Why Tyler Bozak should have played his last game as a Leaf

via Claus Anderson/Getty

The big news out of Toronto yesterday is that Tyler Bozak wants to return to the Maple Leafs.

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Okay, maybe that wasn’t the *big* news of the day, but it’s something that happened. Tyler Bozak, the first-line centreman for the Leafs for the last four years, is an unrestricted free agent this summer and it doesn’t sound like the Maple Leafs have a huge interest in bringing him back.

In the playoffs, the Leafs were short-handed for two games without Bozak—games six and seven—and replaced his spot in the lineup with Nazem Kadri and filled Kadri’s spot with Joe Colborne. In an effort to stack the deck against Bruins’ defenceman Zdeno Chara, Kessel spent a lot of time in the playoffs, pre-Bozak injury, on a line with Kadri while Bozak played with Joffrey Lupul and Matt Frattin as an improvised third line.

Kessel’s offence was unaffected by this.

The thing with Bozak is that he’s spent the better part of four years playing with players much better than him, and dragging down Kessel’s production rather than complementing it. This is a point I’ve touched on before, but now that we have four years of data 

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Kessel scored four times in the playoffs. On none of the goals did Tyler Bozak record an assist. Of Kessel’s 20 regular season goals, just four were assisted by Bozak. Of Tyler Bozak’s 14 13 goals this season, regular season and playoffs, Kessel was the primary assist on six of them.

It isn’t too hard to see exactly what’s going on here. Using some of the data from Hockey Analysis, you can split out and check out the difference between the Leafs when Kessel is on the ice and not Bozak, and when Bozak is on the ice but not Kessel:

BOZAK Goals/60 Points/60 Goals % Corsi % TOI
With Kessel 0.65 1.67 47.9% 48.1% 2769:52
Without Kessel 0.31 0.82 36.4% 43.6% 584:20

KESSEL Goals/60 Points/60 Goals % Corsi % TOI
With Bozak 0.95 2.27 47.9% 48.1% 2769:52
Without Bozak 1.28 2.09 51.7% 50.7% 1495:05

(I used David Johnson’s site and ought to link to his own post with his opinions on Bozak. He isn’t as generous as me in his assessment.)

Bozak has played 584:20 in his career at even strength sans Kessel and has just two three goals and five eight points. In that stretch, the puck is in the Leafs opposition’s end just 43.6% of the time and the Leafs have scored just 36.4% of all the goals scored. Bozak’s goal rate increases by 111% and his points rate increases by 103% when he plays alongside Kessel.

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Comparatively, when Kessel is out with Mikhail Grabovski, or Nazem Kadri, or any one of the fine young centremen in the employ of the Maple Leafs over the last four seasons such as Matt Stajan, John Mitchell or David Steckel, Toronto’s actually a plus-possession team, meaning, they take more shots than they give up.

Kessel’s point rates are similar, presumably because it wasn’t really until this year that he started generating a tonne of assists. But when somebody other than Bozak is setting him up, his scoring increases by 26%.

Given these stats, that Kessel is clearly the better player when he’s apart from Bozak, means I twitch a little when I read things about Bozak like:

…while being a top level faceoff specialist, and solid playmaker who developed chemistry with leading scorer Phil Kessel…

There’s no chemistry there. If anything, there is biology, in the respect that Bozak is in a parasitic relationship with Kessel.

Kessel has flaws. He’s not a particularly good defensive player and needs a good centreman to help him out. He needs a top-line centreman, that you can trust to take the brunt of defensive play and provide some speed and skill. You don’t need to go on the trade market. You have Mikhail Grabovski. You have Nazem Kadri. There are players who have a history of being very, very good both with and without Kessel on their wing.

It’s clear who is driving the bus in TO on that first line.

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  • How likely do you think it is that Bozak comes back?

    I wouldn’t mind him in a role other than 1c, but the thing is, if he does come back, that’s the role he’s going to stick to. And I couldn’t stand to see that for yet another season.

    So I’m hoping Bozak doesn’t come back more than I’m hoping for anything else this offseason.

    • I really don’t think he’s worth resigning even if he does become a permanent fixture on the third line. He’s just not a very good hockey player, and it’d be more economical to try somebody like Colborne at 3C; a much cheaper alternative.

      Kadri/Grabovski/Colborne/McClement should suffice.

    • jasken

      This article is written by an idiot! Bozak is most definitely not a first line center, and analyzing any kind of Bozak/Kessel statistics based on his play as 1c is ridiculous! He plays with Kessel because Toronto doesn’t have a better center that can win faceoffs. You cant put Kadri with Kessel because Kadri, while significantly more talented as a player, just doesnt have 1c in him, unless you want to start every shift trying to recover the puck. Grabovski is even less capable of first line duties.

      They need to go out and sign/trade for a real #1 center, and until they do they have to keep Bozak on the first line, send him down to 2c or 3c when they do. I just hope they dont give him a Grabovski like salary (way overpaid).

  • BOZAK IS ABSOLUTLY AMAZING he is the glue of our team. I would rather Kessel go down with injury than Tyler Bozak. Props to BOZAK for being a pure beauty… if anything Kessel has brought him down… lazy american. PLEASE RE-SING BOZAK WE NEED HIM MORE THAN KESSEL!!!!

  • @ John your a genius. As brilliant as some of the old men who call in on the fan 590. time to cue the old time hockey rant.

    Who ever plays with Kessel will play above their skill level. Although he does not play the typical north American forward he still one of the best pure scorers in the world. Pre 2012 lock out look up how many players scored 30 goals for 4 seasons straight (its a short impressive list).

    Try reading, it helps.

    Bozak will be a perfect fit on the third line in any organization. I hope it is in Toronto, but if not I wish him well.

  • jasken

    Bozak’s future will look like this if the leafs dont sign him. He will get roughly 25-30 goals probably 65+ pts go on to be 1 of the best 2 way forwards in the game. Possibly a lady Byng or selke candidate, avg of 52% FO. Now why will this happen well that is easy he will be put with a right winger who will be getting him the puck in the slot from the right side not left. He will face the Leafs probably 4 or 5 times should be good for atleast a couple shorthanded goals maybe a breakaway or 2 and maybe even a few shootout goals. He will avg 2 or 3 shots a game not 1.5 so his production will probably double amazing what can happen when you actually use a center for more then rebounds and support.

  • Kadri is NOT a #1C.. And Neither is Bozak, but at least Bozak can win a draw. How many did Kadri win vs Boston? My point exactly. We have a huge hole for the top line centre.


    Trade Kadri and the 1st round pick for Nate Mackinnon and then all the problems are solved.

  • Kessel and Bozak are real good friends. I know that you don’t sign someone because of this, but I do believe it would help greatly in keeping Kessel in the fold. Kessel must be resigned and Bozak (if for a good price-is a huge and help us resigning him(Kessel). If Bozak yould be resigned to 3 million I think it should be done.

    On the other hand Grabovski and his 5.5million contract needs to be bought out. I know he worked hgard in playoffs, but he was still a -10 with no goals. This would shore up another 2.5 and the important center spot.

    • Pretty sure he was a -10 because his role was more defensive this year.. Tough minutes against top line competition in his own zone. Seguin and Marchand got no goals, are they worthless as well? Should Boston buy them out?

      • jasken

        More defensively actually contrary to belief if you are a solid defensive player you not only get to see hard minutes against other top lines but also shorthanded situations. Grabovski who was used a whole 1:19 seconds shorthanded this season shows he is not all that solid there. The fact he was -10 is actually a plus in his favor considering in games over 15 minutes he was -17 that means in under 15 minutes time he was a +7 what does that show since he dont play shorthanded minutes that he is good for under 15 minutes a game. Carlyle said it best after game 7 “you know who you can count on and who you cant”

    • jasken

      Exactly Grabo needs to go, played his heart out but he simply isn’t worth 5.5 million… and he can’t play a checking role minus 10 2 points don’t cut it for your highest paid forward.

  • I think you’re wrong about Bozak. I watched every game for the past three years and Bozak is one of the Leafs most solid players. Sure Kessel produces more, but he goes on 15 game slumps at times. Bozak however consistently plays hockey. Rarely does he ever screw up a defensive play and he’s been a part of the penalty kill and has done a good job at it. I hate when idiot fans only look at statistics and production numbers over good and consistent play. There’s more to the game than you know. Lucky bounces, flow, and attitude determine the outcome of games too, more so in close games. Like the ones we had in the late stage of the first round.

  • I’ve got to disagree with this article. Stats can be misleading and correlation doesn’t imply causation — the stats would suggest to me that Bozak needs to switch places with Kadri, not that the Leafs need to throw him away.

    As for whether he can play, we don’t need stats to answer that question. Look at any of his goals — they’re beautiful. He’s also got speed that wouldn’t be out of place on a team like Montreal or (dare I suggest?) Pittsburgh. Jasken is right, if we let Bozak go before he develops he’ll be another Seguin.

    If we do want to look at stats, we should look at the face-off percentage. Who’s going to take the face-offs for the Leafs? And how might the Boston series have ended if Bozak had won a few of those final face-offs?

  • If you’re talking about stats, why are you saying Grabovski should stay? Bozak,even though he is not a #1 center, he plays hard, he manages the puck pretty well and good defensively. I dont think Grabvski is coming back next year, so if they can sign Bozak for a reasonable salary, they should

  • jasken

    How could you even consider getting rid of a Saskatchewan product? Not to mention the physicality of his game play, his reliability in the face-off circle, and his attitude towards backchecking. He has not hit his prime yet. Pair him up with Komarov (once he can cycle) and open the flood gates! If the Leafs do not sign him, we mind as well have Burke back and build a euro team…. Build your team around hard working Canadians that can log a lot of minutes.

    You can teach and improve faceoffs, develop stick-handling, and shooting. But you can not teach bravery, courage and toughness. Bozak possesses all these attributes.

    Replace Phanuef, you can’t be a team leader if you’re scared of the corners. He doesn’t like getting hit. Trade him for another left handed Defenseman that has some grit and can fight. A couple defensive prospects in the draft wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

    • jasken

      Yea….Burke built the team that made playoffs…as a matter of fact if he kept his mouth shut in the media he’d probably still be our GM. Nonis hasn’t done anything with this team since he took over.

      Phaneuf isn’t scared of anything he just makes bad defensive decisions. He would need a better top pairing D-man since his game is more offensive. Could call on your useless analytical points.

  • jasken

    You are forgetting about the defensive aspect of the game he brings as well as his faceoff percentage and how much he plays shorthanded, games are won through defense, and he has contributed more than most leafs

  • jasken

    Solid blog but I gotta disagree with you. Bozak was the only guy we had that scored in the shootout this year and the only guy on our team who is outstanding at faceoffs. In the game 7 against Boston the leafs would have won that game if tyler bozak was in the lineup seeing as at one point boston had won 30 faceoffs and the leafs only 8. I think we should keep bozak and put him in a second line role with Kadri on the first line and colborne on the third. I think Grabovski needs to be traded, he played fantastic in the playoffs but his contract is way to high and with the cap going down next season he is a guy we should be clearing out.

  • jasken

    I like the guy, I think he could fit into the team elsewhere the problem though is that resigning means hes going to ask for more money and eat into the salary cap. it’s really not worth it because the money he wants we can buy someone who can be a good C1.

  • jasken

    This is actually a terrible analysis. You have all the information of how bozak is with kessel. he doesn’t NEEEEED to play on the top line with kessel. If the price is right sign him. don’t base everything on how good kessel is when he is on the ice with bozak that’s retarded. that’s like saying Crosby plays better with kunitz and dupuis but not malkin so they should get rid of malkin. lol stupid right?

      • jasken

        Jay Mclement has a terrible Corsi that doesn’t mean he is a terrible player. It means he is facing tough QOC, like Bozak who is taking defensive zone faceoffs. I know you know this but you don’t need to distort advanced stats to pursue your anti-bozak agenda. Also JVR is worse without Kessel, should we dump him to?

        Let them speak for themselves. The box car stats are all the evidence we need to know that Bozak is not 1C material.

        And what would be good is a comparison of Bozak vs Kadri vs Grabbo vs other available centers. THe kessel comparison is silly.

        • Not really.

          I acknowledge that McClement’s primary talents are on the PK. At 5-on-5, the Leafs’ fourth line is pretty useless. This is reflected in both scoring chance counts and Corsi.

          If Bozak were as successful at the PK as McClement and in as many minutes, I would give him props. but he’s not in that role, and frankly, there’s no evidence that he may one day play in that role. He’s a minor league level player who fluked into playing alongside one of the best wingers in hockey for four seasons.

          Maybe Bozak has a future as a 4C or a 3C. Maybe. But he has to improve, and I don’t see how the Leafs could pay to bring him back as a UFA and place him in that position behind Grabovski and Kadri.

  • I wish that Kessel or Phaneuf gets traded
    That Orr and McLaren get resigned
    I hope that MacA is let go for nothing
    That Grabovski is bought out
    That a Veteran goalie is brought in and Scrivens let go.
    And finally, that Bozak is resigned for 4+million..

    And when the Leafs finish dead last… Maybe…. Maybe… The Leafs organization starts taking advance stats seriously.. And that Carlyle gets fired!!!

  • Jeremy Ian

    “There’s no chemistry there. If anything, there is biology, in the respect that Bozak is in a parasitic relationship with Kessel.”

    probably the best/most true line ever said about Bozak. Good stuff as always