Nikolai Kulemin activated and Tyler Bozak placed on long-term IR

Cam Charron
November 02 2013 02:45PM

The Toronto Maple Leafs officially activated Nikolai Kulemin from injured reserve today, meaning the team was going to have to make a roster move to be salary cap compliant. That move is to put Tyler Bozak retroactively on the injured reserve, which, according to David Alter, means Bozak won't be eligible to return until November 21 against Nashville.

Bozak is a bit of a divisive player around here, but generally it's accepted that he's not an optimal first line centreman in the National Hockey League and not an optimal linemate for star wingers Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk.

So I won't bore you all with charts and graphs showing why Kessel is better off with Bozak altogether. So far, Nazem Kadri has looked excellent on the top line, particularly in Edmonton. He's a bit more inconsistent, but that's kind of a good thing. One of the reasons casual fans don't seem to have an issue with Bozak is that he doesn't visibly do anything poorly, and you never actually see the plays another centreman would make in those situations.

Generally, Bozak's worth is as a third liner and occasional penalty killer, but he's overpaid in those spots. I don't want to turn a thread about a paper move into another discussion about Bozak's value, since we've already had that discussion, and the Leafs are locked in to Bozak playing a key role four-and-eight-ninths more years.

The good news here is that Nik Kulemin is back, and the PK desperately needs him. While they have a pretty good PK rate, right now they're coasting on their goaltending while last season the team wasn't giving up a lot of 4-on-5 shots. Last year they were 5th and this year they're 27th in that regard, and Kulemin is a key PKer: last year he was 1st in Leaf forwards in preventing shots against on the penalty kill.

Prior to the start of the season I assumed that Kulemin would play on a tough minutes line with David Bolland, but Bolland has played well with Mason Raymond and David Clarkson, so Kulemin will start with his checking partner Jay McClement and likely Joffrey Lupul. It will be interesting to see if McClement and Kulemin can generate enough even strength opportunities to allow Lupul to finish and keep up his excellent early season scoring rate.

The first order of business is fixing the PK. The Canucks don't draw an awful lot of penalties so unless the Leafs are furiously aggressive tonight, Kulemin won't get a lot of chances to prove his ability. Not taking penalties is probably the best PK strategy.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 Jordan
November 02 2013, 02:56PM
Trash it!
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It will be good to have Kulemin back. In saying that, there is no denying that the Leafs are a better team with Bozak in the lineup. Although not a typical 1st line Centre, he is a good 2nd line option on most teams and is very under rated around these parts. He will be missed in every situation.

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#2 mac
November 03 2013, 09:01AM
Trash it!
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I think you mean, "showing why Kessel is better off withOUT Bozak altogether." ?

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