Update: The Colorado Avalanche have taken the unexpected step of bringing Ryan O’Reilly to arbitration, which could change the financial figures discussed below.
As a new NHL season slowly appears on the horizon – are you excited?! – we’re afforded the perfect opportunity to look back at what went right and what went wrong for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season.
The wounds, of course, are still fresh for many fans and plenty has already been said about the season’s many negatives (I’m no exception here) so it might be nice to focus on one of its few positives instead.
I’ll show my cards upfront: I’m a huge fan of Tyler Bozak and I think the Leafs got an absolute bargain when they re-signed him to a five-year, $21 million deal last July. A quick look at the stats would appear to justify this view.
Bozak set a new career high for points in 2013-2014, recording 19 goals and 30 assists for 49 points across 58 games. There’s also an “intangible” factor that he brings to the team: linemate Phil Kessel seems to play at his best when he’s skating alongside Bozak.
It’s hard to find a good comparison to Bozak in NHL given he’s somewhat quiet and often goes unnoticed playing between Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, but right winger Ryan Callahan from the Tampa Bay Lightning and center Ryan O’Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche can pass as acceptable comparisons.
These three players are comparable in my opinion because they provide a decent amount of firepower; assume both offensive and defensive roles; and play high minutes for their respective clubs. They’re also on the younger side of things (though Callahan is pushing this argument to the extreme).
O’Reilly is undoubtedly the best player of the trio and his relative youth will likely see this advantage expand over time. However, if the Avalanche hope to keep him next season, they must qualify him at $6.5 million. That puts his “cost effectiveness” into question – a consideration that’s important for all teams in the “new NHL” but especially a young one like Colorado. They’ll have many more of these situations on their hands soon.
O’Reilly recorded 64 points (28 goals, 36 assists) in 80 games last season, which is better than Bozak on an overall basis but actually falls below him when points-per-game are taken into consideration.
On the other hand, Callahan’s production has dropped over the last two seasons and it was his exorbitant contract demands that saw the New York Rangers trade him to Tampa Bay in March. Callahan recorded just 36 points (17 goals, 19 assists) in 65 games playing for the two teams. Desperate for depth, however, the Lightning re-signed him to a six-year, $34.8 million deal this off-season.
Once again, my intention here is not to say these three players are equal but that they form a useful group for the purpose of comparison. From the financial figures and offensive numbers discussed above, I think it’s safe to say Bozak offers the greatest bang for the buck.
If there’s one major weakness in Bozak’s game, it concerns his penchant for injuries. They were a big factor for him this season. He’ll need to stay clear of the infirmary next season if he hopes to improve even further.