockton players who have been brought in to do Lazar’s job.)

The positives of being punted

Playing in the NHL is not working for Lazar. There’s few signs of life and little improvement. You can try him up and down the roster, but the reality is that it really won’t work wherever you put him. If you believe that Lazar can still reclaim his first round potential, you must also agree with that. If you believe that Ottawa ruined his development by determining he was immediately a third liner, it’s hard to see how Calgary can remedy that by doing the exact same thing.

And that’s what the AHL is for.

The Flames can stash Lazar away while making use of some options that are better currently. People have been pining for Marek Hrivik in the lineup, and this is the perfect chance to get him some NHL ice time. The guy has been tearing up the AHL since coming off the IR at the beginning of the season. It really can’t hurt to make a swap: Hrivik could provide some bottom six stability while Lazar gets premium ice time in an easier league.

Sep 25, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets goalie Steve Mason (35) stops Calgary Flames forward Marek Hrivik (46) during the first period at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Age also plays into this heavily. Hrivik is 26, which means that he’s likely around the peak of his hockey career. You can play him, get a good year out of him, and wave goodbye. He’s a free asset. The team didn’t invest heavily into his development; there’s no real need to see results.

On the other hand, Lazar is 22. He does have room to improve. If you believe he can redeem himself, it makes sense to give him situations where he can be successful. Lazar needs minutes – which he isn’t getting in Calgary – and teammates who can help him – ditto – to help him get his game to the next level.

And where can he find plenty of that? In Stockton. There’s ripe opportunities down the middle (besides Hrivik, Tanner Glass, Brett Findlay, and Rod Pelley are taking reps at centre) and down the right side (the two right-handed shots remaining are Austin Carroll and Spencer Foo). There’s spots for him to fill in and get good minutes with teammates that aren’t on the last legs of their careers. An entire season with that is certainly much better than what the situation is now.

(For those who argue that Lazar should take a conditioning stint, something that he has to agree to in the first place, it’s probably not going to be helpful at all. The maximum length of a conditioning stint is 14 days, which, on average, is four or five AHL games. If he’s AHL bound, he should be there for a while.)

He and the team both stand to benefit from him playing in the AHL. The risk of losing him on waivers is significantly less than the possibility of developing a Lazar worth a damn.

The negatives

About that. If you could believe it, there’s a chance that Lazar could get pulled off waivers.

Guys like Adam Cracknell, Gabriel Dumont, Chris DiDomenico, Ryan Carpenter, and Nathan Walker (twice) have been waiver wire pickups. None of these guys are particularly great at anything and NHL teams determining that they are worthy of NHL spots would make the Flames’ choice difficult.

Lazar is probably the highest profile guy in that list. The Flames more or less paid the price for him because of that name, and there’s a possibility some other team would take a chance for the same reason. If a first rounder from within the past five years falls into your lap, why wouldn’t you even try to see if it works? I mean, if Cracknell can get claimed on waivers, why couldn’t Lazar?

I opened this article with “ignore the price paid,” but the Flames aren’t going to. They did not pay a second rounder for an AHLer, and they certainly did not pay to lose him for free. Given that they’re already taking heat for spending high picks and making few gains thus far, management probably does not want that on their hands.

This is almost certainly what is holding Lazar back from the AHL. Perhaps the pain of Paul Byron still stings, but the team probably won’t waive someone they think could be a day-to-day contributor (even if they are wrong in this case).

Curtis Lazar Profile

Final thoughts

Lazar is clearly not working in the NHL. The AHL is a solution for that.

And at this point, what else can the Flames do? He’s not that different from what he was last year on ice, other players from the farm are starting to usurp him, and the Flames can’t realistically find a way to get him favourable minutes. He’s stuck in neutral. Some of it his fault, some of it not.

The things Lazar needs to become a better player exist in Stockton, not Calgary. If he wants to become a regular here, he should start with being a regular there. He’s not really that much different than guys who had to be cut at the beginning of the season. What has he done to distinguish himself besides being the newest guy? If the Flames are really serious about developing him for the long term, he should probably be down on the farm.

Sure, there’s the risk of losing him for free on waivers. But is it really that much worse if he continues down the path of non-improvement and is essentially invisible for the next two seasons?

  • Despo

    His season was summed up in this “stars in cars” episode where Ryan Leslie and Lazar drove through Calgary and they met on guy on the street giving away tickets.

    “Do you know Curtis Lazar?” Answer: “No not really…”

    Maybe a 1 for 1 deal for Duclair would fit for both, team and player. The Duc would give us a young player with offensive upside and Lazar could become a leader type in a young Arizona team in the next couple of years.

    • Clayton

      With Arizona relying so heavily on analytics to build their team there is no way they are going to bite on Lazar at all. Lazar’s underlying analytics are horrific no matter which stat piece you examine.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Pretty sure the Duc’s perceived value as an NHL player is higher than Lazar’s, so Arizona should be able to get a better grade of meat than Lazar. Coyotes have been such a dysfunctional org for so long that it is tough to read if a struggling player is doing so on his own merits or whether he has become a casualty of the perpetual turmoil that surrounds that team.

      • Skylardog

        Duc’s value, and Domi’s, dropped when Tippett was the coach. They both came in playing well, but neither have recovered despite Tippett leaving. The young tandem looked like a serious threat for years to come, and then it quickly fizzled out.

        Young player development is the single reason why I hope Tippett is never hired here by the Flames.

    • cjc

      Duclair is no prize, but he has shown much more than Lazar to this stage. I don’t see why Phoenix would make that move (and they just claimed Hamilton, which ???).

  • freethe flames

    I agree with this article. Lazar remains an enigma and unknown. GG has no confidence in him and I would argue he has little confidence in himself at this point. If the Flames waived him I suspect he goes unclaimed and he would have a chance to find his game in Stockton; they could use him either at center or RW. If he is claimed well that’s just too bad. (the other thing is waiving him might trigger a trade; another team might want him but don’t want him on their NHL roster for the rest of the year) If he and FHamilton both go down it clears room to access guys like Klimchuk, Hrivik, Poirier and Shinkaruk.

    On a completely different note I worry about Jagr. His groan will not get better by having the odd day off; he needs to be put on IR if that’s the case; if he is playing as poorly as he is because of the groan then he needs to heal properly if it’s because the game has passed him bye then we are stuck with him.

    As a fan I would much rather watch a young 4th line playing with energy and speed than 3 old guys trying to hold on and hoping they don’t get scored on.

    • cjc

      I would argue that Lazar is a known. It’s not like he hasn’t had time in the NHL – over 200 games with 2 teams. And while he hasn’t had the greatest of linemates or minutes, guys with top 6 potential can overcome that to some extent. Even if they do restore him in some way by sending him to the AHL, his ceiling is clearly 4th liner or extra forward. It was a dumb trade to begin with, but at this point he is a sunk cost and the best thing to do is get rid of the contract. Try to find a trade, but if he is lost to waivers I wouldn’t lose any sleep. Of course either of those options mean admitting you were wrong, which is something NHL GMs seem averse to doing, so they keep throwing good money after bad. Lazar just doesn’t seem to have an NHL calibre skill set, and he certainly doesn’t have a future in the top 9, let alone the team.

      On the waivers note, Lazar still has a year remaining after this, which would give pause to any team claiming him.

  • Skylardog

    They just refuse to give him quality minutes. Even when on the third line, it was when Bennett and others were also struggling with or without Lazar. In one period with Gaudreau against Winnipeg, things appeared to be starting to roll, and then the experiment ended.

    Lazar with Backs and Tkachuk while Frolik is out. No messing with it, he gets the icetime without pulling him out after 1 period. If after 3 games there is no sign of improvement, and the line seems to be suffering, then the Lazar experiment is done. But in reality, 5 to 6 games is what would really tell us if he can be reclaimed.

    But they will never do that. There is no trust with anyone in GG’s eyes, unless you played for him in Vancouver, or are a senior veteran whose legs have left the building.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      The problem is that Calgary is not in a position, like they hoped , to be patient with a player like Lazar. As a bubble team, he is an easy scratch because he brings very little to the game. He has speed and energy like ant decent AHLer.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    NHL is a performance driven league where optics matter. That condition applies to players, GMs and coaches. While Lazar has earned a prolonged stint in the AHL, how does Tre put a positive spin on it if he waives Lazar and the captain-in-waiting is claimed? Losing a 22-year old mid-first round pick who cost you a second rounder would look horrible! Don’t think Tre wants that kind of junk on his doorstep at this time when so many are questioning the biggest move he has made as GM-hiring Gully.

    Better solution would be to make Lazar a throw-in the season-saving blockbuster deal Tre is or should be cooking up as we speak. Lazar would be a “prospect” in such a deal.

    Then there is Freddie. Let’s say he actually gets sent down to Stockton, who are going to be the 13th and 14th forwards on this club? Granted sitting and not playing is the worst thing imaginable for Lazar’s development but you do need these place setters, and I’d rather see Lazar munching popcorn on game nights than Mags or Rusty Hrivik or some other Heater who has earned a big league shot.

    Final option is for Tre to sit on thumb and keep Lazar until the middle of summer and quietly trade him to the Canes for a 6th rounder in 2020. No muss, no fuss and when Flames fans see the deal, they won’t give two hoots as they will be more than preoccupied with their summertime fun.

    • freethe flames

      I would rather see the 13/14 popcorn eaters be Stajan. As much as I have little use for Brouwer and his contract he has been better on his off wing as a 4th liner than any of the other veterans. Again waiving Lazar would also be a fishing expedition to see if there is any interest in him. I believe that if a player is claimed on waivers they must stay with the big club for the remainder of the season(please inform me if I am wrong). On which team would Lazar who is the 13th/14th forward on this team at the moment an upgrade? I don’t think most GM’s would claim him just to pi$$ BT off.

      Skylar’s view of what to do with him makes some sense. The Flames to do something with him.

      • BlueMoonNigel

        Edmonton would be a natural fit to claim him as would any other bottom feeder wanting to sell optimism and hope to its beleaguered fans. Buffalo might be able to con a couple of season ticket holders to renew their ducats if they put the right spin on Lazar. Ditto for Arizona.

        • Parallex

          You’re not going to use a Curtis Lazar claimed off waivers to sell hope. No fan is sitting at home thinking “Man, I was gonna give up my season tickets but now that my team has claimed Curtis Lazar off Waivers I’m gonna re-up!”

          • BlueMoonNigel

            Sell the kid’s stellar junior pedigree, his being a first rounder, his being misused by a coaching staff in Ottawa that was soon fired, his mono, his being screwed over in Calgary by Gully, his 1000 megawatt smile and he is still just 22. He is a marketing guy’s dream. Hell, less than a year ago many very knowledgeable Calgary fans thought Tre made a steal of a deal for him, so why wouldn’t fans elsewhere think the same especially when his acquisition cost is nil?

            If Hamilton was scooped up, you know Lazar is a drop kicked to be picked up.

            Are Flames fans ready to roll the dice on Lazar knowing that he could be the Flames next Marty St. Louis? A few years down the line when the Canes and Flames meet in the final, there is Lazar doing the nasty to us. You might want to lose Lazar, but no way does Tre.

  • Raffydog

    Just another bonehead move by BT. I remember seeing a interview with him last year where he said every trade or pickup he makes is to make the team better. So I guess players like Lazar, Grossman, Bartkowski, Glass, Brouwer, Bollig, Raymond, Jokipakka all somehow made the team better. The one good player he traded for was practically gifted to him because Boston wanted to stick it to their old GM. This guy’s a clown who has no idea how to build a winning team, and he is turning the Flames into the new Arizona Coyotes.

  • Gulutzan has little confidence in Lazar and many in Flames Nation have little confidence in Gulutzan. January 2018 looks like a big month for the franchise: if the Flames string a few wins together to get back into a playoff spot, they’re trade deadline buyers. If not, they are (or at least should be) sellers and potentially shopping for a new head coach too.

    • Skylardog

      The next 3 games may tell the whole story on the season, LA, Anaheim, and Minny. Go less than 4 points in those 3, and this team is likely done for a playoff berth. Just too many teams in the hunt this year (that wasn’t the case last year at this time when we went on a run to get in). Right now we have to beat out 2 of SJ, Anaheim, Minny, Dallas, Chicago, and Colorado, while also making sure Edmonton stays behind us (you would think that should be easy).

      While they could lose to LA in theory, losses to the Ducks and Wild would be a disaster. Huge 4 point games in the next week.

      • WillyWonka

        I agree… while I have quit hoping for playoffs in December already, if they can beat 2 of these 3 I could see a little light. Which team shows up against LA?? The grind it out defensively responsible team or the coasting sleepwalkers that will spot LA 4 or 5 goals in the first 50 before waking up and desperately pushing the last 5 or 10 minutes of the game?

      • Puckhead

        Losing a second round pick for nothing would blow, although there’s no guarantee that a second rounder would have turned out any better.

        I actually am inclined to think that he should stay with the big club for the remainder of the year. The Heat are doing well and I don’t see any benefit to depleting the roster and sitting one of their best players in the popcorn box. This seems counterproductive to me.

        Also, as mentioned in some of the previous comments, why not try him on a better line where he has a better chance to prove himself. Confidence is huge and maybe this is all he needs – a mental boost to tune him in. If, however, they try this and it fails, at least we know for sure what we have in him. Send him down or trade him in a package deal at this point.

        • deantheraven

          I’m with you, PH. I’ve said often if they slot him in at Frolik’s spot he’d have a better chance at getting points. He’s always been responsible defensively, and can easily do what Frolik does in the O zone. He won’t hurt us. Give him a chance, I say. 5-10 games with a little more ice and better line mates could be all he needs. At least get his confidence up before you deal him.
          If Freddie got claimed, Lazar will for sure. So many players and coaches on long leashes here,this guy deserves one more than most, Id’ say.

  • Stu Cazz

    Arizona just claimed Freddie Hamilton. Show patience with Lazar. If Flames waive him the Coyotes or the Oilers (ex Oil King captain) will certainly claim him.

  • buts

    Guys like Lazar don’t go from being mem cup winners and wjc gold medal winning captains to lousy hockey players overnight. Curtis has lost his confidence and we all would playing with the linemates he has had for the majority of his nhl career. BT has to ask himself why has Lazar regressed, why has Brodie regressed, why has Jagr regressed, Stajan, Brouwer, Bennett and you could make arguments that many more like Backlund, Frolik, Dougie to mention a few are having below career normal stat years. Even Jankowski has slowed up immensely. BT needs to look no farther than behind the bench

    • Skylardog

      I agree – I have been thinking of adding Janko to the struggling category but believe many would say no.

      But really, he is now playing below expectations, and while showing signs of being a serious scoring threat, is not showing any sign of consistency. I believe it is not his fault.

    • cjc

      It happens, and it hasn’t been overnight. The WJC in which Lazar won was 3 years ago. The weird thing is, nobody from that 2014 Mem Cup team is playing in the NHL right now. Maybe they were just lucky or really well coached? There was also a guy named Connor McDavid on that 2015 WJC team, and Lazar was only the 5th highest scoring player on the team. Guess who’s wing he played on?

  • CDB

    Curtis Lazar is not an NHLer. Never has been. Didn’t deserve to make the team out of camp. Ice time is not the issue, neither is the quality of linemates. Waive him

  • BendingCorners

    BT can’t waive Lazar because he will be claimed. GG can’t play him because he hasn’t earned it.
    Maybe during his current extended scratch GG has him working on his most obvious weakness, puck handling. If he looks good in practice maybe he gets another shot, maybe even with Backlund at some point.
    If not he will be traded or – if BT can bring in an obvious upgrade – waived next September.
    For now, nothing changes.

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    Or… Waive Brouwer, Demote Cameron to KC, then Bring in an Experienced NHL Coach(suggest away) with a winning record and positive special teams qualifications as an Assistant to GG. Whom could mentor GG on How to properly use Players during an NHL game(including involving the D up the ice) , then teach GG how to Line Match effectively vs the opponents lines(esp at home), Maybe bring in the idea of playing to win? not just to be happy with a tie? How to talk to the officiating crews during a game?(or the Flames players for that matter) etc etc etc… Na… the problem is Lazar.

    • Skylardog

      Why in the world would an NHL coach need a mentor on how to coach?

      But I agree. GG needs to learn all of those things and more, so the real question is….

      Why is GG a coach in the NHL?

      And you do realize that Vancouver passed on GG (a guy in their organization with head coaching experience), when they hired Willy D. – a guy with no head coaching experience in the NHL. Any questions on what Vancouver thought of GG?

      • Off the wall

        Willy D didn’t last very long in the NHL, did he?
        It was due to him continuing to roll out 4 lines, never shortened the bench nor did much line matching. He didn’t make many adjustments during the game and the Canucks suffered for his lack of experience.

        Even Vancouver gave up on him.
        Striking parallel to GG wouldn’t you say?

      • ThisBigMouthIsRight

        Absolutely correct Skylardog, why would a Head coach need a mentor? Because our head coach is an assistant at best! BT could save some face by putting the right guy in the shadows who actually knows what the hell it is/means/and needs to do as a good head coach. It would be all smoke & mirrors but if someone can lead this team from the shadows ??? So Be It … I’m being creative if not just plain delusional as to try and find a way to correct the coaching debacle that is Cameron & GG… 🙂

  • WillyWonka

    There is no way Lazar clears waivers.
    I say package him in a deal with Arizona to bring in Derek Stepan. Give up a couple legit prospects, plus Lazar, and Brouwer with 50% or more salary retained

    • cjc

      Where the heck would Stepan fit? The fourth line? It would mean demoting Jankowski to the 4C slot and giving him fewer minutes, or playing the second best shutdown C in the league as a 3C, or demoting Monahan to 2C. Retaining salary doesn’t matter to Arizona, they have all the cap space in the world. Meanwhile we lose 2 good prospects for a guy a little more than one year younger than Backlund? No thanks.

      • Captain Ron

        By losing Brouwer it would make it worthwhile. Play Stephan with Backlund for now. Put Mangiapane and Hrivik on the 4th line with Stajan. When Folik comes back put Stepan in Stajan’s spot. Could be an excellent 4th line.

  • Director772

    I believe Curtis hasn’t really been put in a position to succeed, hasn’t had good line mates for long enough to get it going.
    Give the kid a real shot and find out for sure what he is.

    • CDB

      what has he done to earn quality line mates? he was one of the worst flames in camp and managed to throw away a 3rd line spot that was gifted to him. They were crying out for someone, anyone, in the bottom 6 forwards to produce. he’s had plenty of chances.

      • deantheraven

        So have Brouwer, Stajan and GG (et al.) had plenty of chances to prove their worth keeping. I’d even put Freddie ahead of those two players but he’s already gone.

  • JoelOttosJock

    Hathaway, Brouwer, and Stajan should be demoylted first..Lazar is being used improperly. Just like Bob Hartley did with Mason Raymond. Using the wrong tool for the job and blaming the tool because the job is not done correct is what is being done.

  • Jobu

    If someone picked up F-Ham, then someone would likely pickup Lazar. I have a better idea – How about playing him in a consistent spot on the roster? Hard to gain any traction or confidence when you’re being shuffled around or benched. Maybe not this year, but next year, give this kid a legitimate chance outside of the 1st line.

  • Rudy27

    It wasn’t that long ago many of us were calling for Bennett’s head (either by trade or demotion to the AHL). His fortunes started to change playing with a High IQ player like Jagr and then moving him to wing with Janko playing center. I like the idea of putting him in Frolik’s vacated spot for several games to get a sense of what we really have in Lazar.

  • Captain Ron

    When I watch Lazar play the puck is like a bomb on his stick. He has some tools but no finish. Lousy puck handling skills. He’s the freddie fumbles of this team. Nice smile though.

  • Stajanforadirtyboot

    I personally believe there are 3 other players on this team that should go away before Lazar. The kid has not had ideal line mates or a legitimate chance to prove himself IMO. He is fast and can throw the body which is more then can be said about his 4th line companions.