A few weeks ago I wrote that the Leafs should explore trading Tyler Bozak as soon as possible, since his value will likely never be higher than it is right now. It stirred up a conversation similar to one we’ve had in the past, about his performance with or without Kessel, whether he’s a better option than Kadri, all that kind of good stuff.
The Leafs obviously didn’t trade him, so let’s just take a look at what he accomplished last season, and how things might play out going forward.
This past year was likely Peak Bozak. His season was somewhat cut down by injury, but he did suit up for 58 games in total, and when in the lineup, produced at a rate of 0.85 points-per-game, similar to guys like Parise and Datsyuk. He also logged the most minutes, on average, of his entire career (20:57).
These totals are expected for a player centering Kessel and van Riemsdyk, and the knock on Bozak has always been that he’s simply a passenger on that line, but something was a little different this time around.
Kessel’s one cold snap this season came during Tyler Bozak’s second injury, a strained oblique muscle that kept him out of 12 games between December 3 and December 29. During that stretch, Kessel scored just three times. The Leafs were okay, going 5-5-2 against a pretty tough schedule, but when Bozak came back, the Leafs (after losing four straight) caught fire in January, as did Kessel. Over the final 42 games of the season, Phil had 19 goals and 45 points, which is pretty damn good. He matched his career-high in goals, and was two shy of his high in points.
Another criticism was how little Bozak, prior to this year, actually involved himself on scoring plays. Among 138 forwards with 1500 minutes or more during the 11-12 and 12-13 seasons, Bozak was third last in “individual points percentage”, which is essentially points divided by the number of goals a player was on the ice for. While most good forwards generally factor in on about 70% of even strength scoring plays, Bozak was down at just 56.1%, ahead of Olli Jokinen and Brent Burns, who converted from defence during the sample period. But this past season, Bozak was up to 67.9%. Still not quite average, but not necessarily bad, either. He looked less of a tag-along and more of a real contributor to Kessel’s best season in the NHL.
Bozak put in a genuinely good season in 2013-14, and now the big question is whether he can continue to do so. He definitely needs to keep being a real contributor if he’s going to stay on that top line, as Kadri will likely make a bigger push than ever to take his job, and the Leafs now have people in place who can identify inefficiencies in the lineup, regardless of impressive numbers on the surface.
I was going to start this off by saying Bozak will just slot in as the top-line center again for the entire season (barring injury), and pour in 45-50 points playing between two elite wingers. But now I’m not sure, as we live in a world where the Leafs hire guys like Kyle Dubas, create analytics departments, fire their assistant coaches, and generally make smart roster moves. I actually need one of those spinning top things from Inception to make sure this is still real life.
Most likely Bozak will begin the season on the top line, and him staying there will depend on a number of things – how he contributes, the way things shake out with Carlyle, and how the other lines produce.
The top trio, like the team as a whole, has been a trainwreck defensively, so it’ll be interesting to see if that’s remedied by better coaching strategies and/or vastly different line combinations than the ones most of us have been projecting.
There probably isn’t a player with more to lose by being shuffled down the lineup, so to predict point totals and such is a little difficult. I don’t see Bozak clipping along at 0.85 points-per-game again in any situation, but with Kessel and JVR he’s probably good for his career average of 0.62. Away from that top line, who knows?
I’d draft him to round out the lineup in a points league, but keep an eye on how the lines are rolling in Toronto. If he’s bumped from Kessel’s line, find someone else.
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