Feb 162013
 

Ok, let me justify that headline a little before people get all over me.  He isn’t completely terrible as in he shouldn’t be in the league terrible.  He’s just a terrible first line center, and probably not a very good second or third line center either (at least not until he improves defensively). He’d be an OK 4th liner and injury fill in depth player at close to minimum salary. Let me explain.

The last 2 seasons Bozak has mostly played with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul became his second winger when he joined the Leafs. Those are two pretty solid wingers to play with so lets look at Bozak’s production with those two solid players.

I want to compare Bozak to other top 9 players and conveniently if we look at all forwards with 1250 minutes of 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time over the past 2 seasons we come up with 270 players which is precisely an average of 9 per team, or 3 lines per team. So, how does Bozak rank among these players?

So, despite playing predominately with first line players his individual offensive stats are at a 3rd line level.

So, what about PP situations?  There are 169 forwards with 250 5v4 PP minutes over the previous two seasons while Bozak has played 417:28 which puts him among the top 65 forwards in the league. How has Bozak fared?

Think about that for a minute.  Of 169 forwards with >250 5v4 PP minutes over the past 2 seasons he ranks 5th last in shots/60 and has the 30th worst first assists/60 rankings. That means he is playing on the PP but isn’t shooting much and isn’t a primary set up man for the shooters either.

The only redeeming factors for Bozak is that he seems to be developing into a really good face off guy and he seems to be able to play with an elevated shooting percentage. His 5v5 ZS adjusted shooting percentage ranks 30th of 270 over the past 2 seasons while his 5v4 PP shooting percentage ranks 14th of 169. If you look at Bozak’s shot locations for last season you will see that the majority of Bozak’s shots and goals come from close in and 5 of his 11 5v5 goals last season came on rebounds.

So, to summarize, Tyler Bozak doesn’t shoot much, isn’t a great playmaker, isn’t good defensively (explained elsewhere) and yet coaches seem to insist on using him as a first line center. His main contribution to a team is winning face offs and going to the opposing teams net waiting for the puck to come to him so he can pot an easy close in goal. It is not completely unreasonable to believe that a guy like David Steckel could give you as good or better performance on face offs and similar lackluster offensive results with better defensive play if given the same opportunities to play with top end players that Tyler Bozak has had. That isn’t to say I want Steckel to be the Leafs new first line center, I was just trying to put Bozak’s usefulness (or lack of) into perspective.

 

May 262011
 

The biggest hole in the Leafs lineup that GM Brian Burke has been trying to fill for a couple of summers now is the first line center role and that hole in the lineup still exists and needs to be addressed before the Leafs can be serious playoff contenders.  Tyler Bozak was given a chance and failed (though it was probably overly optimistic to expect him to be that level of player) and the hopes of getting a top center in a Kaberle trade also did not pan out (though Colborne is a fine center prospect and may be a quality center a few years from now).  High first round draft pick Nazem Kadri is another option but as of yet hasn’t developed into that level of player.  That said, if nothing changes Kadri is the guy penciled into that role but that wouldn’t be an ideal situation entering the 2011-12 season.  Not only is that putting a lot of pressure on Kadri (who has enough on his shoulders already)  but some within the organization have suggested Kadri might be better suited as a winger than a center.  Regardless of the reason, Burke is desperately in search of a true, established first line center.  Let me take a look at a few of the options.

The only real first line center option in the unrestricted free agent market is Brad Richards.  At 31 years of age he probably has at least 4 or 5 really good seasons left in him and he is a very good playmaker and overall offensive player and likely be a significant boost to the woeful Leafs power play but he is a liability defensively which is a concern for me.  The question is, what are you willing to pay for him as there will be ample competition for his services from Dallas, the NY Rangers and probably others.  Since Burke is against handing out long term deals more than 5 years it may cost Burke 5 years at $8-8.5M per season to get Richards signed.  The Leafs have the cap space to do it, but should they commit that much to Richards?  Would you? Personally, I think if you can get him for $8M or less you do it.  Anything more is getting a bit rich.

The other option for filling the first line center hole is through trade.  Two teams that I can think of that are deep at center and may be (or need to be) looking to make changes are the Flyers and the Sharks.  The Flyers have depth at center, very little cap space, would like to re-sign Ville Leino (but would be at a significant increase in salary) and need to spend some money improving their goalie situation as well (Vokoun?).  They have Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Danny Briere, James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux who have or can play center.  I’d love to see a Jeff Carter or James van Riemsdyk in a Leaf uniform but van Riemsdyk is still on a cheap rookie contract so doesn’t really solve the Flyers money issues and Carter has one of those long term deals that Burke doesn’t like to hand out.  Briere would probably be available and not cost much but his cap hit is $6.5M for four more seasons and he’ll be turning 34 around the time the 2011-12 season starts so he isn’t really someone I see Burke being interested in.

San Jose just suffered another playoff disappointment at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks so one has to wonder if they finally bite the bullet and make a significant change to their core group of forwards.  They have Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski and my rookie of the year pick Logan Couture as players able to play the center position and all are capable of being first or second line centers.  Of the four, Pavelski might be the most ‘available’ but he is also probably the least suitable as a first line center so I am not sure the Sharks are an ideal trading partner for a center.

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