The Tyler Bozak Post

If the big debate last summer over Toronto’s offseason moves was an earthquake, the organizational treatment of Tyler Bozak was its epicentre. Between the day after the Leafs lost Game 7 to Boston and the beginning of training camp, my ‘Why Tyler Bozak should have played his last game as a Leaf’ article was the highest-viewed post on our website. Other posts, derailing in anger over the precursor movethe Mikhail Grabovski buyout—were also widely read.

In the main Bozak post, I wrote that there was “no chemistry” between Bozak and top line winger Phil Kessel. “If anything, there is biology, in the respect that Bozak is in a parasitic relationship” with the All-Start winger, while quoting numerous statistics showing that Kessel’s goal-scoring and puck possession rates actually improved when Bozak wasn’t on the ice with him.

Let’s see how ~THAT~ prediction turned out.

Kessel’s one cold snap this season came during Tyler Bozak’s second injury, a strained oblique muscle that kept him out of 12 games between December 3 and December 29. During that stretch, Kessel scored just three times. The Leafs were okay, going 5-5-2 against a pretty tough schedule, but when Bozak came back, the Leafs (after losing four straight) caught fire in January, as did Kessel.

Over the final 42 games of the season, Phil had 19 goals and 45 points, which is pretty damn good. He matched his career-high in goals, and was two shy of his high in points. Bozak, motivated by all the anonymous and pseudonymous bloggers in the offseason besmirching his good name, earned career highs in both goals and points despite missing 24 games.

It’s funny that all the criticisms we had against Bozak seemed to reverse in 2013-2014. Kessel scored 1.43 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes with Bozak this season (via HockeyAnalysis), and just 0.84 without. He had 2.79 points per 60 with Bozak, and 1.79 without.

Even James van Riemsdyk was getting in on symbiont Bozak:

Goals/60 Points/60 Shots/60
van Riemsdyk with Bozak 1.08 2.39 9.70
van Riemsdyk without Bozak 0.38 1.13 8.90
Kessel with Bozak 1.43 2.79 10.44
Kessel without Bozak 0.84 1.79 8.24

Another criticism was how little Bozak, prior to this year, actually involved himself on scoring plays. Among 138 forwards with 1500 minutes or more during the 11-12 and 12-13 seasons, Bozak was third last in “individual points percentage”, which is essentially points divided by the number of goals a player was on the ice for. While most good forwards generally factor in on about 70% of even strength scoring plays, Bozak was down at just 56.1%, ahead of Olli Jokinen and Brent Burns, who converted from defence during the sample period.

But this past season, Bozak was up to 67.9%. Still not quite average, but not necessarily bad, either. He looked less of a tag-along and more of a real contributor to Kessel’s best season in the NHL.

Okay, maybe we were wrong about him. Time to re-evaluate everything:

Actually, let’s not re-evaluate.

On January 16th, the same day National Post reporter Michael Traikos declared that Bozak “might even be the team’s best player,” over at the Nation we had a contest to guess, knowing Bozak’s elevated on-ice shooting percentage at five-on-five, what his production would be like for the rest of the season.

Well, the results are in:

GP Pts Pts/GP On-Ice Sh%
Before Jan 16 25 22 0.88 12.00%
After Jan 16 33 27 0.82 10.70%

(On-Ice Sh% via pages here and here)

Despite the average reasonable guess being about 0.66 points per game, Bozak got 27 points in the last 33 games, only slightly dipping from 0.88 points per game to 0.82. His on-ice shooting rate nudged a little, but ultimately not enough to see Bozak revert back to his previous, unproductive ways.

And that surprised almost all of us. Most reasonable guesses significantly undershot Bozak’s actual production:

bozak points guesser chart

Congratulations to winner ‘Deaner’ who guessed the closest to the actual retail value. His guess: 0.8008135. Wonderful.


Okay, so Bozak didn’t have a post-January fall from grace. That doesn’t mean that all the stat guys were wrong and that his contract is still a good one. When you play the long game in hockey analysis, you really are playing the long game. Bozak’s contract has four more years on it, where he’ll be paid as a top six centreman.

Bozak was fourth in the NHL in on-ice shooting percentage, at 11.6%. Last year, because of the shortened season, there were a lot of players with on-ice shooting percentages of above 11%. How did they do this year in that same category?

(Numbers via

Player 2013 On-Ice Sh% 2014 On-Ice Sh%
Nazem Kadri 15.2% 8.6%
Mark Fraser 14.7% 5.6%
Sidney Crosby 13.7% 9.8%
Cody Franson 13.6% 8.0%
Matt Cullen 13.3% 9.3%
Chris Kunitz 13.1% 10.5%
Brenden Morrow 12.7% 9.0%
Pascal Dupuis 12.6% 8.8%
Matt Stajan 12.1% 7.2%
Nikolai Kulemin 11.8% 7.4%
Victor Hedman 11.7% 8.7%
Eric Staal 11.7% 7.9%
Alex Galchenyuk 11.7% 6.7%
Chris Stewart 11.6% 9.6%
Alexander Semin 11.6% 7.6%
Eric Fehr 11.5% 7.9%
Jonathan Toews 11.4% 9.2%
Mark Giordano 11.4% 8.3%
Antoine Roussel 11.3% 7.0%
Martin St. Louis 11.3% 9.3%
Sami Salo 11.3% 8.6%
Trevor Daley 11.2% 9.1%
Grant Clitsome 11.2% 8.6%
Stephane Robidas 11.1% 10.7%
Carl Gunnarsson 11.1% 10.0%
Nail Yakupov 11.1% 7.5%
Average 12.1% 8.5%

Almost as expected

I spilled a lot of digital ink about Nazem Kadri last summer and I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Bozak is headed for a similar fate, even if we undershot his production in Year 1 of his five-year contract.

By the way, if there was an opportune time to trade Bozak, it’s right now. His value is better than his track record as a hockey player, the Leafs need to get some money off the books before extensions to Kessel and Dion Phaneuf kick in, and Bozak may be the only tradable player on the team making significant coin.

Maybe the comment section won’t see it that way, but I’m thinking whatever Bozak was doing this year to improve Kessel and van Riemsdyk’s statistics this year is not sustainable. I’m tempted to suggest he got lucky, re-run the analysis at the end of next season, and see whether Bozak is a legitimate NHL top six centreman.

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  • Bertly83


    He fit well with JVR and Kessel this season, but like you said I can’t see it sustaining.

    Trading him while the value is high is smart, but also having him while his value is high is smart.

    Why trade away good players?

    Unless we somehow lure in a Stastny. Then Bozak can go.

    • I honestly think Naz could be a good #1. He was one of the best #2 C’s in the league this year, and spent half his time with David Clarkson.

      For Bozak, you’re not getting peanuts. You’re presumably getting a useful NHL player, and I think it’s obvious that the success of the team doesn’t depend on Bozak’s inclusion or exclusion from the lineup: the core of this team is Kessel, JvR, Kadri, Phaneuf, Gardiner and Rielly. Those are players you can build around and with the right pieces, could be a contending team.

      You trade Bozak was his value is high because next year it won’t be as high, and the Leafs will probably have another year outside the playoffs depending on the changes they make this year.

  • nonikhanna

    Would Bozak be as productive if he wasn’t playing with Kessel and vanRiemsdyk? I Think the only reason Bozak’s Numbers are where they are is because of Kessel and vanRiemsdyk

    • Something lost on the cutting room floor is that Kessel/JvR’s numbers went up by a larger percentage with Bozak than Bozak’s did with Kessel/JvR.

      That’s only applicable to this season, however. You’re right that in the long run, Bozak is hugely dependent on Kessel.

  • I am happy to say I was wrong about Bozak this season, like you acknowledge. But I don’t think I’ll/we’ll be wrong long-term. It makes sense that we reached similar conclusions – trade Bozak. It’s all about asset management.

  • Honestly, I’m a big Bozak guy. Huge fan of his. But I’m not going to be one of those stupid leaf fans who will gush over someone just because he’s their favourite player. Is he a legit #1 centre? No. But has he done a more than admirable job doing it? Yes. With Nazzy likely to lock up the #2 spot, I’d try to trade a player like Lupul (tons of depth on the wings) and maybe a pick and/or prospect to get a guy like Paul Statsny. To a lesser extent Ryan O’Rielly. If they some how got Statsny, and bump Bozie to #3 (he’d be overpaid sure) would be great for the team. They would finally have depth on the wings AND and centre (id take him over quite a few #3 guys in the league). With some decent prospect in the minors. With a good goaltender and hopefully (with or without Reimer) a good backup, all they’ll need to do is go out and sure up that backend. Go and get a guy to support Phaneuf & allow Rielly & Gardiner to develop properly.

    I know there is a lot of wishing in there, and that I’m just an arm chair GM, but I do think that it would be very beneficial to the team if something like that were to happen.

    • With respect, here, I don’t think that the Leafs are close enough that moving one of Bozak or Lupul is going to get it done.

      The only prospect/pick the Leafs have that have much trade value are Gardiner, Rielly and the No. 8 pick. Would you be willing to give up one of those to keep Bozak? Really?

      I think that the Leafs could be better off if they traded Lupul for whatever they could get and save them a few years of hassle at the end of his deal, and traded Bozak while he has some good value to pick up a player who is a bit better. Toronto put themselves into this position when they decided to sign David Clarkson, effectively costing the team a mid-range player in the lineup for the next seven years.

  • This is a sell high moment if there ever was one.

    But there’s just no way it ever happens. The Leafs think the sun shines out of his ass. Even if they get a 1c, I doubt they move Bozak. They move Kadri before Bozak in that case.

    Of course, most people with brains would keep Kadri, but the Leafs aren’t in that category.

  • The stats guys were wrong about Bozak. These are the errors that occur when you predict something influenced in part by chance. The hockey guys very occassionaly make you look like foolish.

    People seem to want to take credit for predictions that transpire and not take credit for predictions that do not. Where is the accountability?

    Well the truth is, predicting luck based events is similar to predicting the stock market. Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you get it wrong and other times you get it right but for the wrong reason.

  • I won? I won! But I’d trade it all for a decent Leafs team..

    As for Bozak, I’m indifferent to what they do with him. Trade him for parts, or keep him and insulate behind a better centre (or two). One thing for sure, since Bozak’s decent year makes Nonis look good, if he gets traded we’ll know that Shanahan truly does wear the pants now.. and that would make me happy.

  • acg5151

    I never understood how Maple Leafs management was so adamant about Bozak as #1 center. The Leafs in the past 2 years have had two guys who were better at center than him, and yet he played with Kessel.

    It’s kind of amazing actually. I find it doubtful that a management team that is happy with Bozak as it’s #1 center can ever win another cup. Tbh, it sounds downright absurd when I listen to myself say that out loud.

    Go on – try it.

    “The same GM that thinks Bozak as a #1 center believes that his team is a contender for the cup.”

    Holy crap.

  • acg5151

    But I’m sure another team would be happy to take Bozak and might actually give up significant assets for him, just because the Leafs aren’t alone in this. There are actually teams with worse management in the NHL (OILERS) who would probably pay a lot for Bozak.

  • acg5151

    While Bozak likely wont continue playing at a mid .80’s PPG pace in the future. He is somewhat like the anti-Clarkson. With Clarkson, he takes a lot of poor % shots, the shooting percentage will stay high. While I don’t fully agree with what Simmons said on the podcast, he did make some very good points about possession numbers and shot qualiity. I’m definitely pro-analytics, but often times far more context needs to be applied.

  • Gonzomaus

    Bozak is this teams #1 centre, plays the power-play, plays on the penalty kill and is one of Carlyle’s two go to face-off guys. He does all of these things well. Not amazingly well, but well.

    He is far from the biggest problem with this team.

  • Back in Black

    I do think that at least some of Bozak’s improvement this year came from actual improved play, at least on offense. Perhaps it was the confidence that came from having success.

    But at the same time, at least some of his improvement was luck. Sell high. Find a better centre and put either him or Kadri in the #1 spot.

  • STAN

    Au contraire.

    Bozak is clearly the most defensively sound member of that top line trio. His plus/minus looks miserable because Kessel just floats. ALWAYS floats. It’s like playing 4 on 5 when they have to get back on defence. SOme would argue its more like 3 on 5 with Phaneuf back and impersonating a Pylon.

    He was arguably the Leafs most improved player this season. Keep him. Send Clarkson away for an 8th rounder or some duct tape. Move Phaneuf before that insane con tract kicks in.

  • STAN

    A little more food for thought.

    Did anyone catch Tim Leiweke’s cliche-ridden musings about Leafland in that TSN 1050 chat? Wow. Talk about talk about nothing.

    Must be nice to have already made a major faux pas in leaving Brian Burke’s entire structure in place and then extending Nonis for five more years. That was on him. Leiweke. Nonis wasted little time proving Leiweke wrong by…

    1. Forking out $15 million to have Grabovski play effectively for a rival.
    2. Letting MacArthur go for zilch to a regional rival.
    3. Clarkson’s loopy deal.
    4. Ditto Phaneuf.
    5. Keeping a core that has already proved it wilts under pressure.

    This is ALL on Leiweke, but MLSE had him an 8-year contract, so I guess he gets, what, 10 Mulligans? 15?

    He has followed the latest trend of top executives and owners – hire a former hockey hero, with no actual senior management experience to further insulate yourself.

    Neely in Boston, Yzerman in Tampa Bay, Francis in Carolina, Linden in Vancouver and now Shanahan in Toronto. It’s not only a charade, it’s an insult to fans who increasingly can’t afford the outrageous ticket prices. Why so expensive to see a modern game? The bloated size of NHL team ‘management’. Level upon level upon level.


    Jarome Iginla becomes ‘President’ of the the Calgary Flames in 2016. I mean, he IS a nice guy.

  • STAN

    This has NOTHING to do with the post: congrats on writing for Grantland. It’s a great website, and must be a great honor to be able to have some of your stuff published for that website. Kudos.