So, the GM is gone, all of the coaches are gone, and most of the scouting staff is gone. Shanahan burned it all down. Luckily, SportsFromTheSix was able to dig up some exclusive footage showing how it all happened. Has anyone seen Carleton the Bear lately? Hopefully he (or she?) is still employed.
While most fans would agree that these actions needed to be taken, the big remaining question is: what should happen to the roster? The Leafs are in a rather unusual position. On the one hand, they are awful at hockey, in the same league as the Sabres, Coyotes, and Hurricanes (I leave Edmonton off of this list because McDavid). On the other hand, though, the Leafs possess some major assets, current roster players who are coveted by other NHL teams. I know a lot of people like to say that guys like Phaneuf and Kessel are untradeable, but frankly, I think that’s a load of crap. And while I acknowledge I may have a homer bias, I truly think that these players are valuable on good teams, even with their current contracts. I thought it would make sense to more thoroughly assess who on the current roster should go, and who should stay. The next few posts will address individual players, beginning in this post with Tyler Bozak.
He should go. It’s not that I don’t like Bozak, but he just isn’t a first liner, and probably not even a second liner on most good teams. At this point, at age 29, what you see is what you get with Bozak. He’s good on face-offs, he’s a decent penalty killer, and he had some nice flow back in 2013, but he can’t play defence for beans and his offense is mediocre.
For some weird reason, a lot of people have this view of Bozak as some sort of defensive stalwart. But like…no…he’s just not. If advanced statistics are your cup of tea, look no further than FF% (Fenwick For Percentage) at even strength, which measures the percentage of shot attempts (shots + missed shots) that are taken by a player’s team while he is on the ice, in relation to shots taken by the opposing team. According to hockey-reference.com, he has a career FF% of 46.0%, with his only season above 50% being his rookie season back in 2009-2010. This means that for his whole career, the opposing team has consistently gotten more shot attempts than the Leafs while he was on the ice. Yes, the Leafs are a bad possession team as a whole, but with a career relative Fenwick percentage of -1.8%, Bozak’s possession stats are bad even in comparison to his teammates.
But possession is overrated, right? What matters is just that you score more than the other team. Right? Oh, I forgot to mention, opponents have typically outscored the Leafs while Bozak has been on the ice. According to BehindTheNet.ca, just this past season he was outscored by 1.69 goals per 60 minutes at even strength. When he wasn’t on the ice, the team was outscored by only 0.09 per 60 minutes at even strength. While this was his worst season in that regard, opposing teams have outscored the Leafs at even strength with Bozak on the ice for four out of six of his NHL seasons.
Now, I am fully aware that there are major issues associated with looking at plus/minus. Of course, it is important here to recognize the context of these statistics.
Bozak’s poor stats couldn’t be a reflection of his play, could they? Perhaps it’s because he plays against the other team’s top players? But while Bozak has had some tough opponent matchups, the GF% of opposition players at even-strength when they are not playing against him has fallen between 49.9% and 50.9% during each of his seasons in the NHL. In other words, his opposition has basically allowed the same amount of goals as they have scored against other league match-ups. They have not dominated their other opponents.
Okay then, Kessel’s bad defence must be dragging Bozak down, right? Au contraire. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case. According to Puckalytics.com, without Kessel, he really is not a major threat to opponents. Between 2010 and 2015, when Bozak played with Kessel, their GF% (goals for percentage) at even-strength was 47.1%, meaning they were slightly outscored. Without Kessel, though, there is a major drop-off, as Bozak’s GF% then falls all the way to 33.8%. Two-thirds of the goals scored while he was on the ice without Kessel were by the other team. Interestingly enough, Kessel does not rely on Bozak in the same way, as his GF% without Bozak between 2010 and 2015 was 48.7%, a slight improvement from when he played with Bozak. This same trend applies when you look at the Corsi possession numbers. Bozak’s CF% (Corsi For Percentage) without Kessel is far below what it is with Kessel, while Kessel’s remains mostly static whether or not he is with Bozak. (Note that the only difference between Fenwick and Corsi is that Corsi counts blocked shots as shot attempts, while Fenwick only uses shots and missed shots). As bad as Phil Kessel is defensively, you can easily argue that Bozak is even worse. People just like to rip extra hard on Kessel because he has a chubby face, a funny accent, and doesn’t handle media well.
How about JVR? Is he having a detrimental impact on Bozak’s play? This may be a more legitimate question. Bozak still has a lower GF% and CF% when playing without JVR than he does playing with him, although it should be noted, JVR’s is also lower when he doesn’t play with Bozak and Kessel (JVR will be covered in detail in a future blog post).
Offensively, Bozak has put up decent point totals, but that’s to be expected when playing most time on a line with Kessel and JVR. Compared to other first line centres in the league, though, he hasn’t had much success at all. He has yet to put up a 50 point season, with a career 232 points in 378 games with the Leafs, for an average of 0.61 points per game. For a comparison, Kessel has 394 points in 446 games with the Leafs (0.88 points per game), and JVR has 149 points in 210 games with the Leafs (0.71 points per game). The fact is though, no matter what stats you look at, Bozak isn’t a number one centre by any stretch, he isn’t an elite scorer, and he doesn’t play good defence.
One would hope that the Leafs can draft a future #1 centre in the upcoming draft, like Strome or Marner (if he is able to play centre). But even if they don’t, I take Kadri over Bozak in the first-line role any day of the week. He’s younger, more gifted offensively, and he plays defence. According to HockeyAnalysis.com, over the past three seasons, Kadri’s points per 60 minutes of 2.02 has ranked only behind Kessel at 2.13, and well ahead of Bozak at 1.67, despite usually having far less gifted linemates. How many points would he rack up on a line with Kessel and JVR? Who knows, but it’s safe to say a fair bit more. I’ll talk about him in more detail in a separate blog post, but there is no logical argument to be made for Bozak being better than Kadri, and I just can’t see him fitting in with the Leafs going forward.
After the 2012-2013 season, Bozak was rewarded with a 5 year, $4.2 million contract, in part of a string of awful decisions made by Dave Nonis that also saw MacArthur get let go for nothing, Grabovski bought out, and Clarkson signed to a ridiculous contract. Even with the steadily increasing salary cap and the inflation of contracts, he’s a little overpaid, seeing as he is probably a third line centre. But with that being said, it’s not so bad that it will make it impossible to deal him. Heck, apparently no contract is that bad. Even Clarkson got traded. For teams that already have a solid #1 centre and a little bit of cap space, Bozak could be a useful depth piece who can kill some penalties, win some face-offs, and chip in some secondary scoring. As much as I have spent much of the last few paragraphs ripping on the guy, he does still have some value. And who knows, there may well be a GM out there that overvalues Bozak (Nonis, where are you?). The fact is, though, he isn’t a number one centre, he doesn’t fit with the Leafs going forward, and it makes much more sense to get something for him while they can. Even if you love the way he plays, he’s 29 now, and by the time the Leafs are good again, he’ll probably be 32 or 33, with his best playing days behind him. He shouldn’t be a part of the long term plan. I’m no expert, but if I were a betting man, I would guess that he could fetch something along the lines of a 2nd round pick, and maybe another small piece. At a return like that, I definitely make the deal.
Sorry for offending the Bozak fan club.
Over the next few weeks, I will continue to write similar features on different players in the Leafs lineup to assess whether or not they should continue to be on the roster. Next up, Phil Kessel.