When the Flames traded for Curtis Lazar during the 2017 NHL trade deadline, they were hoping to acquire a player who could be a long-term high-end asset for the team.
Those hopes have yet to come to pass.
2017-18 season summary
Lazar was a regular presence in the Flames’ lineup; however, he was also a healthy scratch 17 times throughout the season. When he did play, he didn’t get a lot of ice time; when he was on the ice, he didn’t do much with it.
|Games played||Goals||Assists||Points||TOI/GP||5v5 CF%||5v5 CF% rel||OZS%||PDO|
Lazar’s two goals came in February: the first in a 4-3 loss to the Rangers, and the second in a 4-3 win over the Predators. He tied with Brett Kulak (a defenceman playing his first full season in the NHL) and Spencer Foo (played four games) in goal scoring. Of Lazar’s 10 assists, seven were primary. His 12 points had him tied with Matt Stajan; Garnet Hathaway, who can score at the AHL level but not quite at the NHL level, scored 13 points throughout the year. Among regulars, the only players Lazar outscored were Travis Hamonic, Michael Stone, and Kulak: three defencemen not known for their offence.
He did only shoot at 3.1% throughout the year, down from his career average of 5.7%, but that would have resulted in just two extra goals.
In Lazar’s defence, he didn’t exactly average a lot of ice time per game, getting the fewest minutes out of all regulars. On the flip side, who was he supposed to take minutes from? Hathaway, perhaps – Lazar probably should have gotten a shot on the third line when it became clear the alternative wasn’t exactly working out – and one could make a case for taking over Stajan’s minutes, but that’s about it. Not exactly inspiring competition. He didn’t receive anything meaningful in the way of powerplay ice time, and but his 27:59 on the penalty kill – 13th on the team – indicated a willingness to experiment in that field, at least.
Lazar’s most common linemate, by far, was Stajan: the two played almost 330 5v5 minutes together. After that, you have to go down to 166:19 5v5 minutes alongside Troy Brouwer, and then 126:42 with Sam Bennett. None of them worked particularly well together; Lazar was better away from all three of them, though Bennett and Brouwer were much better away from Lazar than he was from them (Bennett especially, but he was afforded much higher quality linemates).
Ultimately, Lazar was an uninspiring depth player on a team filled with uninspiring depth players. It’s possible he could have been tapped to replace Stajan as the fourth line centre, but then the Flames made another deal with Ottawa for Nick Shore, who seems to be better suited for the role as a regular.
Compared to last season
Prior to this season, Lazar scored 39 points in 180 games through his career: a rate of roughly .22 points per game. This past season, he scored at a rate of .18 points per game. There isn’t much difference there.
Yes, Lazar had a rough 2016-17, likely largely in part due to coming down with mono just before the season started. But he didn’t have mono through his first two seasons, when his career high was still just 20 points in 76 games: better, but still not something to get particularly excited about, and certainly not now that we’re two years removed from that year.
Lazar’s underlyings improved – his -3.39 5v5 CF% rel this past season is much better than the -10.09% he carried through 33 games with Ottawa in 2016-17, or the -6.10% he posted during his 20-point season – but a -3.39% is still pretty bad. The optimist could point to that resurgence and say he’s clearly improving and there’s plenty of hope for him yet at just 23 years old; the pessimist could point to the numbers over the course of his entire career to date and conclude that it’s just not going to work out for him as an NHL player.
The truth is probably closer to the pessimist’s side: there’s hope yet for Lazar to pick up the pace as a depth player, but whether Ottawa ruined him by rushing him into the NHL or this was simply always who he was meant to be, there simply isn’t much there to get excited about.
What about next season?
Lazar is still under contract for one more season with the Flames at a $950,000 cap hit. Worst case scenario, he’s at least relatively cheap depth for the team: someone who can sub in now and then, but probably isn’t actually going to contribute much offensively or defensively.
The Flames need to increase their scoring output next season, particularly among their forward ranks, and there’s nothing in Lazar’s professional career to indicate he’ll be the answer. Maybe he could get a whirl with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, but what good is it if the hands can’t keep up with the skates? It’s difficult to see him outperforming Micheal Ferland, and Ferland wasn’t the optimal solution to play on the first line to begin with.
The Flames’ interest in picking up Lazar was perplexing from the very beginning. He couldn’t draw into the lineup when he was first acquired, hinting that – as someone still relatively young – the eye for him was trained on the future. You have to go back to his junior years to find any real hope for that, and by that point, you’re probably reaching.
Here’s to Lazar finding it within him to prove the Flames right for picking him up, but at a certain point, it’s probably best to start listening to what the numbers are saying.
|#5 – Mark Giordano||#7 – TJ Brodie|
|#8 – Chris Stewart||#10 – Kris Versteeg|
|#11 – Mikael Backlund||#13 – Johnny Gaudreau|
|#15 – Tanner Glass||#18 – Matt Stajan|
|#19 – Matthew Tkachuk|