Nozak: The Chemistry Chronicles

(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.

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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.

But First..

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.

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2012/13 46 12 16 28 -1 6 4 1 3 61 19.7 931
2011/12 73 18 29 47 -7 22 4 0 1 109 16.5 1375
2010/11 82 15 17 32 -29 14 6 1 4 120 12.5 1581
2009/10 37 8 19 27 -5 6 2 0 1 51 15.7 712

These are Phil Kessel’s numbers in Toronto.

2012/13 48 20 32 52 -3 18 6 0 4 161 12.4 951
2011/12 82 37 45 82 -10 20 10 0 6 295 12.5 1644.5
2010/11 82 32 32 64 -20 24 12 1 6 325 9.8 1611
2009/10 70 30 25 55 -8 21 8 0 5 297 10.1 1368

These are Tyler Bozak’s numbers when adjusted to 20 minutes per game.

2012/13 82 21 28 49 -1 10 7 1 5 107 19.7 1640
2011/12 82 21 34 55 -8 26 4 0 1 130 16.5 1640
2010/11 82 15 17 32 -30 14 6 1 4 124 12.5 1640
2009/10 82 18 43 61 -11 13 4 0 2 117 15.7 1640

These are Phil Kessel’s numbers when adjusted to 20 minutes per game.

2012/13 82 34 55 89 -5 31 10 0 6 277 12.4 1640
2011/12 82 37 45 82 -9 19 9 0 5 294 12.5 1640
2010/11 82 32 33 65 -20 24 12 1 6 330 9.8 1640
2009/10 82 35 29 64 -9 25 9 0 5 356 10.1 1640

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.

Assist Percentages

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:

  Kessel A%   Bozak A%
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
2012/13 24 100 2012/13 13 100

  Kessel A%   Bozak A%
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
2011/12 37 100 2011/12 18 100

  Kessel A%   Bozak A%
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
2010/11 32 100 2010/11 15 100

  Kessel A%   Bozak A%
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
2009/10 16 100 2009/10 8 100

  Kessel A%   Bozak A%
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
TOTAL 109 100 TOTAL 54 100

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.

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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
2010 62.5 87.5 23.3 25
2011 34.4 53.3 58.1 37.9
2012 37.8 55.6 66.7 38.7
2013 20.8 61.5 60 75
AVG 38.9 64.5 52.1 44.1
3YAVG 31 56.8 61.6 50.3

(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:

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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
2010 150 48.3
2011 87.7 96
2012 93.4 105.4
2013 82.3 135
AVG 103.35 96.18
3YAVG 87.8 112.13

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
van Riemsdyk 10 41.7 9 598:08 9.87
Franson 8 33.3 2 239:52 5.47
Bozak 5 20.8 4 656:10 4
Phaneuf 5 20.8 0 312:17 0
Kadri 4 16.7 4 110:14 23.8
Gunnarsson 2 8.3 2 230:09 5.7
Unassisted 2 8.3 2 N/A N/A
Fraser 1 4.2 1 210:11 3.12
MacArthur 1 4.2 1 71:23 9.19
Holzer 1 4.2 1 117:13 5.6
Lupul 1 4.2 1 105:18 6.23
Hamilton 1 4.2 1 8:30 77.19

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.

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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.

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  • SkinnyFish

    Go to and look up TOI splits for Kessel with various linemates to modify your last chart to be Assists per TOI with Kessel. I think you’ll find something rather shocking.

  • MaxPower417

    Honestly, the only way that getting rid of Bozak is going to hurt Kessel’s production is if they have a secret intimate relationship going on, and separating them would damage Kessel’s psyche. Someone get TMZ on the case.


    – I’m not saying I think this is the case
    – If it was the case, it wouldn’t bother me in the least
    – The TMZ line is a joke, athletes should be entitled to privacy
    – However, I still would want their combined salaries to make sense, even if Bozak was paid slightly above value and Kessel slightly below

  • jasken

    I would totally agree with everything on Bozak but what does comparing a LW moulson and center Travares have to with a RW Kessel and Center Bozak except to show that Kessel is playing in the wrong position consistently. This is Leafs set-up opposing coach looks at this and says wait I shift a shorthand 4 man box over I cover all Leaf players and 1 timer from Bozak is non-existent, I have a free player. If they change Kessel to go down right wing, Bozak in slot and JVR in front of net for either a Kessel or a Bozak 1 timer shot. LW there is no Bozak shot at all unless you count a Bozak backhand of 25 ft good luck on scoring Bozak. Bozak getting goals on Rebounds, scrambles or breakaways is totally stupid only time Bozak will ever get 1 timers is when puck is on right side when does that happen. You see the set-up is wrong first of all, Kessel is way out of position RW on LW side. 2. Kessel misses net who is on RW no one or defensemen stupid mistake, blaming a person for lack of production has nothing to do with his skill if your not using it. I figured people who are suppose to be well informed on things like stats would know enough not to compare players unless they are put in exact same situations. Left shot centers want the puck to left of them and right shots want it to the right. Stats dont tell you this they never will its called watching a game knowing players position and knowing where they should be to where they are. That top line is all about Kessels ability to snipe and thats all they play too when they stop playing to that and start playing to the ability of the players thats when things change. Like putting Kessel if he’s gonna be on LW with Kadri. Lupul since he can go down either side should play with Bozak because he shoots left and Bozak right so they face each other like Kadri and Kessel will. Thats the way to use players abilities and increase production not playing to their weaknesses but their strengths.