Mythbusters: Tyler Bozak edition

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This website likes to encourage as much conversation as possible, and generally that means we want readers and contributors to challenge their own personal beliefs and biases and look at hockey from a different perspective.

Somehow in all that, Tyler Bozak has gotten caught up in the cross-fire. Myself and Jeffler have spilled many, many words about the Leafs’ need to ditch Bozak as a first line centreman option.

There is no shred of objective data that exists that shows that Bozak is a reasonable option as a Top Six centreman in the NHL. I keep scouring for any sort of information that would point me to a different conclusion. The guy was a first line centreman for a playoff team, right? So what am I missing? Is there a different way that I can look at the numbers as they’re presented and change my mindset?

It’s not likely. At least, not with the two most common defences of Tyler Bozak I get via Twitter. Read on.

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Myth No. 1 – “He’s good at faceoffs”

People have fallen in love with Tyler Bozak’s faceoff ability, but it’s important in general to be wary of the overall value of a faceoff. The gap between who is “good” and who is “bad” at faceoffs is fairly marginal.

Here’s notorious timeline-clogger Steve Burtch who went through the steps to figure out what the overall value of Patrice Bergeron’s faceoffs were:

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Somebody get that guy a Tumblr or something.

Remember… when a draw is won or lost and leads directly to a goal for or goal against, it doesn’t mean that a better faceoff man would have prevented the goal. Patrice Bergeron, who is the best in the league at this thing, has lost 729 even strength faceoffs over the last two seasons.

I listed out the players marked as being “Faceoff Leaders” over each of the last two seasons (that worked out to being 61 names), then looked to see which players were outside one standard deviation from the mean of 51.15%. Generally, you’d do this to see which players would be far enough away from the league average that you could be reasonably certain that it’s not due to randomness.

There’s an amazing post by Phil Birnbaum worth a read called “Eliminating stupidity is easier than creating brilliance”. At the start of the post he discusses an old theory that one way to test if something relies purely on luck, ask yourself if it’s possible to lose on purpose.

If you don’t like that one, try casino blackjack.  You can lose on purpose just by hitting every hand — eventually, you’ll go over 21 and bust.  But, can you *win* on purpose?  Only to a certain limit.  If you aren’t a card counter, the best you can do is to faithfully follow “basic strategy.” In that case, you’ll reduce the house advantage to its minimum possible value —0.5% — which means that you’ll lose, on average, $1 for every $200 you bet.  Any deviation from that will be random luck.

That is: you can lose as much as you want, on purpose.  But you can’t win any more than the best of the other players, on purpose.

Now, Patrice Bergeron is quite good at faceoffs, and you can be quite sure that he is good on purpose. At 61.89% over the last two years, Bergeron is two standard deviations outside the mean. Like in blackjack though, there’s only a certain amount you can be better than the next opponent. No player is winning all of his draws, and no player is losing all of them. Any combination of timing, strength or positioning can win a player a faceoff on any given draw and there are no guarantees. 

Bozak is 22nd out of 61 players. At 52.28% over the last two seasons, Bozak is worth 0.87 possessions per 15 faceoffs better than a replacement faceoff-taker (I crudely determined replacement faceoff % by averaging the rate of each of the players below one standard deviation. Somebody probably has a better way of doing that, but the numbers shouldn’t change too much. I came up with 46.46%). Somebody who is objectively bad at faceoffs would win 0.87 draws per game less than Bozak placed in the same position.

Mikhail Grabovski is the only other Maple Leaf that made the list of 61. He is worth approximately 0.68 draws per 15 better than a replacement player (15 is generally an average of EV faceoffs). It’s not like Bozak deserves more ice-time on the basis that he is overwhelmingly better than somebody else in the same position. Like Burtch noted on Twitter, Bergeron’s situational success is worth less than one goal per series for the Bruins. It’s ultimately not something that will decide a series, and that is the player who is objectively the best in the NHL at that particular craft. Bergeron is a special player because he does so much more than win faceoffs, not because he has success off the draw.

Myth No. 2 – “He has chemistry with Phil Kessel”

Well this is just plain wrong, and if it’s going to take some graphs to show it, then graphs I will show. If you go to Hockey Analysis’ stats page, you can break up player stats with and without a particular player. The first would be to see how Phil Kessel’s goals and point totals do when he’s on the ice with Tyler Bozak as opposed to without:

Here is one breaking down goals per 60 minutes at even strength, with and without:

Note that the blue bar, indicating Kessel, marks a much, much higher goal rate while the two are apart than together. Bozak loses about half of his production in the 584 minutes he’s played apart from Kessel in his career. That’s a small sample, but Kessel at 1495 minutes is about a full season’s worth spread over the four years Bozak and Kessel have been in Toronto.

Like I’ve said, if there were anything to this chemistry that Kessel and Bozak have together, it would show up in the data. Maybe here?

One quirk I’ve noticed is that Kessel gets fewer assists when he’s away from Bozak, which contributes to a slightly lower point total. He loses much less of his point production rate than Bozak does, however, and the Leafs still manage to score more goals. It’s just that Kessel isn’t as involved in them.

Here’s that chart. Total goals for per 20 minutes for the Leafs and the Leafs’ opponents, with the players together, Kessel without Bozak and Bozak without Kessel:

* – The first pair of columns is Kessel + Bozak, indicating the two together. The second is Kessel – Bozak, indicating it’s just Kessel and not Bozak, while the third is Bozak – Kessel, indicating Bozak but not Kessel.

The Leafs are actually a plus-team with Kessel on the ice without Bozak, and they absolutely struggle to both a) score goals and b) prevent goals when Bozak is on the ice without #81. A caveat though would be to look at goals alone and not account for shots as well, because goals can be affected by shooting percentage over a small sample.

So here is the chart presented the same way, but looking at shot attempts—not goals—per 20 minutes in the same situations:


The Leafs are close to being a plus-possession team with Kessel and no Bozak, but ultimately aren’t. This chart is a bit fairer to Bozak, but it still shows that the Leafs are limited offensively when Bozak isn’t playing alongside his winger. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but other than giving up a slightly higher number of shots, it should be quite clear that the Leafs control the flow of the game much better with one of these players on the ice and not the other.

So yes, Bozak is a bit of a boat anchor.

If you want to see some true chemistry, check to see which players do better when together than apart The trick is to look at the gap between the blue and red bars. The higher the blue bar compared to the red one, the more positive your team’s possession with those two players on the ice, and that will ultimately lead to more goals. Like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane:


Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin:


Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel:

QED. Look at how close that blue bar is to 25 shots per 20 minutes. Even Backstrom/Ovechkin and Toews/Kane aren’t that high.

If you want to make the argument that Bozak would be much better suited to a third line role, or that he has value as a penalty-killer in Scott Gordon’s system I probably wouldn’t disagree. The problem is that he is not worth the money I think he is expecting on the open market. Kevin McGran suggested that he’s expecting $5.5-million, which is absolutely insane. That’s good second-line centreman money. Tyler Bozak would not be a good second-line centreman.

$1.5M to $2.0M and I’d consider it, but only if I’d exhausted all other options. The things Bozak does reasonably well should not be worth an awful lot, and Dave Nonis should not let the fact that Randy Carlyle likes Bozak a lot warp the player’s value.

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  • jasken

    “One quirk I’ve noticed is that Kessel gets fewer assists when he’s away from Bozak, which contributes to a slightly lower point total. ”

    Bozak has no puck handling and passing skills which means Kessel has to do it when they are on the ice together. Now Kessel is OK at doing that, but is probably best used being the guy who gets to the scoring areas and shoots the puck rather than being the guy who carries the puck up the ice and makes plays.

    I recall watching a Leafs 5 on 3 PP that was about 1:45 long and Bozak was out for almost all of it. During that time he touched the puck twice aside from the face off. Once he chipped it down into the corner and another time he chipped it back to the point. I am certain if we measured the time a player has control of the puck Bozak would be near the bottom of the league.

    • Yep, and by virtue of playing with a C who handles the puck so little, Phil Kessel has the puck on his stick for almost all the controlled zone entries his line generates.

      There’s only one puck, so putting Kessel with a Jeff Carter or a Claude Giroux would take away from what he does overall, but it would make the team so, so much better. The first line is way too one dimensional when you have one real good offensive force.

      • MaxPower417

        To be fair to Bozak (and I’m not making any apologies for his lack of skill on the first line), he’s used as a puck hound. It takes away from Kessel’s ability to create additional chances by using his centre as an passing option, but it does *somewhat* help the board / cycle game — which isn’t really all that good anyway.

        The Leafs should strongly consider finding someone else other than Grabovski to centre Kessel. The idea of front-loading your offense into one line disturbs me.

        • jasken

          The Leafs would still have a combination of one of Lupul/JVR, Kadri, and MacArthur (if retained) to spread the offence around.

          Plus with Grabovski the Kessel line could be matched against other teams’ better players more successfully, freeing up the depth forwards to play easier minutes and by extension possibly increase scoring chances.

          Great writeup, Cam.

  • jasken

    I’m not aware of anyone who is crazy to bring Bozak at least I haven’t read about in blogs. I will say that I prefer bozak at 3.5M for 2 years then Weiss at 5.5M x 5 years with bozak warts and flow and all. What I see missing from this analysis is at what price/term does Bozak make sense.

    At any rate, something that troubles me with faceoffs is that sometimes the goal is not always about getting/preventing a goal. Sometimes, the goal with a faceoff is simply to clear the zone for a line change (with a more favorable matchup) and so corsi events, shots or goals will not match up with this. That is, if leafs want to win the faceoff so they can swap players say after an icing, on PK, or sit their shutdown players for more offensively gifted or stronger forecheckers after a face off rather then score a goal. That is not tracked well.

    A second point, coaches like set plays off faceoffs. They like these plays more then the math says they should. And they (at least some) know the probabilities (McTavish mentioned how likely a goal is scored on PP recently with faceoffs).

    But you will never convince a coach that this “next” faceoff is probable to fail as the math suggests. If you talked that was a player, the player would be benched for poor attitude. Their world is one in which the next shot will be a quality scoring chance.

  • jasken

    I’m not a proponent of resigning Bozak, but is it possible that his numbers are being effected by the role he’s been used in when he’s away from Kessel?

    If he’s being used for D-zone face-offs and in more defensive situations wouldn’t it make sense that his numbers would suffer?

    The numbers show that Kessel is better without Bozak, and I fully believe that Bozak is a passenger on the 1st line, but I think to be fair, Bozak’s role should be considered.

  • jasken

    Alot of things people dont take into consideration is fact Bozak is a right shooting center which gives him disadvantages that a left shooting center has when puck is on left side very hard to 1 time a pass coming from left side cross body. How many times did Bozak lead the offensive rush with the puck rarely… why?

    His wingers always want the puck as soon as he has it he gives it to them and he rarely sees it again until he is trying to get from a turnover, stoppage, or goal. We all seen what he can do on shootouts, breakaways, shorthanded situations, face-offs. They use him as a safeguard so that the other 2 more skilled players can cheat a little and get better scoring opportunities. They are using him as a supportive center role.

    If your gonna have a right shot center common sense you go down the right side with a left shoot to match his right beneficial by both parties fact is Leafs have only rarely attempted it. Whats the shots to goals for Bozak when pucks come from right as to left. In games where Carlyle actually allowed Bozak to play freely he opens up his shot total its not 0-2 shots its 3 and 4 this is a big difference especially over and 82 game schedule its a difference of over 100 shots, that means a lot less shots for wingers but more chances for assists. So you take away 50 shots from kessel and say 30 from other winger you now have wingers and center shooting 200-250 shots and giving a better read on 80 more shots for Bozak that could give Bozak 25+ goals rather then in teens.

    Fact Bozak has only taken 341 shots and scored 53 goals on them in his 238 games in his regular season career they dont have him shooting all that much a big 1.4 shots per game good luck scoring on that. You compare Leafs to other top lines as a 2 man unit the fact is there are 3 people on the line. You cant figure in on every goal even if you tried and they have different set-ups and play styles of which looks nothing like Leafs they play as a team unit not to one person but all 3.

    Bozak had a big 61 shots in 48 games half his line mates and had less shots then Kadri and Grabo and he had more play time and top line then the other centers. How do you expect a top line center to score or get any decent amount of points if he isn’t even allowed to take a decent amount of shots. Gretzky said it best you miss 100% of the shots you dont take. I dont know if Bozak is really worth 5 mil I see glimpses at times where he could be but then he regresses back, whether this is due to the Leafs way on playing him, or the fact that he is focused on kessel I dont know.

    He has a scoring ability, can kill penalties, win f/o, takes very few penalties even though logs alot of minutes in game and shootouts are just a bonus I dont hold much weight in those. If they managed to get his shot total around 200-220 I think his point production would be much higher fact is I dont see Leafs allowing him to shoot that much regardless.

    • jasken

      Yes. And kessel has worse zone starts and faces high QOC when apart from kessel because he is used on faceoffs/checking role so it is not that surprising.

      It also seems like this is suggesting Nonis is “stupid” GM from running with Kessel. But I have yet to see who would be “better”. Do fans really want Nonis to do a trade similar to what minnesota did for Pominville to get a center. (1st, 2nd, 2 good prospects). If that is the price then I’d prefer another year of Bozak so long as his contract is short and low cost.

    • jasken

      Yes and it has nothing to do with Kessel’s abilities but how their using Bozak. With Kessel his job is simple to get kessel puck, away from Kessel Bozak actually plays he is no longer lolly gagging around he is actually involved in the game. He has got the low point production because his shot% doesn’t get to balance out and his line mates were struggling with production at time when he was put on their line.

      Look at the playoffs they let Bozak loose and in 5 games gets 13 shots and a sh goal because they let him go for the record that’s 21% of his shots in 48 games now you let him go for 82 games that’s 213 shots that would be about 21 goals at 10% not including assists and that’s at 10% shooting why did this happen the main reason lupul and puck came from right side of him not left. Not mention he was robbed at least 3 times from rask that wont happen every game.

      I will never blame a player for lack of point production if they cant use their abilities due to stupid coaching. Leafs have set plays and that takes away from creativity of the center and all involved. A center has to be able to choose when to pass to a player and when not to, not be ordered to do it as soon as he gets the puck.

  • MaxPower417

    I don’t mind a Bozak level talent a 3 million or so, but not Bozak. The coach has fallen in love with him and it’s hurting the team playing him on the PP and 1st line.