April 29 2014 01:26PM
If the big debate last summer over Toronto's offseason moves was an earthquake, the organizational treatment of Tyler Bozak was its epicentre. Between the day after the Leafs lost Game 7 to Boston and the beginning of training camp, my 'Why Tyler Bozak should have played his last game as a Leaf' article was the highest-viewed post on our website. Other posts, derailing in anger over the precursor move—the Mikhail Grabovski buyout—were also widely read.
In the main Bozak post, I wrote that there was "no chemistry" between Bozak and top line winger Phil Kessel. "If anything, there is biology, in the respect that Bozak is in a parasitic relationship" with the All-Start winger, while quoting numerous statistics showing that Kessel's goal-scoring and puck possession rates actually improved when Bozak wasn't on the ice with him.
Let's see how ~THAT~ prediction turned out.
Kessel's one cold snap this season came during Tyler Bozak's second injury, a strained oblique muscle that kept him out of 12 games between December 3 and December 29. During that stretch, Kessel scored just three times. The Leafs were okay, going 5-5-2 against a pretty tough schedule, but when Bozak came back, the Leafs (after losing four straight) caught fire in January, as did Kessel.
Over the final 42 games of the season, Phil had 19 goals and 45 points, which is pretty damn good. He matched his career-high in goals, and was two shy of his high in points. Bozak, motivated by all the anonymous and pseudonymous bloggers in the offseason besmirching his good name, earned career highs in both goals and points despite missing 24 games.
It's funny that all the criticisms we had against Bozak seemed to reverse in 2013-2014. Kessel scored 1.43 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes with Bozak this season (via HockeyAnalysis), and just 0.84 without. He had 2.79 points per 60 with Bozak, and 1.79 without.
Even James van Riemsdyk was getting in on symbiont Bozak:
|van Riemsdyk with Bozak||1.08||2.39||9.70|
|van Riemsdyk without Bozak||0.38||1.13||8.90|
|Kessel with Bozak||1.43||2.79||10.44|
|Kessel without Bozak||0.84||1.79||8.24|
Another criticism was how little Bozak, prior to this year, actually involved himself on scoring plays. Among 138 forwards with 1500 minutes or more during the 11-12 and 12-13 seasons, Bozak was third last in "individual points percentage", which is essentially points divided by the number of goals a player was on the ice for. While most good forwards generally factor in on about 70% of even strength scoring plays, Bozak was down at just 56.1%, ahead of Olli Jokinen and Brent Burns, who converted from defence during the sample period.
But this past season, Bozak was up to 67.9%. Still not quite average, but not necessarily bad, either. He looked less of a tag-along and more of a real contributor to Kessel's best season in the NHL.
Okay, maybe we were wrong about him. Time to re-evaluate everything:
Actually, let's not re-evaluate.
On January 16th, the same day National Post reporter Michael Traikos declared that Bozak "might even be the team's best player," over at the Nation we had a contest to guess, knowing Bozak's elevated on-ice shooting percentage at five-on-five, what his production would be like for the rest of the season.
Well, the results are in:
|Before Jan 16||25||22||0.88||12.00%|
|After Jan 16||33||27||0.82||10.70%|
Despite the average reasonable guess being about 0.66 points per game, Bozak got 27 points in the last 33 games, only slightly dipping from 0.88 points per game to 0.82. His on-ice shooting rate nudged a little, but ultimately not enough to see Bozak revert back to his previous, unproductive ways.
And that surprised almost all of us. Most reasonable guesses significantly undershot Bozak's actual production:
Congratulations to winner 'Deaner' who guessed the closest to the actual retail value. His guess: 0.8008135. Wonderful.
Okay, so Bozak didn't have a post-January fall from grace. That doesn't mean that all the stat guys were wrong and that his contract is still a good one. When you play the long game in hockey analysis, you really are playing the long game. Bozak's contract has four more years on it, where he'll be paid as a top six centreman.
Bozak was fourth in the NHL in on-ice shooting percentage, at 11.6%. Last year, because of the shortened season, there were a lot of players with on-ice shooting percentages of above 11%. How did they do this year in that same category?
(Numbers via ExtraSkater.com)
|Player||2013 On-Ice Sh%||2014 On-Ice Sh%|
|Martin St. Louis||11.3%||9.3%|
I spilled a lot of digital ink about Nazem Kadri last summer and I don't think it's unfair to say that Bozak is headed for a similar fate, even if we undershot his production in Year 1 of his five-year contract.
By the way, if there was an opportune time to trade Bozak, it's right now. His value is better than his track record as a hockey player, the Leafs need to get some money off the books before extensions to Kessel and Dion Phaneuf kick in, and Bozak may be the only tradable player on the team making significant coin.
Maybe the comment section won't see it that way, but I'm thinking whatever Bozak was doing this year to improve Kessel and van Riemsdyk's statistics this year is not sustainable. I'm tempted to suggest he got lucky, re-run the analysis at the end of next season, and see whether Bozak is a legitimate NHL top six centreman.