The Toronto Maple Leafs will likely need to address their centre depth this offseason, so could a surprise return by Tyler Bozak be on the cards?
The upcoming expansion draft will see the Toronto Maple Leafs lose a player to the Seattle Kraken, and there is a higher than average chance that the organisation will lose third line centre Alexander Kerfoot in the process.
Outside of moving veteran Jason Spezza back to the middle, as has been done over the past two seasons, the Leafs have Adam Brooks as the only NHL-ready centre available to them before free agency opens up at the end of the month.
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With the need to bolster the bottom six, especially through the middle, the Leafs could look to add a familiar veteran who was a popular figure during his last spell with the organisation; going on to add the top prize to his resume after three years away.
35-year-old Tyler Bozak is hitting the open market this summer, with his three-year, $5 million AAV contract with the St. Louis Blues expiring, and he could be an excellent addition to the Leafs’ bottom end.
Bozak hoisted the Stanley Cup at the end of the 2018/19 season, the first after leaving the Leafs in free agency, and now has a decision to make on where he will take his talents now.
At an advanced age, with some injury issues over the past couple of years, Bozak is likely only able to command an annual salary around league minimum, with $1 million potentially his ceiling, and his desire to win may be the deciding factor on where he ends up.
A return to the Toronto Maple Leafs could make sense for the family man, who had a great time in the city last time around, where he registered 365 points (136 goals, 229 assists) in 594 regular season games – being an undrafted free agent out of the University of Denver in 2009.
Throughout his career, Bozak was a premier face-off specialist that has averaged a 55% success rate over the past three seasons in St. Louis alone, something that would be valuable in a fourth line signing to partner alongside the likes of Spezza and Wayne Simmonds.
Bringing back a player that played such a key role on the team for so long during many difficult seasons would be a popular move, especially if it comes in at league minimum and his role is explicitly in the bottom six – allowing general manager Kyle Dubas to focus the team’s available cap space on bolstering their top six forwards.
The Leafs’ priority this off-season should be to improve a top six that struggled to score in the playoffs, with the back end of their offensive depth being filled with one-year deals with replacement-level players that can contribute in different, specialised areas.
For Bozak, that will be in the face-off circle while still offering some depth offence with the Regina, Saskatchewan native still capable of hitting between 30-40 points – with his 17 (5G-12A) in 31 games this past season good for around 45 points over a full 82-game season.
Winning the Stanley Cup in recent memory also gives Bozak a unique experience that few players on the Leafs have had and bringing his leadership back into the fold could be a huge benefit for head coach Sheldon Keefe as he searches for a way to get the team over the hump.