As we’ve made very, very clear here on TheLeafsNation.com, Tyler Bozak is probably being paid too much for too long to play in a role he probably shouldn’t be by the Toronto Maple Leafs. With that considered, we’ve all beat up on him quite a bit all offseason. Some (points fingers at self) of us to his face. But hey, I bet one can think of some things we do like about them. Steve and Adam asked me on yesterday’s podcast to see if I was able to think of some, and you know what? There are a few things worth bringing up:
Don’t Blame Him For His Deal: This isn’t a thing I like about Tyler Bozak, but it’s worth addressing. No matter who the player is, and no matter how bad their contract is, its really hard to yell at a player for taking the deal they sign. This applies to Bozak too. Even if he himself believed that he wasn’t worthy of the contract he signed, he’s still a human being who is trying to get the highest possible salary from his job. The Salary Cap works as an "allocation of talent" in a sense, but these are still very real dollars and cents to the players being paid.
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Besides, even if he isn’t worth the deal he took from the Leafs, I have no doubt in my mind that he took less than he could have here. His request from Toronto was initially in the $5 million range, and he did technically hit the free market for a solid hour or so. There is no way that a team didn’t offer at least what the Leafs were. Hey, with that considered – I’m sure he could be traded if things don’t work as Nonis and Co hope.
Similarily, he’s not going to say no to playing on the first line. It’s the dream of every player to play on an NHL first line, and whether or not the spot has been handed to him, he’s still working to keep his spot. Even if he believes he deserves his spot, he knows that he isn’t elite, and knows that he needs to give his best effort night in, night out if he doesn’t want management to look for an upgrade. If he was mailing it in, the things that we pick on would likely be worse.
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It’s a theory that applies to most bad contracts throughout the league. You can’t blame a player for not living up to the hype, as long as they’re trying to reach it. Tyler Bozak has committed to putting his best foot forward in Toronto, and that’s respectable, if not commendable. In fact, seeing as he joined Toronto as a never drafted NCAA free agent, his entire NHL career to date has been about him picking the Maple Leafs as the team he wanted to be with. The Leafs committed to giving him a dump truck of money and a role he’s not good at. That’s questionable.
Validity At The Dot: Tyler Bozak isn’t dominant at the faceoff dot by any means. Yes, he has an elite number of wins, but his percentage is ultimately not elite. Quantity over quality.. but you know what? While we scoff at him in this regard, his 52.6 FO% was still the highest consistent member of the team this year, his 52.7% was the second highest last year, his 54.6% was highest in 2010/11, and his 55.2% in 2009/10 was third (0.1% from seocond).
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Faceoffs do lead to goals less often then people seem to believe (I had Bozak’s draw advantage at less than a goal gained this year at a worst case scenario), but they still give the winning team initial possession. If it’s one in the defensive zone, that’s huge. While he’s not exactly Patrice Bergeron in his ability to change a shift with a draw, whenever the Leafs desperately need a draw, Bozak has been either the go-to, or at least go-to in the offensive zone since he’s come here.
Phil Likes Him: Look. If an NHL star player needs his best friend to play on his line to stay in a city, you probably don’t want him. This has been speculated to be the case with Phil Kessel. I don’t believe that the situation is that dire (if it is, please send Phil some With-You-Without-You stats), but Bozie does get along with him well. Even if the two don’t have chemistry, if Kessel believes that they do, it gives him confidence on the ice to do super-duper-awesome-fun things. If they enjoy being roommates, it keeps him in a good mood for the games. Should the Leafs commit to five years on a glorified personal assistant? No. But these are more perks than actual job description, and you can’t deny that they exist.
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This extends to the rest of the team as well. From what we’ve seen, Tyler is well liked by most in the room. Friendship is an obnoxious reach of an intangible and I wouldn’t ever try to build a team based off of cheery feelings in the room, but again, it’s something that’s good to have.
I Mean, He Can Shoot: His shooting percentage has been rather high throughout his career, at an average of 15.5 over 341 shots. The thing is, he doesn’t shoot that much (that 238GP career total would be third in the league in 2010/11). Granted, a lot of that is being in the right position when a Kessel rebound or wicked pass lands on his stick, but it’s still a solid number.
He Can Shoot In The Shootout: Bozak went 3 for 5 in the shootout this year. The entire remaining roster went 0 for 19. His entire career percentage is 7 for 13, which is above 50%. On a team where everybody was doing the same move every time last year and hoping for the best, Bozak appears to rotate through several ideas when he goes up to shoot. The fact that he’s not known as a sniper decieves goalies as well.
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He’s Disciplined: Bozak, to his credit, doesn’t take a lot of penalties for the minutes he plays. In 4602 minutes played, he’s got just 48 minutes in the box. Assuming his career ice time of 19:20 per game, that’s a minor penalty every ten games. That’s actually fantastic. Lady Byng-like, even.
After all, do you know what’s less productive than a first line with a questionable centre and two good wingers? Your penalty killing unit.
He’s A Good Off Ice Face: Similar to the Phil Likes Him point, he’s a good public face. Social media management aside, I’ve heard (and including Saturday, seen) nothing but good things about how he interacts with fans. Even with my "unblock me" bit, you can tell that he probably wanted to tell me how I was the worst person to ever exist and shove me in front of the nearest subway train in his mind, but handled it surprisingly well. At the end of the day, the NHL is still an entertainment product that requires fan support to be at the level that it is, and he’s won over the fans. 
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The Flow: It’s cut for now, but even I get jealous of his flow when it’s at full mast. Flowzak is definitely his best costume.
This Goal: Still one of the best first career goals in NHL history.
And This Goal: Man, he scored a shorthanded goal in the playoffs. Against Boston. The Leafs won the game, too. Lets pretend that he didn’t take a "puck over glass" penalty in the final minutes of the third, though.
When all is said and done, I’m not pleased with the Leafs’ decision to retain Bozak for the next five seasons, and to slot him on the first line with James van Riemsdyk. But I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he’s the worst person and player to ever exist. He doesn’t "suck". He’s a decent player, who is doing his best and living out his dreams even if a better executed scenario wouldn’t allow him too. There are things, some superficial, some legitimate, that are valid reasons to like him while still not liking the commitment made to him. 
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