The Maple Leafs locked up two RFA forwards to two-year deals yesterday for a total of $4.75 million a season. Of that combined yearly total, Clarke MacArthur will earn $3.25 million and Tyler Bozak $1.5 million. As the details finally trickled in on Bozak’s new deal near midnight last night, it was one of those cases where you weren’t sure if the salary figure was total or per annum. Bizarrely, Bozak’s cap hit falls from $3.725 million (due to entry level bonuses) in 2010-11 to $1.5 million in 2011-12 for a total of $2.225 million in cap savings. The Leafs now sit with $7.135 million in cap space with RFAs Luke Schenn and Matt Lashoff (who with the current defensive depth will likely start with the Marlies). If you put Schenn at roughly $4 million a season on his prospective new deal, that’s about three million remaining in wiggle room.
Many in Leafs Nation seem optimistic that Bozak, out from under the pressures and expectations associated with being Kessel’s set up man, will successfully settle into a third line role next season given his faceoff prowess, ability as a penalty killing forward and offensive skills that are still present even if they’re not quite on a top six level. Mislav wrote in his season review of Bozak (a must read):
I view Tyler as more of a chameleon-like player. He easily adapts to his linemates tendencies, unlike say Kulemin who plays his game all the time, no matter what line heâ€™s on. That says nothing about his skillset which is always there. Based on that assumption, considering how he has produced in say, penalty killing situations, I think his skillset is more suited for the third line. That said, I still believe Bozak can also be a somewhat productive offensive player, but he has to be put in the situations where he can thrive rather than in ones he can fail. Playing with less offensively gifted linemates offers him the freedom to use his offensive capabilities to make that line more productive while limiting the burden of him having to produce at the â€œKesselâ€ rate. Itâ€™s also beneficial for his defensive skills that, with all shown so far, have a better chance of making him into a really effective NHL player.
Could we see Bozak, playing alongside fellow Saskatchewan native and good friend Colby Armstrong, become the 12-15 goal, 30+ point player the Leafs sorely need as a secondary offensive contributor in their bottom six? I think so, and at a $1.5 million ticket that would be quite a steal from an offensive standpoint. But if he’s going to be the Leafs’ checking line center, his shutdown ability – his even strength defensive play and particularly his ability to quiet the opposition’s top players -Â has to improve. Mislav writes:
In some of the games I re-watched for this analysis (particularly against NJ and Washington, hence the Kovalchuk and Ovechkin bit) Bozak struggled to keep pace. He was caught out of position numerous times in the defensive zone and when caught one on one he got repeatedly beat by the opposing elite forward. Puck watching and positioning seems to be his biggest issue when playing against skilled players. He is not taking the player by sticking with him and tying his stick up, but rather staring at and trying to take the puck. Like I mentioned earlier, defensive zone coverage is also a problem, but it seems to appear significantly more when playing against top tier talent. Elite players have that ability to evade coverage, find holes in the zonal positioning and exploit them. More than anything, Bozak needs to learn how to close out lanes when defending against elite players higher in the defensive zone.
The -29 plus/minus stat of last season is definitely misleading to the extent that the plus/minus of a top line of a bottom ten team is quite often negatively skewed. I would also agree with Mislav in his assessment that much of the defensive error stemmed from a lack of confidence when making plays in terms of the giveaways it creates. If Bozak can become a more confident player – that aggressive, defensively alert player we saw in penalty killing situations – he will become a more positive player.
Taking a step back and looking at the depth chart at the forward position in wake of these re-signings and Burke’s additions over the weekend, we’ve got a pretty obvious top nine/bottom three model shaping up instead of Burke’s traditional top six/bottom six approach he endorsed from the outset. We saw Peter Chiarelli’s Boston Bruins apply this model with major success this past season. With possible competition from Matthew Lombardi, Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri (good depth problems to have), Bozak will have a chance to be a cog in the top nine of the by-committeeÂ offence the Leafs will need to enact with success to make the playoffs this season. His familiarity with Kessel if Connolly does go down to injury could be a highly useful backup plan for Wilson to have at his disposal. Perhaps a one-year flyer would have been preferred, but would’ve cost the club in the form of a higher cap hit. At $1.5 million, no one’s complaining.
Onto your Leafs links:
Be sure to view our take on the Clarke MacArthur two-year, $6.5 million signing.
Joe Cino posted his ‘What to Expect in 2011-12′ statistical analysis for Tim Connolly if you missed it amid the re-signings.
James Mirtle:Â Rick Dudley already chipping in for Leafs. Read up on Dudley’s work so far and his thoughts on the Leafs’ off-season performance.
A FanPost at PPP takes a statistical look at the Mac in the USSR line. The author concludes that Kulemin and Grabovski have been fantastic possession players, which has benefited MacArthur.
MacArthur sticks around – Leafs HQ’s Jeff Veillette with his analysis.
Are the Leafs a Playoff Team? Ron Guillet at Leafs Nation Online asks the question.
Bozak is Cheap, MacArthur Could Have Been Worse. More reaction to yesterday’s re-signings from Jon S. at Puckin’ Eh.
Tomas Kaberle agrees to a three-year, $4.25 million (per season) deal with the Carolina Hurricanes. So much for being underpaid in a Leafs uniform.