Tyler Bozak. Ugh.
That pretty much sums up my thoughts on Tyler Bozak. His performance this season has been scrutinized heavily and he has become one of the most polarizing figures on the Leafs roster. Here we are in the off season, either putting the final nail in the coffin that has been his Leafs career or gearing up for a substantial contract that will drastically challenge the Leafs ability to fill out a roster in a tighter cap environment.
The purpose here is not to assess what a Bozak contract will cost. The purpose is to look back at Bozak’s season and determine whether he can still add value to the Leafs in the future in either his current role as the Leafs top centre or, as some people (not myself) believe, if he is a strong fit for a third line role.
It begins and possibly ends with faceoffs for Bozak. He took 37.5% of the Leafs draws this season, and won 52% of them (% nearly identical for ES, PP, PK). This was good enough for 25th in the league, which still leaves you wanting when you consider as soon as the playoffs came around he was going up against Patrice Bergeron and his 61% winning percentage.
It’s likely that this one stat was responsible for Bozak having the highest average of time on ice amongst Leafs forwards (the only one averaging over 20 minutes a night) and getting the most shifts of any forward (averaging three more shifts a night than the next highest forward). You could also assume that his faceoff ability is what landed Bozak on the penalty kill, playing the 4th most time short handed out of the Leafs forward group. Tyler was responsible for the one and only shorthanded goal this season (repeated in the playoffs). Without question those two goals were the highlights of his season.
Since I’m about to come crashing down on Bozak, I’ll blow a little smoke up his ass first. He did pot 3 game winning goals this season (tied for 2nd on the Leafs), five times he opened scoring for the Leafs, and when it came to shootouts Bozak was the only Leaf who gets as a passing grade as he went 3 for 5 when the rest of the team could not produce a single shootout goal.
While nothing here says top line centre, it does appear that Bozak is a serviceable depth forward. Where exactly he belongs in the lineup remains to be seen.
Tyler Bozak is almost completely reliant on Phil Kessel for offense. That is not opinion, that is fact. 21 of Bozak’s 28 points involved Phil Kessel is some way. The next highest total was combining with van Riemsdyk 11 times, but with the interesting caveat that Bozak did not have a primary assist on any of van Riemsdyk’s goals.
One of the key functions of a first line centre is the ability to dish and be creative with the puck, so it’s a huge shortcoming that Bozak was limited to eight primary assists in that role. Once again, five of those assists were on Kessel goals, and two of the others started with Kessel first moving the puck to Bozak. That leaves one goal set up by Bozak that wasn’t finished or had the play started by Phil Kessel. That doesn’t sound like a top line centre to me.
Overall, you would be left with unimpressive results if you take Bozak’s 12 goals, 16 assists in 46 games and extrapolate it out over a 82 game season. Bozak would have 21 goals (using his unsustainable 19.5% shooting percentage) and 27 assists in 79 games. Certainly not numbers that you’d associate with a top line centre but perhaps numbers you’d accept on your second line. Of course, it’s doubtful that he could produce those numbers without reliance on a player of Phil Kessel’s ability and it was unlikely that shooting percentage was going to hold up in an 82-game season.
You remember the way that Kyle Wellwood was able to win over a large part of the Leafs fan base by knowing how to work with Sundin on the powerplay? (Assumes you’ve already blocked Wellwood from your memory). That’s essentially what Bozak does 24/7 with Kessel. Bozak does have a modest skill set that certainly justifies him as an NHL player, although unless your cupboards are desperately bare it’s disappointing to see him among the top six forwards of your team’s lineup.
I can’t buy into the philosophy that he would be a player who would excel in a third line role, either. He wins faceoffs, but he’s not overly strong defensively, and does not make a smart first pass. His utilization on the penalty kill is misleading as he primarily plays high on the point (more of a winger role) and is often off the ice as soon as the puck as been cleared following the faceoff. Really, Bozak is closer in ability to a fourth line specialist role player than a true third liner. He can win defensive zone draws, serve on secondary special teams units, and is an asset for the shootout. He has the ability to be a chameleon like John Mitchell and fit into roles vacated due to injuries throughout the forward group and do a serviceable job, but that’s a guy you pay around a million a season on a short deal, not go long term in the neighbourhood of $4.5 or 5 million a season.
While the purpose of this review is to look back on Bozak’s season, I have to ask a basic question about his future. Is it worth paying him $4,500,000-5,000,000 a year to make it a little easier to sign Phil Kessel? Would you rather pay Bozak $5m for the purpose of getting Kessel long term at $7.5m, or give Kessel $9m year and have $3.5m to spend on the open market? I am legitimately worried that the Leafs will take on a boat anchor of a contract for the purpose of appeasing Phil.
Plays of the Year:
I feel dirty putting together “The Best of Bozak” but credit where credit is due, he had a few nice moments buried in his pile of mediocrity.
Bozak Short Handed Goal:
And again in the Playoffs:
RATE THIS PLAYER: Out of 10, rate Tyler Bozak’s season relative to his role (1st line centre), opportunity/usage and the expectations for the player entering the season. Be sure to back it up.
I'd like to see you try n replace Bozak for 3 million, any compatibles? Lol
Also Kessel isn't gonna want 7-9million the caps gone down Kessel will be 5-6 on a long term deal and Bozak will be 3.5-4.25 on a longer rearm deal which are solid numbers. Grabovski is getting 5 but the cap was higher before and he might be gone this summer anyway
Bozak played as well as Bozak is capable of playing. He played with heart every night and never took a game off. He was relayed upon to take key face offs, kill penalties, and was the only Leaf to score in the shootout. For all of this he deserves at least a 7/10 as a 1C. If he did all of this from a 3C position in the depth chart he would be a 9/10. NoNo would make a BooBoo if he lets Flozak walk.
I don't think there is any chance we land Stastny. Even if he is an upgrade over Bozak (debatable), it isn't by much. The cost would be significant whereas Bozak fits within our cap and only costs money. If Bozak falls out of favor he can be traded later.
There are smart GMs out there who can't wait to get there opportunity to sign Bozak at $4.7-$5M for 4 yrs. Why would he take less to play for fans who don't appreciate him. Carlyle is an excellent coach who turned this team around in one year. Who did he depend on significantly to win games? Tyler Bozak.
Like many I worry about what Nonis is going to do with respect to Bozak. If he does re-sign with the Leafs, hopefully the term will be short and the dollar value reasonable. Anything more than say $3.5 mil and I'd let him walk. Hopefully Kessel realizes that his future is just as bright, if not brighter without Bozak.
As for seeking out a solution for a #1C, Nonis has his work cut out for him. Let me throw a name out there .... Stephen Weiss. Perhaps not considered a premier centre, but he had 60 pt seasons playing for a Florida Panthers team with minimal talent. Last year he played injured and had to shut it down. He was born in Toronto, and might like a change of scenery now that he is a UFA. At the right price he could be a decent center for the Leafs.
Maple Leafs, Bruins not that different . . . except for Zdeno Chara
I didn't post my rating on Bozak yesterday. Based on expectations as Phil's center he would rank around 7.5 but as JVR's center 5.5. As a PP player a 5.5 and as a PK player 7.5. Decent on faceoffs but overall clearly should not be playing as our 1C or on the PP.
Ranking is 6.5.
Man, the league dodged a bullet last nite. Disgraceful penalty calls that cost the Hawks the regulation time winning goal. Not sure why the call was for coincidental penalties - apparently Saad was getting 2 minutes for being mugged. So ironically, refs trying to ensure they didn't determine the game with only 1 penalty call almost blew the entire series. Anyway, two solid semifinal matchups. I think it will be the Kings and Bruins in the finals. Kings in 7.
In Kadri I believe that we have 50% of the center 1-2 punch required.
Nonis and Leiweke need to solve this problem this off season. They need to pony the price to get that player either in the draft or by trading for this center
Thanks, Jon. A pretty accurate summary of Bozak's shortcomings, alas.
Kevin McGran wrote this today: "The Leafs don’t have centres of that quality [Crosby and Malkin], but can make it up on pure talent up front."
In this opinion he is only echoing what many have tried to maintain in this forum. To which any knowledgeable hockey fan must surely gape and reply, no, no, no, no, no. no! Because Leafs are so thin at centre some fans have gone to great lengths to persuade themselves that the position doesn't really matter all that much. We can scrape by with what we have, doing without a genuine top line talent in the middle. Talk about wishful thinking of the first order!
When Leafs were winning Cups their centres were guys like Kelly, Pulford, Keon and Harris. Montreal had Beliveau and Henri Richard, and later Jacques Lemaire and Peter Mahovlich. The Bruins had Espo and Stanfield, the Islanders Trottier and Goring, the Oilers Gretzky and Messier. Centre is a vital position on any team, and in a league where stars like Toews, Tavares, Datysuk, Crosby and Malkin are setting the standard, having Bozak as your starting centre is a joke. He's not even a convincing second- or third-liner compared with players like Lucik and Kessler.
I think most of us were disappointed when this problem wasn't addressed during the last off-season. Surely Nonis will pull out all the stops to fix it this time around. If it hadn't been for the emergence of Kadri we would have been up the creek for sure! We can hope for a repeat from Colborne, but the coming draft is shaping up to be centre-heavy--maybe twelve to fifteen could go in the first round. I don't think we can afford to pass up the chance to nab one of them.
I had a Wings fan tell me that this year was a rebuild year.... yes seriously. But it must sucks to now have the worst blown lead of the playoffs this year. Less than 9% come back lmao
@Mapleleafs1344 Kessel will get 7.5 and so will Dion, we have plenty of cap room next year to do it as well which is fine with me. Cap is likely to go up next year as well.
@TML__fan Weiss was once heavily touted, you may be right, maybe a change of scenery would breath life into his game - but I still maintain, that the Leafs have to give up these ban aid solutions and go big. Trade signficiant assets to get an undeniable #1 C, by other getting a higher draft pick or trading for the very few available centers out there.
@Burtonboy Im afraid to look ,the Bruins are a Leafs curse yanno :)
@Knights2Leafs Do you honestly think Bozie returns ? I'm very doubtful.
@MaxwellHowe I think Walkom panicked. He started to call the penalty on Quincy and then neutralized the call by inventing a roughing call on Saad.
@MaxwellHowe Kings and Bruins would be an absolute war and very possible . I would give a slight edge to the Kings based on speed and goal tending. Both teams hit like crazy but I think the Kings are a bit faster.
@Mattmark We all know the problem we have needing a true 1C but you're dreaming if you think we are going to draft someone this year that will step into that position any time soon. Mackinnon is the only center I see coming that will be a true 1C right away. Kadri at 7th couldn't contribute right away and even if we had the 7th this year, that player is 3 years away from contributing.
Our group is now maturing where they need to compete if not next year, then the year after. That is not coming through the draft. And I'm not sure what Burke/Nonis could have done last summer to address the problem, especially with the looming lockout, so I take issue that most of us were disappointed. We knew the reality. Bozak did the best he could. Grabo was the big disappointent but it's hard to know if it's a one off bad season, or he was not put in a position to succeed. I can live with out Bozak and with Colborne but we are taking a huge risk on needing a bounce back season from Grabo.
All of that may change if Statsny becomes available at a reasonable cost.
@Mattmark You know, you have a point about our weakness down the middle. But you lost me at calling Lucic a centerman.
@Mattmark Great post! You don't even need to go back that far, look at what the Leafs did with Gilmour and Sundin. No cups sure, but you know a #1 when you see it and it helps the team huge. Sundin made Hoglund a 40 goal scorer. It's that "what if" the Leafs had a real number 1C? What would Kessel really be? And until it's addresses, it's a game I'll keep playing.
Thing is, it's a problem that a lot of teams have, so it's not easily remedied. So the coaching staff have to make due and work their systems to what they've got.
Even if we draft a center this draft, where we'll be picking isn't going to help next year (unless a miracle happens). So Nonis will have to find someone already out there.
He also has to shore up some other holes in the lineup besides center which the traders/GMs on this site point out with great fireworks and splashes :) But if he can get a bonafide 1C, the Leafs will be much better for it.
pretty dam good rebuild year
If Nonis gives Phaneuf $7.5 million, he needs to be fired!
I could see giving him an extension at the same $6.5 million he is earning now, but a raise on that is just ridiculous!
@MaxwellHowe The Leafs need a #1C now. The draft provides some future hope, but doesn;t solve the current needs of the club. Making a trade for a big #1C would be very difficult (though not impossible). I'm not sure Nonis can pull it off though, we'll see. If the Leafs go into next season with Bozak as their #1C again, the team will be no further ahead, and may struggle to get into the playoffs. A change is needed badly!
I really noticed Chara being less dominant this year or at least in the playoffs. His age is starting to show. I agree on your 4th line comment but mostly I see the Bruins as being 3 or 4 years more mature than we are. Like Chara, they're getting older and we're getting better.
@Knights2Leafs @MaxwellHowe This notion of putting the whistles away and letting the players play is totally self-defeating and will only lead to serious injuries - probably has already. Kelly's elbow on JVR in last mins of Bruins - Leafs game 7 - how that is not a penalty is absolutely beyond me. Wasn't the failure to call it likely determinative of the series? As I said, self-defeating.
@canuckintheuk @Great DaneMorning folks . I wouldn't mind Bozak as a 3rd line center as long as he's paid as a 3rd line center, not 3.5 mil plus. I personally think he's looking for 4 mil plus with term and I hope Nonis doesn't fall for it. I have no problem with Grabo returning either but there are risks involved with that as well. Lets say we save a compliance buyout to be used next yr just in case Grabo doesn't bounce back. Sounds like a good plan but what happens if he gets hurt? There goes your chance for a buyout . Some interesting decisions for Nonis on these 2 players in the nest month or so.
It would be fantastic if we could move up in the draft to grab one of these good centers but it a very difficult deal to make these days. There are no options in FA for a top C so that leaves us with the trade option. That's going to be difficult as well with the most likely option being Stastney. If you remember Nonis's exit presser he made it very obvious getting a 1 C is only likely through trade or having the patience to allow what we have in the system ie: Kadri ,Colborne to develop. Top 1C talent is simply just not available
To be honest I hope that that both Bozak and Grabo are gone this summer. They are OK hockey players - but the team has moved on.
@Knights2Leafs @Mattmark You're right about no immediate help coming from the draft. If I gave the impression that I was under that illusion, I'm sorry. What I was trying to get across is that the centre position is so important that we should be drafting for skill and depth at it, every chance we get. You always want good centres coming up through your system, because the likelihood that someone is ever going to trade you a Tavares or a Toews is pretty remote.
@Knights2Leafs @Mattmark This post pretty much sums up my opinion as well . I too could live with Bozie but only for the right price ( he's a 3rd line center so pay him that way ). Grabo is a risk but we may not have any choice but take that risk for another yr. If the Leafs aquire Stastney there's a good chance Bozie and Grabo won't be back IMO
@Mattmark and spelling it Lucik.
Nice new system, by the way. Anything is better than Disqus. This, considerably so.
@Burtonboy @Knights2Leafs I still think the Leafs have to be willing to part with significant assets to0 get that #1 center. Even though everyone is aware of the need of a #1 center, the lack of same is still being underestimated. The Leafs cannot expect to get better with Bozak at #1, nor am I convinced that Kadri ia ready for the role, and I know Grabo isn't a #1.
When u watch the remaining teams playing and see how Toews or Kopiatar carry and distribute the puck and cover opposing centers, it becomes obvious why the Leafs are such a mediocre puck possession hockey team. Watch an old game with Sundin and it becomes even more obvious.
If Nonis does not get a genuine #1 centre this summer (or at least a high ranking centre at the draft), I believe he has failed
@Burtonboy Couldn't agree more. Yes, the 4 teams in the finals have better high end talent, but all of them ice decently strong 4th lines. The good news is that we can fill those positions for a decent 4th line internally from what we have with the Leafs and the Marlies.
I wasn't really talking about the 4th lines impact in the last few minutes of that game more to the point of the importance of having a line like that that can give the important 10-12 minutes that they do. It makes a huge difference over a 7 game series and we see teams like LA who have the same luxury. IMO its a critical component of a championship team.
@canuckintheuk @MaxwellHowe @Burtonboy IMO, Half measures and odds and ends like Grabo and Kule are not going to land a significant dman or centre. The Leafs are going to have to be bold. That might mean taking on big contracts for buyouts. More likely, the Leafs will have to consider dealing prized assets like Frattin and Gunnersson and Colborne and even Morgan Reilly. The Leafs are starving for a real #1 centre, and they're not getting one for free. Nor is a #2 dman going to be dropped on their lap. Again, thats my opinion.
@MaxwellHowe @canuckintheuk @Burtonboy. The difference a line like that makes is they play 10-12 minutes a night . Gives the top lines plenty of rest and beats the crap out of our defense with their cycle game. Makes a huge difference at the end of a game if your top forward and d aren't gassed from too many minutes
Agreed. Not that we're great at getting UFA's but even if we survive without Statsny this year, we may have a good shot at him next. He would know coming in that he and Kadri would be the 1 - 2 punch up the middle. If Grabo bounces back, we will be all the stronger.