David Bolland provides Leafs an immediate upgrade over Tyler Bozak

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On Draft Day the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t make a big splash like last season when they flipped Luke Schenn to the Philadelphia Flyers for James van Riemsdyk, but they did make a move that will impact the team next season by acquiring David Bolland for three picks.

Like I’ve mentioned, this is a low risk, medium reward type deal for the Maple Leafs. While Bolland’s contract is expensive, he’s only under contract for one more season and if things don’t work out, things don’t work out. That said, he provides an immediate offensive and defensive upgrade over Tyler Bozak, and the Leafs will go into next season with an upgraded Top Six.

Dave Nonis said that he’d be comfortable entering the season with Bolland, Nazem Kadri, Mikhail Grabovski and Jay McClement as his centremen, and I can’t blame him. There’s no real superstar down the group, but unless Bolland and Grabovski match their 2013 down years, there’s no weak link or possession black hole.

First, let’s compare Bolland to Bozak. Here are simple offensive numbers over the last three seasons:

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  GP Goals/82 Points/82 Shots/GP Sh%
Dave Bolland 172 19.5 42.0 1.59 14.96%
Tyler Bozak 201 18.4 43.7 1.44 15.52%

The two look very comparable from this stance. The ultimate difference between Bolland and Bozak is how they were used. Over those same three seasons, Bolland has offensive zone start rates of 34.2%, 32.5% and 49.6%. Part of the reason for less defensive zone usage, again, is that Bolland had a real tough season coming out of the lockout, with the worst Corsi rate on the Blackhawks.

That said, in 2011 and 2012, he was used as a defensive centreman with comparable numbers to Tyler Bozak, who was a first line centreman in Toronto with offensive zone starting rates of 52.4%, 52.5% and 44.8%.

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The differences in point production between offensive and defensive zone faceoff takers are disputed, but the major gap between Bozak and Bolland is symbolic. Over the same three-year span, Bolland played generally with Bryan Bickell. Bozak played with Phil Kessel.

I don’t want to get too heavy into the performance numbers like Corsi when comparing these two players, because Bolland played on a much better team, and Bozak played in much more favourable minutes so it’s very difficult to compare. The advantages to having Bolland on the team having replaced Bozak have more to do with hockey.

The first is that Randy Carlyle won’t feel the same pressure to playing Bolland alongside Kessel. Bozak and Kessel were joined at the hip for four seasons and that made a very big dent on Kessel’s overall production. I highly doubt that Bolland has the offensive ability to play on an NHL first line, but he’s being paid like an above average third line centreman, so there’s a chance he could slot in the Top Six in the chance of injury.

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It guarantees a bump in the depth chart for Nazem Kadri, who had a good year playing with a lack of regular linemates. It guarantees a bump in the depth chart and less of a defensive zone burden on Mikhail Grabovski, who had a bad year playing on a checking unit against tough competition, used in a way that shut down his offensive abilities.

James Duthie talked with Dave Nonis on the TSN Draft show. Here’s Nonis on why the Leafs made a play on him:

Well, we were looking for a centre, we’re not as deep in that position as we’d like to be. He was available, and he’s the type of player that we felt could play up and down the lineup. Randy was very very happy to get that kind of a player, a very versatile centre for us that gives us lots of options and going into next season now we have a much different look down the middle than we did last year.

Duthie then asked Nonis about Bolland’s experience on a team that has won two Stanley Cups in four seasons:

It doesn’t hurt, no question. We were the second youngest team in the league last year and it’s no secret we’d like to add a little bit of experience to the group, a little bit of veteran leadership to help out with the group we’ve got now. He’s been a part of a lot of winning teams, not just with Chicago but a lot of other ones as well and he brings that experience and knowledge to our group.

Bolland scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal, of course. It’s nice to hear that wasn’t the main reason the Leafs splurged on him. This is more of the Leafs buying low on a player who had a tough year than buying high on a player that ended the Boston Bruins season.

Duthie also asked Nonis if this signalled the end of Tyler Bozak’s time in Toronto: 

I think it’s more difficult because we’re taking up some cap space, but it wasn’t one or the other.

I’ve said it all along. Tyler Bozak’s a big part of our team, a quality guy, we’d like to have him back. There’s numbers that make sense for us, we need to fall within, we need to protect ourselves as well and make sure we’re strong enough down the middle to compete.

Translation: Yes.

Also noteworthy: Nonis said he didn’t call any team about Dion Phaneuf, and doesn’t rule out another significant move.

In general, while I’m not overly thrilled with the Gauthier pick, the Leafs did a good job upgrading their forward corps today, capitalizing on a team that had to make a move in order to facilitate getting another key player signed under the salary cap in Bryan Bickell. Now if they can only get Clarke MacArthur under contract…

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