Toronto Maple Leafs: Is Tyler Bozak an Unwanted Relic from the Failed Past?


Toronto Maple Leafs: Is Tyler Bozak an Unwanted Relic from the Failed Past?

Tyler Bozak: where does he fit into the present and future plans of the Toronto Maple Leafs?

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  • That’s a fair question and it’s an important one, too, considering the amount of time and money left on his current contract. Unless outside forces intervene, Bozak will remain a member of the Leafs until the end of the 2017-2018 season at the annual cap cost of $4.2 million.

    For a Leafs team committed to another rebuild project, those are affordable numbers; they’re just not necessary numbers. A major catalyst behind the decision to re-sign Bozak on a five-year deal back in the summer of 2013 was Phil Kessel – the electric winger and the average centre are good friends who enjoy playing together – who no longer factors into the equation.

    In fact, Kessel signed a major extension shortly after Bozak signed his extension, suggesting his comfort with the then-current direction of the Leafs. Bozak was a big part of that.

    Fast-forward to today and the picture has changed decisively. Does that mean Bozak is no longer relevant to the team?

    Feb 7, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Tyler Bozak (42) congratulates Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel (81) on a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Let’s get the obvious drawback to keeping Bozak on the team out of the way first: he’s not the greatest two-way forward. It’d be an understatement to say his defensive-zone game needs some work. Last season he finished minus-34 (tied with Kessel for worst on the team) with a Shots Against ratio of -190 and an Unblocked Shots Against ratio of -151.

    These are the numbers that really draw the ire of the advanced stats crowd, but it must be remembered these numbers are reflective of the whole team that was on the ice at the same time as Bozak; they aren’t Bozak’s numbers alone. He was obviously part of the problem and this is a legitimate point of criticism. It becomes a problem, however, when people read these numbers and present Bozak as the Second Coming of Swiss cheese on ice.

    In other words, this wasn’t just Bozak’s problem and it’s important to remember that. It’s unfair to place the whole weight of the problem on his shoulders.

    Mar 5, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak (42) is congratulated by Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43) after scoring the game winning goal against the New York Rangers during the overtime period at Madison Square Garden. The Maple Leafs defeated the Rangers 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

    Having addressed this, we can now turn our attention to Bozak’s offensive numbers. After registering a career-best 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists) in 58 games during the 2013-2014 season, he experienced a significant regression last season: 49 points (23 goals, 26 assists) in 82 games. If you look at Bozak’s numbers across his entire career – he’s never recorded more than 50 points in a single season – it points to a second-line player, not a first-line player where the Leafs have been using him. This is another area where Bozak can be fairly criticized, but it’s really a problem on management’s part: they failed to provide enough depth on the team, forcing Bozak into a role that he didn’t naturally fit.

    The real question now becomes is Bozak worth $4.2 million per season as a second-line centre. The answer appears mixed. Nazem Kadri, who just re-signed for similar numbers on a one-year basis, has second-line centre written all over him as well. Ryan O’Reilly and Ryan Kesler, in contrast, just signed massive new deals as second-line centremen.

    April 4, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly (90) moves the puck against the Los Angeles Kings during the first period at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    The O’Reilly comparison is an interesting one since both players put up similar offensive and defensive numbers last season – O’Reilly recorded a Shots Against ratio of -170 and an Unblocked Shots Against ratio of -102 while sporting a minus-five rating – but the key difference is that these numbers don’t repeat themselves over time in the case of O’Reilly. To put this in slightly different terms, Bozak is consistently bad when it comes to these types of stats (stats that, as I mentioned above, must be read with the whole team in mind).

    In any event, considering the price difference between these two players, Bozak doesn’t look like such a poor option to anchor the second line after all. The Leafs could’ve easily spent more money for similar results.

    It’s really only when we look at the Leafs’ newfound depth at centre that it becomes hard to find a place for Bozak moving forward. Kadri will be given the chance to centre the first line next season – we already know this – while Peter Holland and Shawn Matthias will likely play centre on the two bottom lines. This provides a spot for Bozak to fill for this coming season, but after that, he’ll probably find himself competing with youngsters like William Nylander and Mitchell Marner for a spot on one of the top lines. At this point, however, the Leafs won’t have any real need for Bozak; he’ll be a redundant player who’s continuing presence in the lineup would come at the expense of one of the young players.

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    What does all of this mean? It means there’s some value in keeping Bozak over the short term, but that his prolonged presence beyond next season might interfere with the development of the team’s future top-line players.

    Thus, I wouldn’t really be surprised if Bozak starts the next season with the Leafs but ends it somewhere else. This is what the tea leaves suggest right now anyway.

    What do you think? Should the Leafs move Bozak or does he still serve a purpose on the team?

    Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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