At the trade deadline, the Flames saw they had a problem they needed to rectify. The team has very few right shots, and no right-shot centres. Catching wind that they would be able to pick one up for the Ottawa Senators, they took the plunge, trading a
second round pick seventh round pick for Curtis Lazar Nick Shore.
Oh. Um. Whoops.
The Flames are a team with very few right-shot forwards on the roster. They have Troy Brouwer, Garnet Hathaway, the corpse of Kris Versteeg that they are well on their way to reanimating, and that’s about it: nobody particularly inspiring, and certainly nobody who belongs in a top six role. Versteeg is maybe the best of the bunch, though it’ll take time to see if he can get back up to snuff for the playoff push.
So their eyes must have lit up when Chris Stewart became available for free. Not because he’ll play in the top six, but because he at least gives them another option.
But wasn’t that the point of acquiring Lazar nearly a year ago to the date? A still-young first round pick from 2013 who maybe, one could argue, the Senators had hurt by placing him in the NHL too early. A reclamation project, if you will, that the Flames could use to their advantage, help balance out their lineup and build for the future at the same time.
This is the final year on Matt Stajan’s deal and it seems unlikely he’ll be brought back; if he is not, and with Sam Bennett’s apparent full-time conversion to winger, the Flames did not have anybody to play fourth line centre next season. Hence, Shore: a 25-year-old veteran of over 200 games who has been a positive CFrel% player this season (something Lazar has not been since his rookie season), even with defensive zone starts with the Kings. The final quarter of the season works as a great litmus test to see if Shore could be the Flames’ fourth line centre next season.
Something that, a year ago, could have been Lazar’s job.
A year in
I want to emphasize that this is not meant to pile on Lazar. Lazar didn’t force himself into the NHL or trade himself for a second round pick. Lazar has had no real control over where he’s ended up, and it’s not his fault others may have overestimated him. He is a completely innocent party in all of this.
But fact is: Lazar is not as good a hockey player as others want him to be. Since the Flames picked him up, he has scored 10 points in 52 games. He’s had eight-, nine-, and 11-game scoreless droughts so far this season, and is currently in the midst of a five-gamer. He averages 9:22 in ice time, and that’s when he does dress; he’s been a healthy scratch for 14 of 62 games – 22.5% of the Flames’ season to date – so far this year, with little coming in the way showing he deserves more. This season, he has a CF of 48.40% (CFrel% of -6.09), and that’s with 50.21% offensive zone starts.
It could be a fair enough point that Lazar isn’t exactly blessed with the most talented of linemates – he’s most frequently playing alongside Stajan – but fact is, he perhaps wouldn’t be much better off alongside more capable players. Stajan is a little over a full corsi percentage point better when away from Lazar. Brouwer, over two percentage points. Ryan Lomberg and Marek Hrivik are the only players with better CF%s with Lazar than without him, and they’ve played all of 31 and 17 minutes alongside him at the NHL level.
Not exactly what one would be hoping for out of “a guy we think is a long-term acquisition”, as Brian Burke put it March 7, 2017 (roughly 16:50 into this radio hit). More like a failed bet – and one that cost a second round pick.
(Alex Formenton, who the Senators chose with said pick, has played one NHL game this season and currently has 38 points in 39 games with the London Knights – not to mention his four points in seven World Juniors games en route to a gold medal – but that’s neither here nor there.)
So… for a seventh rounder
Shore doesn’t have the potential Lazar did. Lazar scored 76 points in 58 games his final year in the WHL; Shore’s best NCAA year was 34 points in 39 games. Lazar entered the NHL as a 19-year-old; Shore, 22. Lazar was at 36 points in 176 games before he was traded to the Flames; Shore, 50 points in 227 games, a little more around the block without much more to show for it.
But potential means absolutely nothing if it doesn’t come to fruition, and there were warning signs surrounding Lazar before the Flames acquired him. A year later, those signs have proven to be mostly true, to the extent that the Flames went out and picked up an older, better Lazar from the exact same team at a much cheaper cost. Lazar’s CF this season was noted as being at 48.40%; Shore had 52.78% in 49 games with the Kings and 56.04% in six games with the Senators, with more defensive responsibility.
Not to cry over spilled milk, but worth reflecting on. Sometimes general managers make bad bets. This was one of them, and that they were able to pick up Shore at the price they did – that they felt the need to get him to begin with – proves it.