Tyler Bozak is a great third line centre on an elite team. He wins draws, he can pass well, he’s got good positional awareness. He’s able to drop into the top six when need be. In fact, a good team can still have him as their second best centre and fare well for themselves if they have talent spread around the roster.
With that, Dave Nonis and the Toronto Maple Leafs should be reminding other GM’s of this for the next few weeks, selling him to the highest bidder. “Wait, weren’t you just hyping him?” you may say. But hear me out.
The first thing that comes to mind is the “right place, right time” theory. As much as you may like an asset on your team, if his potential trade value exceeds his potential ability, this is typically the right time to part ways. Bozak isn’t producing a ton of points, but still looks relatively steady. He’s been free of most defensive errors, and he’s won more draws than anyone in the NHL other than Sidney Crosby and Claude Giroux. These are the type of things you look for in an asset acquired for a playoff run, and the point was slammed in today, as Stephen Weiss was confirmed to be done for the season. This makes Bozak arguably the best available centre on the trade market, and one of the best players period, though that says more about the market than him.
What could you get for him? Some comparables from the past few years include Paul Gaustad (2012, 1st) , Antoine Vermette (2012, McElhinney, 2nd round pick, 5th), Dominic Moore (every year ever, 2nd), Jason Arnott (2011, David Steckel, 2nd), Chris Kelly (2011, 2nd), and Mike Fisher (2011, 1st, conditional pick). It’s not a stretch of the imagination to think that Bozak, in his and the market’s current state, could get at least a first round draft pick and/or a notable prospect from a needy team.
As well, the Leafs can’t keep him in his current state forever. He is, try as he might, in no way a replacement for an actual top line centre, and the Leafs are still a ways away from being able to use him in the role that he wants to be in. The issue with that? He’s aware of this, and wants to be paid like a lower player in his makeshift role rather than an upper player in his real one. Rumours are swirling around that his request is a mid-long term deal at around 4 million dollars per year. On a team that pays Mikhail Grabovski 5.5 million to play on line two, and still needs to eventually get a real top line guy, throwing that much money down the middle isn’t wise.
The major talk in opposition of such a move (this article started as a tweet), is depth. Losing Bozak means losing a centre when the team is playing good hockey, possibly good enough to finally make the playoffs. It’s a solid point from a hungry group, but I want you to consider the following.
- Has Bozak been THAT crucial to the Leafs success this year? Would bringing in an in-organization replacement or moving guys up the lines would lead to a significantly worse team?
- Toronto has fourteen forwards in the lineup right now, even after the Mike Brown trade yesterday. The philosophy that you can never have too many players is great, but the NHL rules strongly disagree with you.
- Nazem Kadri is still playing on the third line, and is producing at a point per game pace, ranked 14th in the NHL in scoring, though you’d have to go back to 104th. Bozak is ranked 132nd with 6 more minutes per game.
- As part of this full roster extravaganza, David Steckel (who can win draws) sits in the press box, and Tim Connolly (who can produce points), is playing in the AHL, hungry and awaiting his opportunity to return.
- Even if you wanted to go the youth route, Joe Colborne has been playing his best hockey in over a year since January, scoring at nearly a point per game pace while the rest of his team slowly forgets what offence is.
To use the dorkiest reference I’ve ever used for a hockey blog – this both is and isn’t Pokemon. It isn’t in the primary sense of the game; you can’t win in the NHL using “Gotta catch ‘em all”. Stacking a bunch of pretty good players will at best leave you with a pretty good team that gets slightly less decimated during streaks of injury (see: Buffalo Sabres’ attempts at success last season). You have to play the game like every kid actually played Pokemon – constantly leveling up, using whatever items, trades, and money they could. It may take time and patience, and may involve you parting ways with a Pokemon in your party that was good for you at the start but won’t be necessary to you later, but there’s an Elite Four to face soon and there’s no point in rushing to face them unless you think you have a chance to win it all. In the NHL, you should always be looking to improve your team before getting more of the same, and as nice as a playoff appearance sounds, there’s no point in going for it unless you think there’s some chance of winning the Stanley Cup.
Tyler Bozak is a good player. On a night by night basis, I like having him on the Leafs. Hopefully, in a few years, the team is in a position where they need to add him or a similar player at a trade deadline to push the team over the edge. But getting to that point is important, and if a guy who wants a lot of money for a role he shouldn’t be playing can be traded for better assets to improve in the long term.
I know everybody is excited about playoff possibilities. I am too. But with what’s probably available, and the players behind him, trading Bozak right now is probably the most sensible option the Leafs have. We’ll see if Nonis & Co. agree in the next couple of weeks.