After acquiring Timo Meier on Sunday, Feb. 26, the New Jersey Devils had a quiet trade deadline day. They did make a minor move, trading for forward Curtis Lazar from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for a 2024 fourth-round pick, but that was their lone move of the day.
Lazar has five points in 45 games this season and is under contract through 2024-25 at a cap hit of $1 million. He should provide some depth in the bottom six, an area that was a minor need for the Devils. Let’s look at what he’ll add to the team and why general manager Tom Fitzgerald didn’t address other areas that could have been of concern.
Lazar Adds Bottom-6 Insurance
The Devils’ bottom six has been inconsistent this season, though it has played better lately. That’s particularly true of the BMW Line (Miles Wood, Michael McLeod, and Nathan Bastian), who are playing their best hockey right now but have had a rollercoaster of a season. Bastian did miss significant time with an injury, and Wood and McLeod struggled while he was out.
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However, all three players have picked it up over the last few weeks. Wood has three goals and six points in his previous six games, McLeod has four assists in his last six outings, and Bastian has scored a goal in two of his previous three games. They’ve also gotten back to controlling play at five-on-five, as they have a 64.28 expected goals percentage (xG%) since Feb. 1 to go along with a 56.2 Corsi for percentage (CF%).
Still, having more bottom-six depth could never hurt; Bastian’s previous injury and absence prove that. That’s what Lazar will bring, as he’s the prototypical bottom-six forward. He doesn’t score much, but he’s a solid defender and is effective in the dot, winning 51.9 percent of his faceoffs this season. He also has 124 hits, which makes him the Devils’ leading hitter.
But while faceoffs and physicality help, Lazar’s real value is his defensive game. Over the last three seasons, his even-strength defense has been worth an average expected goals above replacement (xGAR) of 2.1. When looking at his player card from JFresh Hockey, his even-strength defense ranks in the 84h percentile among his peers:
There’s nothing too complicated about Lazar’s game. As he said in his presser, he’s a meat-and-potatoes kind of hockey player. He adds some grit and defensive prowess in the bottom six. And his ability to play center or right wing should come in handy for head coach Lindy Ruff if he wants to add a different dimension to the lineup or if an injury occurs to someone like McLeod and Bastian and he needs to make a change.
Devils Didn’t Need Much Else
Among other possible trade deadline needs for the Devils would’ve been defensive and goaltending depth. At one point, it looked like defensive depth would’ve been a priority, specifically in January. But with the recent play of Kevin Bahl, that’s no longer an issue. Bahl has played very well since returning to the lineup against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 23 and has meshed well with Damon Severson on the third pair.
It’s a small sample size, but in those three games since taking Brendan Smith’s spot on the third pair, Bahl has two assists and a 73.51 xG% in four games. Though he’s playing against softer competition in a third-pair role, he’s handled himself very well defensively and looks to be getting into a groove. With Smith being a capable third-pair defender, the Devils have seven reliable defensemen they can call upon.
It’s also worth noting that top prospect Luke Hughes will join the Devils once his season with the Michigan Wolverines ends. That could be at the end of this month or the beginning of April, depending on if Michigan makes the Frozen Four. But either way, that’ll be more defensive depth for the Devils in the coming weeks.
Another area that Fitzgerald may have considered addressing is goaltending. Mackenzie Blackwood has played well when healthy, but his health has been a question mark this season. However, Akira Schmid’s play in net was likely a deterring factor in using assets to acquire a depth goalie at the deadline.
Schmid has been a revelation when in the NHL this season, totaling a .926 save percentage in 12 games. Per Money Puck, his 6.5 goals saved above expected ranks 21st in the league for goalies with at least ten games played. He’s only 22 years old, and goalies are difficult to project, but it’s hard not to see the potential in him. With Vitek Vanecek, Blackwood and Schmid as the team’s top three goalies, they should have confidence in them moving forward.
After acquiring Meier, seeing the Devils have a quiet deadline day wasn’t surprising. They’re 40-15-6 and sit in third place in the NHL, so another significant addition aside from Meier was never in the cards. He’s a first-line winger and will have a big-time impact once he returns from an upper-body injury, and Lazar will shore up the team’s depth and has some term. Otherwise, it’s all systems go for one of the top teams in the NHL.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick, Evolving-Hockey, Money Puck