Please give a warm welcome to Taylor Wright, the newest member of the MLHS writing team. Be sure to follow him @taylor_wright.
On Sunday at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis acquired centre Dave Bolland from the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for picks 51, 117 and a fourth round pick in 2014.
You knew that already, I’m guessing. So let’s take a look at how Bolland was used in Chicago, how well he performed in his role and what we can expect from him as a Leaf.
HOW WAS HE USED?
This past season Bolland spent his time on the ice with Patricks Kane and Sharp, and ranked 6th in TOI/G among Hawks forwards (excluding Brandon Pirri and Ben Smith who combined for 2 games played). Bolland’s 12:58 of even strength TOI/G ranked him 7th among Chicago forwards (excluding Smith and Hayes who combined for 11 games played). Bolland did however benefit from the fifth most power play time per game among Chicago forwards, a whopping 2:28 per game. Bolland’s power play time was spent mostly with Kane, Stalberg, Leddy, and Sharp. Bolland played an average of 0:52 on the penalty kill a game, good for 7th among Chicago forwards (excluding Smith’s one game).
Bolland played against some pretty tough competition this season, ranking first among Hawks forwards if we exclude the 10 games of Jimmy Hayes. Bolland also had the third-lowest offensive zone start numbers of the Hawks forwards at 49.6%, a testament to how dominant Chicago is in terms of possession.
What does all of this tell us about how Bolland was used this season? Well, his even strength line mates were two highly skilled, top-six players and he saw over twice as much time on the power play as he did on the penalty kill. He faced the toughest competition of any regular Blackhawk forward and his zone usage was similarly tough (but not McClement or Grabovski tough).
HOW DID HE DO?
In terms of production, Bolland had 7 goals, 7 assists and 14 points. He earned 10 of his points (70%) at 5v5 and 3 points (21%) on the power play. For context, Bolland spent about 79% of his time on the ice at even strength and about 15% of his time on the power play.
In looking the always-useful behindthenet.ca, we can see the rate of production for Bolland per 60 minutes of 5v5 time (0.69G, 0.41A1, 0.14A2, 1.24P). That point rate is 14th best among Hawks forwards (11th if you remove Morin’s 3 games, Smith’s 1 and Hayes’ 10). If we compare that to his most common line mates, we see that Kane’s production is 1.02G, 1.26A1, 0.39A2, 2.67P and Sharp’s is 0.76G, 0.76A1, 0.30A2, 1.82P. So Bolland’s even strength scoring pace is drastically lower than that of his highly-skilled 2013 linemates.
Considering that the seemingly outgoing Bozak was a king on the dot, how does our newest centre fare? Well, Bolland’s faceoff rate was a pretty dismal 46.1%, though a quick look at how he fared in the defensive zone tells a slightly different story. In the defensive zone (at even strength), Bolland was on the ice for 140 and 74 of those face-offs were won for a 52.8% win rate. Because of the data we can only look at the wins while he was on the ice, but considering he played with Sharp and Kane mostly it makes sense to assume that he was the one taking them (if that’s not the case then please correct me). Also of interest is the difference between Bolland’s home and away face-off performance: at home Bolland won 51.4% of his face-offs but just 39.9% while on the road.
It is of course important to point out that Bolland was injured this season and missed 13 regular season games and 5 playoff games with a variety of injuries: leg, upper-body, foot, and groin. If Bolland is going to contribute significantly to the Maple Leafs next season he’ll need to stay healthy: in the last five season’s he’s played just 292 of 376 games.
And finally, if we look at the possession numbers we see that Bolland has some of the worst numbers on the Hawks. In fact his numbers look quite similar to Jay McClement’s numbers in a similar context of usage (though McClement’s zone starts appeared much tougher).
The big question is how this season stacks up to previous seasons of Dave Bolland? The production at even strength is roughly what we can expect from Dave Bolland, similar to last season’s production and down a bit from two seasons prior. But his possession numbers this year are a dramatic departure from what he’s been accomplishing in the past, and it would probably be a safe bet to say that he’ll be better next season in that regard.
WHERE DOES HE FIT HERE?
So, where does Dave Bolland fit on a roster headed in to next season with Kadri, Grabovski and McClement as the other centres?
In an interview after the trade, Nonis said, “Randy won’t pigeonhole him as a third line centre,” and that he “may be put in a more prominent role than he had in Chicago.” It’s hard to decipher what Nonis is specifically envisioning here, but the comments do concern me a little.
Bolland’s even strength production, despite being on a line with two very talented players, doesn’t appear to be enough to make him a strong fit for a top-six role. With Bozak apparently leaving the Leafs organization, Leafs fans can rejoice knowing that a third liner will no longer be centering Phil Kessel. But if Bolland is being offered an expanded role, then the same problem may rear its ugly head.
The success of this trade seems to hinge on Bolland’s ability to play tough minutes and free up the more offensively-inclined Grabovski, who was stuck with the checking role this season. In Bolland the Leafs are also adding a player that until this season was a mainstay on the Chicago penalty kill, an area hurt by the departures of Komarov and (likely) Bozak. Bolland’s power play production is another area that he has excelled in the past, though this season was disappointing in that respect, and the Leafs could certainly use an upgrade on Bozak in that area.
The good news is that Nonis called Bolland “the type of player that thrives” under Randy Carlyle’s coaching style. Hopefully Carlyle sees Bolland as his Sammy Pahlsson and not another Tyler Bozak.