Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski / USA TODAY Sports

Five Ideal Replacements for Tyler Bozak Next Season

As Christmas quickly approaches, so does the trade deadline. With some key UFAs on the Leafs roster, they need to decide sooner or later what’s going to happen to them. While this may not affect the Leafs at all this season, it’s a good idea to see who should stay, who should go, and who should come in their place, and know what to expect next season.

First on the list is Tyler Bozak. The center is currently the longest tenured Leaf, and has always been a focus of the Leafs community, whether it be the analytics wars during the Carlyle era, or whenever he’s been struggling this season. Despite being a college free agent signing, he has put up 341 points in 548 games, over the course of nine seasons with the Leafs, albeit mostly playing with Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, and more recently, Mitch Marner. Not known for his defense, Bozak has been best used in a sheltered offensive role with the team, which Babcock has used him in since he took over the bench.

He’s been great, but can the Leafs do better? Let’s look at five ideal replacements for Tyler Bozak going into next season, in no particular order.

Dec 13, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center William Nylander (29) attacks with the puck as San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun (61) hooks him at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

William Nylander

Let’s kick it off with a replacement within the organization. Nylander was drafted as a winger, but has been developed as a center in the minors before playing the wing since the start of last season. He’s been the unofficial heir since Matthews was drafted, and Babcock said he’d start with Kadri, Bozak, and Matthews down the middle. As soon as one left, Nylander seemed all but guaranteed to take over.

It might be a rough transition to start, but eventually having a one-two punch of Matthews and Nylander down the middle, with Kadri rounding it out, will be a center depth that almost no one could match. Nylander played solid down the middle in his 22 games in the 2015-16 season, but in his brief stints last season, he looked less than impressive. With Matthews out, Nylander has looked much better when he’s been put down the middle, so we don’t exactly know what we’ll get with him when the time comes.

But, it’s William Nylander. He’ll probably do fine.

Mikael Backlund

Of all the *realistic* free agent options, Backlund might be the one I think the Leafs should pursue. Just imagine this – the Leafs sign Backlund, use him as the shutdown line center, toss Kadri and his offensive play-driving ability on the sheltered line, and let that line destroy worlds, in addition to Matthews and Nylander on the top line.

Not to mention that Backlund can produce as well, so he wouldn’t be a Komarov-esque shutdown player, he’d be another Kadri-esque shutdown player. Last season, he put up a career-high 22 goals and 53 points, and has consistently been one of the better possession players in the league. Also, he’ll only be 29 at the time of the contract, so if you can keep the contract reasonable, he probably won’t perform too badly in the later years of the deal.

Miro Aaltonen

An offseason signing from the KHL, Aaltonen impressed in the preseason this season, and was close to taking the spot on the fourth line from Dominic Moore and Eric Fehr. While he might not be the best option at the third line, he’s been solid in the AHL this season, and could either be developed enough to be a good 3C next season, or close enough that the Leafs could pull a Chicago Blackhawk, and insert him in it as a cheap option.

However, if he isn’t a clear candidate for the third line center role, it’s unlikely that they don’t just Nylander there, and replace him on Matthews line with someone more capable as winger. But, there’s definitely a chance he could be ready next season, it’s just not likely.

Dec 13, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton (19) sets up in front of the net as Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen (31) guards the net at Air Canada Centre. The Sharks beat the Maple Leafs 3-2 in the shootout. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Thornton

I don’t really need to say a lot about Thornton that you don’t already know. One of the best playmakers in NHL history, Thornton is still absent of one thing on his already impressive resume: a Stanley Cup. While San Jose has been good this season, and they *could* win the Cup this season, if they haven’t, how hard do you think it would take for his buddy Patrick to convince him to join the team for a year or two as the third line center.

Inserting him on the sheltered line might be a good idea in his 39-year old season, as he would be relieved of a lot of pressure, and be put in a good role to put up more points, and make the Leafs three lines even deeper. It probably wouldn’t be cheap, depending on his performance this season, and he might not be the best option, but if the Leafs want to go all in, and Tavares isn’t an option, Thornton wouldn’t be a bad second option.

Speaking of Tavares…

The New York Islanders John Tavares (91) shoots the puck past Washington Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer (31) for his first goal of the third period of an NHL hockey game at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., Saturday, March 9, 2013. The Islanders won 5-2.(AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

John Tavares

A man can dream, can’t he?

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  • Dave

    Backlund or Stastny would be solids replacements though with salary cap, need for a dman, new contracts for the young 3….I don’t see it happening. Be surprised if it is not an internal choice. Always fun to speculate. Happy holidays.

  • Matmarwill

    There is also the chance that the buds extend Mr. Bozak at a friendly rate since his numbers are in decline, though Willie is probably the best option with kappy, known as a good two way player with skill and speed, on his wing. Altonen can be the 4th line center with the Goat as his backup. Perhaps Leivo could be nylander’s other winger. Mitch could go up to matthews wing. Perhaps korshkov or grundstrom can fill the right wing on kadri’s line which keeps the checking role. Nylander’s line could be slightly sheltered to begin with but should develop into a good potent second line. The cheapest and possibly best option is internal, IMHO.

    • Skill2Envy

      If Nylander gets bumped to centre, I could see Hyman going with him and Marner their third. Marner and Nylander are both good with the puck, Hyman is good at getting the puck for them and being in front when he doesn’t have it. Nylander tends to find quiet spots and Marner feeding him would be fun.

      Difficult to project going forward because you have possibly Bozak, JVR and Komarov leaving the current roster and who comes in?