The Curious Case of Tyler Bozak

Yes, over the years the fancy stats crowd has been vocal about their belief that Tyler Bozak should not be playing the minutes he does on the line that he does. Yes, others have argued that Bozak is in fact a first line center.  We’ve been through this before.  Well, Bozak is off to another strong start this season with 22 points in 23 games played.  Is it time to finally admit he really is a first line center?

THE GOOD

  • Bozak has 22 points in 23 games this season and had 49 in 58 last season.  That’s good for 71 in his last 81 games played, which I’d say is first line production.
  • His 7.78 on-ice shooting percentage is the second-lowest of his career.  In fact, he has an on-ice shooting percentage over 10 in three of his six seasons.  That’s good because it suggests his on-ice shooting percentage might be due to start trending upwards.

THE BAD

  • One of the biggest criticisms of Bozak over the last few years has been his Points/60 at even strength.  Unfortunately, that argument is only stronger this season.  The 1.33 P/60 he is averaging right now is the second-lowest of his career and well below the 2.33 he averaged last season.
  • In the two seasons where he played more than 70 games his on-ice shooting percentage was 6.72 and 9.19, so over a full season maybe Bozak’s current on-ice shooting percentage can’t be expected to change all that much.
  • His shooting percentage this season this season is 20.4.  His shooting percentage over the previous two seasons is 20.5, so he’s right on par with that production.  However, he only played 46 and 58 games in those two seasons respectively.  In seasons where he played over 70 games, his shooting percentage is 14.4.  So over a full season, his shooting percentage will likely drop.
  • His puck possession numbers haven’t gotten any better.  He’s still a negative Relative Fenwick player.

THE INTERESTING

  • The two numbers that might determine who he is as a player the most might be his shot-rate and his P/60 on the powerplay.  The 2.35 shots-per-game he is
    averaging right now is well above the second-highest of his career (1.55
    per game last season).  Now, this number is well above his career
    average of 1.52 so this number may be due for regression, but thus far
    he hasn’t showed any sign of slowing down.  If he can keep it going that’s a huge plus, but if he regresses that’s a bad thing.
  • As for his P/60 while on the powerplay, Bozak’s 7.27 is a massive 3.61 points better than the second-highest total of his career.  That said, 21 players last season had a P/60 on the powerplay of 6.00 or higher.  So it’s possible Bozak might not regress too hard in this area.

THE VERDICT

I’m a pretty strong believer in a player regressing towards their own career-average numbers over the course of a full season.  The weird thing for Bozak is that this year he has some numbers well above his career average, while he has others well below.  For Bozak, regression would mean his shot totals, shooting percentage, and powerplay P/60 going down, but his even strength P/60 going up.  So, he’d be less productive in some areas but better in others.  Given that he’s bound for regression in more areas he’s due for improvement, I still don’t see his current production is sustainable.  However, he’s probably going to crack 50 points for the first time in his career this season.  Couple that with the fact that he’s averaging two minutes less a game this season than the last, I think he should be considered a second line center right now until proven otherwise.  That’s more than most could say about him since he’s been in the league.

In any event, he’s putting up numbers that are both well north and well south of his career averages.  It’s going to be interesting to see if and how some of these numbers change over the season.  Bozak has been such a fascinating case study for people interested in advanced stats, and that narrative should only continue this season.

  • Bertly83

    Shawn, let me let you in on a little secret.

    He’s a not a second line Center, he’s a first liner. Know why? Because he plays on the FIRST LINE. Has been for years pal.

    If you want to say that he’s not an elite first line Center, that’s certainly more fair to say.

    PS love how Flozak consistently baffles the nerds

    • TGT23

      The only thing that baffles anyone is how he is used and how anyone can think he’s a top line C in skill (forget where he is in the line up).

      Being on the first line doesn’t make you a first line talent. Obvious examples of this include Pascal Dupius and almost every winger Mats Sundin had.

      What “baffles” me is how people can watch a guy get killed defensively all season and then claim that his career high 49pts makes him a top line talent.

      • TGT23

        What “baffles” me is how the best face-off man on the team who is facing the worst zone starts against the best opposition night in and night out and ends up on the higher scale of +/- rubric (better than his linemates, for example, who almost never have to start in their zone against other teams’ top lines), in addition to leading the team in game winning goals and shorthanded goals can be described as “getting killed defensively”.

        Bozak is also used on penalty kill quite a bit and has been a large part of one of our best PKs in years during the lockout-shortened season.

        He has been the only top-6 forward on the Leafs for years who can play defense. He has a good stick – he wins face-offs and breaks up passes and plays. He’s fast and he creates breakaways for himself and his teammates.

        The knock on him used to be that he can’t score but was always given his due for being defensively responsible and able to handle tough situations.

        Now that he’s scoring I’m hearing about his defensive deficiencies… What da hell are you talking about? Let me see someone cook up numbers to ‘prove’ that Bozak is a defensive liability. I bet you it’d be hard. Not impossible of course because you can do anything with statistics – that’s the whole point of ‘statistics’ – they can be spun any which way you want. But I’d really like to see someone do it.

        It’d be nice to get an elite 1st line center like Towes or Kopitar but even if we did get one I’d still keep Bozak with Kessel – they have incredible chemistry – Kessel needs a guy like Bozak that is unselfish and defensively responsible but also knows where Kessel is at all times and is increasingly able to open himself up and score goals. These guys have been playing together for 5 years – they can find each other in their sleep. They have incredible ‘chemistry’.

        Don’t mess with a good thing they say. Why are people obsessed with destroying one of the most dangerous offensive lines in hockey? Are you really putting your ‘fancy stats gurus’ before the team. Admit that you were wrong and get back to cheering for Leafs. Enjoy the fact that you have a really good 1st line center on your team. A guy that is improving as each game goes by. Brag about his numbers being better than Bergeron’s or Kopitar’s or Towes’s and support him and be happy for him and your team.

  • Benjamin

    I’ve heard tell about you, Shawn. I heard you been telling everybody Bozak ain’t no damn good, ain’t nothing nobody is selling is worth buying! I’m curious, what makes you such a Bozak expert?

  • Jeremy Ian

    I agree, it will be interesting to see how his stats unfold; but your prediction is still basically is that he will be what we would predict: maybe not a 1C, but a great deal for the money the Leafs are paying.

    I think we should stop expecting more from less and conceive of the team based on what it is. Let’s move on…

  • jasken

    I say Bozak not only hits 30 goals this season he will also produce 60-70 pts. I figured I predicted him to produce at 60-65 pts in 82 games if he went a season without injury at his signing he got injured last year but his last 81 games he has produce 30 goals and 41 assists for 71 pts. So I want him to produce points in 48 of the 82 games the amount of points as of now will be no less then 56 points if he makes it i figured throw in a couple 2 point nights.