At the trade deadline in April of 2021, the Boston Bruins acquired former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall from the Buffalo Sabres. Also part of the return going to Boston with Hall in exchange for forward Anders Bjork and a draft pick was forward Curtis Lazar. The big name in the deal, however, was Hall and not much attention was on Lazar.
Following his addition to the Bruins roster, Lazar became a vital part of the bottom-six for the rest of the 2020-21 season and last season. He was a big part of former coach Bruce Cassidy’s roster, which makes it hard for general manager (GM) Don Sweeney to let him walk in free agency this summer. With a hole left on the fourth line, it will not be easy for first-year coach Jim Montgomery to replace his value in 2022-23.
Lazar Meshed Well on the Fourth Line
When he joined the Bruins in April of 2021, he had two goals and four points in 17 regular-season games. It’s not so much the offensive production that he supplied, it was the way he meshed with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner, while also supplying Cassidy with flexibility by also being able to slide into the center spot in a pinch.
The trio brought toughness to every shift and was a line used to supply a spark when. The Bruins needed it. In 10 postseason games, he had an assists, but he had 32 hits and four blocks and won 36 of his 76 face-offs against the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders. With still a year remaining on his contract, Lazar followed up his impressive end of the 2020-21 season with a career year in 2021-22.
Lazar, the 17th overall pick of the 2013 Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators, scored a career-high eight goals and 16 points while logging some important shifts once again on the fourth line and averaging 12 minutes of ice time a night. He became one of the more important penalty killers and was not afraid to go into the corners or behind the net to battle with players that were bigger than his 6-foot-0, 193-pound frame. If there was anyone who was the epitome of a bottom-six grinder who provided physicality and toughness, it was Lazar who became a locker room favorite. He did all that while playing on an extremely team-friendly average annual value (AAV) of $800,000.
Following the season after the Black and Gold’s first-round elimination in the 2022 playoffs in seven games at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes, Lazar made it clear that he wanted to stay in Boston and the feeling was the same with the team, but he knew it’s a business and that he was most likely not returning because of the pay raise he was expected to get.
“Just got out of my meeting with Sweens, I think there is interest in both sides,” said Lazar in May. “I love playing here. I love being a Boston Bruin. The city, the fans, the organization, they have all been great to myself and my family, and I want to be back here. But again, there’s other parts. There’s the business side. I mean, we will see what happens. Sweens said he will be upfront and honest with it, and our people will be in touch. So, we will see what happens.”
What happened was that Lazar got that payday and got it with the Vancouver Canucks on the opening day of free agency when he agreed to a three-year deal with an AAV of $1 million. The Bruins’ loss is suddenly the Canucks gain with their bottom-six forwards.
Replacing Lazar Is Not Going to Be Easy
Most of the time, it’s easy to replace a bottom-six forward, but in this situation, it won’t be for the Bruins when training camp begins next month. There is a surplus of young forwards in the system and even some veterans that could fill Lazar’s spot on the roster, but finding the player to replace his grit, energy, and toughness is not going to be easy.
Some of the options available currently to Montgomery are Wagner, who spent most of last season with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) and Marc McLaughlin, who signed in March as an undrafted free agent after his senior season at Boston College, is possibly another option. In 11 games, the Massachusetts native had three goals, including his first career goal against the New Jersey Devils on March 31.
Another option is A.J. Greer, who signed a two-year contract in July. A former Boston University player that was drafted 39th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in 2015. He has just 42 NHL games under his belt with two goals and eight points, but he played in nine games for the New Jersey Devils last season as a bottom-six player and could provide what Lazar did in Boston, grit, and toughness on the wing.
With Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci returning on one-year free agent contracts earlier in August, that supplies the Bruins with center depth ahead of Charlie Coyle and Tomas Nosek, who is expected to battle with Jack Studnicka for the fourth-line center spot, which makes finding Lazar’s replacement on the wing that much more tougher.