On Thursday, the Buffalo Sabres announced that they re-signed forward Curtis Lazar to a two-year, $1.6 million deal with an average annual value of $800,000. It’s a budget-friendly contract that fills out a bottom-six role for the team.
The versatile 25-year-old forward, who joined the Sabres as a free agent last season, began the season in Rochester playing for the Americans. There, he piled up 14 points in 18 games. He was called up to the parent club and appeared in 30 of the Sabres’ final 31 games, chipping in five goals and five assists.
The signing, just two weeks from free agency, comes just a week after Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams acquired center Eric Staal from the Minnesota Wild.
“Curtis established himself as an important player for the organization last season and we’re excited to see him stay with the Sabres for the next two seasons,” said the GM in a statement. “His abilities as a player and character as a person make him a perfect fit for the Buffalo Sabres organization on and off the ice.”
Lazar won a career-high 51.2 percent of his faceoffs last season which earned him ice time and important draws. This was especially at the beginning of 3-on-3 overtime when gaining possession is critical.
Lazar was a first-round pick (17th overall) by the Ottawa Senators in 2013. After playing parts of three seasons with the Sens, on March 1, 2017, Lazar was dealt at the NHL trade deadline along with Michael Kostka to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a 2017 second-round pick and Jyrki Jokipakka. Four months later, the Flames re-signed Lazar to a two-year, $1.9 million contract extension worth $950,000 annually.
The British Columbia native’s production at the NHL level hasn’t seen the same result as it has in the AHL. That said, he’s found a role with his constant hustle and responsible, defensive play. Lazar ranked fourth among all qualifying Sabres forwards in limiting an opponent’s shot quality per Evolving-Hockey.
A Fourth Line of First Rounders
With Johan Larsson likely headed to free agency, it’s likely Lazar could find himself on a checking line with two other former first-round draft picks: Zemgus Girgensons (selected 14th overall in 2012 by the Sabres) and Kyle Okposo (selected seventh overall in 2006 by the New York Islanders).
Lazar, a defensive forward, logged the third-most shorthanded ice time for the Sabres last season. He’s committed to backchecking, and analytics confirm the fact. In fact, it shows that very few goals – either for or against – happen when he’s on the ice. For a team that hasn’t made it to the postseason in nearly a decade, having a shutdown player like Lazar is a step in the right direction.
“I want to continue to grow. I want to be an answer on the depth of this team and we’ll see where that takes me,” said Lazar last June. “I’ve got a lot of time to prepare for next season, whenever that may be.”
Sabres Restricted Free Agents
The Sabres have several key restricted free agents who remain unsigned, including Dominik Kahun, Victor Olofsson, Brandon Montour, Sam Reinhart, and Linus Ullmark. They only have five forwards, five defensemen and one goalie under contract for the 2020-21 season.
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After inking Lazar to an extension, Adams will have a lot more decisions to make with several pending free agents before the market opens in two weeks.