While it doesn’t have much to do with today’s game, or this playoff series, or anything current really, the topic of Tyler Bozak and money he could potentially make was making the rounds again on Twitter this morning. Naturally, I’m left unamused by this, because the concept of Bozak cashing in on a large deal, particularly with Toronto, makes me want to run around in circles anticipating the apocalypse. Of course, while many share the sentiment, there are others who are okay with locking him up.
Some feel that letting Bozak go means investing in a big name, and that this year’s crop isn’t up to par. Some feel his familiarity with Phil Kessel is an asset. But a lot of the defenders of him will go all in on one aspect of his game: faceoff ability.
Bozak recieved a lot of praise this year for what he did inside the circle. He lead the Leafs in draw winning percentage, and finished tied for second in the NHL in faceoff wins. These are both important, right? Not quite. Let’s look at some stats.
As you can see, Bozak plays a lot, and wins, loses, and takes more draws than anybody else. Maybe making everybody into a 20 minute player will change the results a bit?
As it turns out, this still isn’t a great indicator of how much better he is at the draw, because he’s still taking way more faceoffs. It seems weird to say that with everybody now on equal minutes, but shows that Carlyle is more prone to put out the Bozak line after a whistle and let the others come in on the fly, to take advantage of that higher winning percentage. The exception being defensive zone starts, which make up a large amount of Grabovski and McClement’s draws.
Still, there must be a way to figure out the practical difference. Rather than just stretching their minutes, why not give every player the same responsibility? This is what happens when you have all four regularly used centres take the same amount of faceoffs, which happens to be the average taken between them.
The result is interesting. The gaps between the four centremen have now vanished! Just for fun, look at the best (Bozak) and worst (Kadri) numbers. There’s a gap of 55 faceoff wins over a 48 game season, which seems like a lot, but amounts to just 1.14 extra wins per game. When the average game has 60 faceoffs, that’s not very important. Sending out McClement to take the same draws and head off would’ve made a practical difference of just 0.125 wins/game.
While faceoff ability is a positive asset, the reality is that the practical difference between a "great" and "poor" drawman is almost insignificant. What you can do after the draw is won or lost becomes much more important, and in that regard, Bozak is rather unproductive for a guy looking for a big pay raise, particularly compared to his peers that play on the same line.
Also worth nothing, while speaking of production: Amongst players who finished top 5 in faceoffs taken, he has the second lowest points per game in the past five seasons.
What you’ll notice is that the players that are close to him, or in Antoine Vermette’s case, under-producing compared to him, are having down years. Plekanec’s first year in the top 5 had him as a 70 point scorer, Vermette fell from a 65 point campaign, and Horcoff had 50 points in 53 games the year prior. Similar results can be found going beyond top 5 and beyond the past five years; playerss who take a lot of draws aren’t sent out because they win draws, but because they’re very good hockey players. Bozak, on the other hand, is near the bottom of this list with a year that’s in line with the rest of his career.
In conclusion, Bozak’s biggest bargaining chip going into free agency is his faceoff ability. He and his agent would be wise to milk it, but the reality is that it really doesn’t make all that much of a difference on a game by game basis. Somebody who is weaker on the draw will not lose enough more for it to make a team worse. The ability to win a draw is a bonus to a productive centre, something that Bozak hasn’t proven himself to be despite having talented, point producing wingers. One would be smart to look at other options in his price range.