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.