(Tyler Bozak’s realistic value to the Toronto Maple Leafs is a dead horse that I intend to beat until you assume it was cremated)
We’re inching closer and closer to the start of another off-season, filled with unrestricted free agency, trades, and all of that fun stuff. Of course, there’s a lot of debate as to what holes the Leafs need to fill and where they can use an upgrade, but the subject of expiring contracts is clear cut. Despite being rather good at what he does, playoff healthy scratches and decreased regular season minutes have many believing Clarke MacArthur’s reign of terribly above average play is coming to an end. Colton Orr, Ryan Hamilton, Ryan O’Bryne, Mike Kostka, and Tim Connolly are all UFA’s at the end of the year, but all of those players are easily replaceable at the NHL level. This leaves Tyler Bozak, the team’s current first line centre, as the main focus before contracts expire.
As I think we’re all perfectly aware of at this point, I don’t particularly like the idea of keeping Bozak around. I don’t feel that he’s particularly productive, and I don’t feel that his advantages at the draw make that much of a difference. Others have expressed similar concern with different approaches. But there’s still a point that the average fan will bring up, and that’s Bozak’s chemistry with Phil Kessel, something I don’t believe actually exists.
A few days ago, Cam Charron wrote a piece here on The Leafs Nation with the same skepticism that I had on the point, but taking a different approach than I will, using Bozak and Kessel’s production with and without each other. As you would imagine, Cam’s finding was that Bozak’s production falls when away from Kessel, and that Kessel’s production sees insignificant changes. It’s a great way of looking at it, but for contrast’s sake, let’s look at it in a way that only involves them with each other.
I would like to point out something rather obvious. Typically, players seen as having chemistry with each other will produce at a rate that somewhat resembles the others.
These are Tyler Bozak’s numbers in Toronto.
These are Phil Kessel’s numbers in Toronto.
These are Tyler Bozak’s numbers when adjusted to 20 minutes per game.
These are Phil Kessel’s numbers when adjusted to 20 minutes per game.
After looking very similar to each other in 2009/10, Kessel has paced out to be 33, 27, and 40 points ahead of Bozak over a full season of top line minutes. Seeing as Phil Kessel is not a healthy Sidney Crosby and that Tyler Bozak wants much more than Pascal Dupuis money, this isn’t very good. But on to the main point.
I wanted to see how much of an impact Kessel and Bozak have on each others stat lines. Of course, chemistry isn’t just who assists on your goals, but when you’re talking about high minutes, scoring-inclined forward linemates, such a breakdown is generally a good indication of how helpful the players are to each other. Here’s how that turns out:
|Bozak Primary||5||20.8||Kessel Primary||6||46.2|
|Bozak Secondary||0||0||Kessel Secondary||2||15.4|
|No Bozak||19||79.2||No Kessel||5||38.4|
|Bozak Primary||8||21.6||Kessel Primary||7||38.9|
|Bozak Secondary||6||16.2||Kessel Secondary||3||16.7|
|No Bozak||23||62.2||No Kessel||8||44.4|
|Bozak Primary||6||18.75||Kessel Primary||6||40|
|Bozak Secondary||5||15.63||Kessel Secondary||2||13.3|
|No Bozak||21||65.63||No Kessel||7||46.7|
|Bozak Primary||3||18.75||Kessel Primary||6||75|
|Bozak Secondary||7||43.75||Kessel Secondary||1||12.5|
|No Bozak||6||37.5||No Kessel||1||12.5|
|Bozak Primary||22||20.20||Kessel Primary||25||46.3|
|Bozak Secondary||18||16.50||Kessel Secondary||8||14.8|
|No Bozak||69||63.30||No Kessel||21||38.9|
It’s interesting, really. Once Bozak was called up to the Leafs and given minutes with Kessel (who’s goal numbers only account for games from that point on), the two seemed to have a legitimate connection that produced ridiculous results. Bozak was in on well over half of Kessel’s goals, and Kessel contributed to nearly 90% of Bozak’s. Perhaps it was this season that sealed the fate of this combination. From that point on, everybody had assumed that as long as Kessel was producing, the pair was working, and left it be.
The following year, both percentages take a considerable dive. Bozak appears to be setting up Kessel at a rather mediocre percentage level, with a lot of secondary helpers. Kessel’s impact, whlie lower, still is one that sees him contributing on over half of Bozak’s goals. This number only increases on a year by year basis, though at a slower rate than Kessel’s actual assist totals.
This leads us to the now. Just 25% of Kessel’s full season assists are going to Bozak, but they make up nearly two thirds of the centre’s goals. On the other end, Bozak has a helper on just over a fifth of Kessel’s goals, an insanely small amount for the person who is given credit by many for "keeping his line together".What you begin to see is not a case of the two gelling, but Kessel blossoming into a franchise player who has many, many options to take in and dish out passes to, and uses them all on a shift-by-shift basis. Bozak, on the other hand, appears to be reliant on being "that guy" of Kessel’s so he can put points on the board.
I tried to find a duo to compare them to, but in most cases, a top end point producer doesn’t get slotted with a decent point producer for a stretch of four seasons. The closest pair I could find was John Tavares and Matt Moulson. Both duo’s consist of players who joined their teams in 2009/10. Kessel is a much better winger than Moulson, but both have either scored 30 or been on pace for it for each of the past four years. I won’t paste their year-by- year tables, but this much is evident.
- Like Bozak and Kessel, their first year is a blip. Rather than unusually high, however, they don’t contribute much to each other’s goals. A lack of minutes together leads to Moulson being in on 23.3% of Tavares’ goals, and 25% going the other way around.
- As an aside, this means Moulson scored 23 of 30 goals without Tavares in his first year in Long Island. He’s a better player than many give him credit for.
- After that, the two are paired together, Tavares is a bit more NHL ready in his second season at the young age of 20, and he clicks with his new linemate. Since then, Tavares has had a steady and high amount of helpers on Moulson’s goals.
- On the flip side, Moulson’s contribution to Tavares stays low. Not a huge shock when you consider he’s the finisher of the two, but as that role changed a bit this year and Tavares started putting pucks on net, so went up Moulson’s impact, going up to a staggering 75%.
Putting both duo’s percentage’s side by side (combining primary/secondary assists):
|Kessel, From Bozak||Bozak, From Kessel||Moulson, From Tavares||Tavares, From Moulson|
(A three year average is put into place to get rid of the abnormal numbers that both pairs have in 2009/10)
And in Graph Form:
I also combined the assist percentage totals of each pair. The highest possible number being 200. I’m not sure what an number that indicates "good" chemistry would be, but what’s clear is that their percentages look much more in line with what you’d expect from a playmaker/finisher duo. Kessel and Bozak’s percentages appear to both be lower, and backwards, which seems to indicate (in my eyes) a mismatch in ability.
|Kessel & Bozak||Moulson & Tavares|
And by the way..
If you don’t like extrapolations and percentages and all of that complicated stuff, here’s a much simpler chart of who had the most assists on Kessel’s 24 goals this year, with some bonus extrapolation of 5 on 5 performance.
|Player||Assists By||Assists%||5v5 Assists||5v5 Min With Kessel||Assists in 42 Time|
This is where it really gets crazy. The raw amount of additional assists that van Riemsdyk and Franson have over Bozak should be convincing as it is, but isolating the 5 on 5’s and adjusting them for Bozak’s time makes it get very out of hand. I’m going to write off Ryan Hamilton as the definition of a small sample size, but of players who had multiple assists on Kessel goals, Bozak is actually the least frequent. Nazem Kadri is about six times more likely to set up Kessel at any given time. Think about that.
Summing It Up
Even without the Tavares/Moulson comparable, it’s not crazy to say that a perceived notion of "chemistry" between Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel is non existent. If anything, it’s one way. Bozak needs Kessel to score. Kessel doesn’t need Bozak to pass to him. The only time it seemed that way was for half a season, four years ago.
What we’re seeing now is a situation where because Kessel has grown as much as he has, it’s hidden the fact that Bozak has had almost nothing to do with it. All that Bozak has to do to keep the Leafs happy on the ice is not bring Kessel down. He very well might be doing just that, but not in ways that are glaringly obvious, thanks to Phil’s growth.
There’s no guarantee that whoever replaces Bozak as Kessel’s centre will immediately gel with him. But as it stands, in the persuit of a productive centre that makes a serious impact on Kessel’s shooting ability, Bozak is neither. This makes him a centre with little on-ice chemistry with his linemates, a slight and insignificant faceoff edge, a very low production rate for a top six forward, and an expectation of a substantial pay raise. We’re now down to Call of Duty Skills, his personal friendship with Kessel, and his long hair as reasons to give him $5 million.
Like always, logic would imply that the Leafs should stay away from trying this again next year.