When it comes to handedness in hockey, defencemen get all the attention.
The Vancouver Canucks absolutely need right-handed defencemen, both in the NHL and in their prospect pool, but they entered free agency with a distinct need for a right-handed player at another position: centre.
It matters the most on faceoffs, particularly in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill. In an ideal situation, you want both righties and lefties capable winning faceoffs on their strong side in the defensive zone, pulling the puck back and towards the boards. It makes a difference — a small one, but every edge you can get matters.
Last season, with Brandon Sutter waylaid with long COVID for the entire year, the Canucks' centres were sinister — all left-handed, leaving no one to take faceoffs on the right side in the defensive zone. While there were many issues with their penalty kill, not having any right-handed centres certainly didn't help.
On the first day of free agency, the first move Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin made was to find a right-handed bottom-six penalty-killing centre in Curtis Lazar, signing him to a three-year deal with an average annual value of $1 million.
The 27-year-old forward can play at both centre and on the wing and is a strong defensive player, though he didn't play a shutdown role on the Boston Bruins — understandable with Patrice Bergeron in the lineup.
"It's that hard-nosed, pretty simple style of hockey but it's effective," said Lazar in a Zoom call on Wednesday. "It's that win-at-all-costs mentality, whatever it takes — sacrificing the body. I call them character stats, that's the area that I pride myself in."
While Lazar is right-handed, he isn't dynamite on faceoffs. He had a 48.9% faceoff percentage with the Bruins last season and only took the fifth-most faceoffs on the team. That said, Lazar is a solid penalty killer and won't hurt you at 5-on-5. He also led the Bruins in hits last season, so provides a physical edge to his game that the Canucks liked.
It's a little bit concerning giving a three-year term to a fourth-line forward, but at the very least it will expire before he turns 30 and, at just $1 million per year, it won't hurt the salary cap if he falters in the coming seasons. If he doesn't falter, the Canucks have added an effective defensive forward who brings some speed and forechecking ability to the team's bottom-six.
Lazar might be known best for eating a hamburger that was thrown on the ice during Andrew "The Hamburglar" Hammond's hot streak with the Ottawa Senators.
That might either cause you to question his decision-making or appreciate him as a character.