In addition to Clark MacArthur, the Leafs also retained the services of Tyler Bozak yesterday to the (reported) tune of $1.5 million per year over the next two years.
The contract size is relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of the salary cap, particularly to a team like the Leafs who can cover a million dollar ticket with the change they find in the seats of the team plane. The issue with Bozak is he may be as equally insignificant.
Bozak was a hot commodity coming out college and expectations when he signed with the Leafs were to be a top-six center. It’s a role he’s been tasked with off-and-on over the last two seasons and failed at miserably despite sheltered minutes. In 2009-10, Bozak appeared in 37 games, saw some ofthe easiest competition on the team, started out more often in the offensive zone and was still only marginally above water in terms of possession (+1.7 corsi/60). He managed to put up 2.53 even strength points per 60 minutes of ice that year because of a team high on-ice SH% of 10.48%. The next best forward was Phil Kessel at 8.57%.
Puck luck disguised Bozak’s failings in his rookie year and inflated his production. As tends to happen, the bounces went the other way his past season, with Bozak’s on-ice SH% falling to a near-team low 6.57%. Unfortunately, his other underlying numbers didn’t improve enough to compensate. He still faced relatively soft opposition, started in the offensive end more often than any other Leafs forward and finished with the sixth worst corsi rating on the club (-7.12/60). As a result, his output slumped to just 15 goals, 32 points and a team low -29 rating n 82 games.
With a PDO of 97.0, Bozak is in-line to rebound somewhat this season as a matter of variance. The question is: does Tyler Bozak actually help the Leafs win? He will likely fall to third on Toronto’s depth chart behind Grabvoski and newly signed Tim Connolly. That initally seems like a role more suited to Bozak: facing third and fourth liners at ES. However, he has already skated in fairly soft circumstances and failed to do more than tread water. This was despite frequently playing with Phil Kessel.
Although he’s just 25-years old, one begins to wonder what the point of retaining Bozak is at any price. Absent a Connolly injury (which is admittedly quite possible), Bozak will probably spent the year on a line with Colby Armstrong and Mike Brown or some other bottom-six grinder on his wings. It seems unlikely he’ll be able to drive the play, score or even check anyone effectively in that role given his prior track record.
In addition, the Leafs may have two other options at center ice this coming year if Matthew Lombardi can regain his health and/or if Nazem Kadri can make the leap to the big league. As such, the upcoming year will be a critical season for Bozak’s career: if he can’t prove to be anything more than a replacement level player (his goals versus threshold last season was 0.6), then he’s bound to be rendered obsolete.