Disproving the Improving

So, I’m looking for things to write about today. At the time, it was about 9:30 AM in Vancouver, 12:30 PM in Toronto, so the pickings were relatively slim on a slow news day. But then I stumbled upon an amazing post while going through the new queue on /r/leafs. Or as Reddit would call it, “this gem”. Here’s a thorough analysis.

As a new NHL season slowly appears on the horizon – are you excited?! – we’re afforded the perfect opportunity to look back at what went right and what went wrong for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season.

Oh sweet! We can talk about how getting outshot 65 times a season is a bad strategy. Or how not scoring more than three regulation goals in a game after February probably won’t work. Or how the team had no fourth line, no backup plan once the goalies got hurt, no means of managing the minutes of their defencemen, and made a bunch of counter-productive roster moves.

Or how the team has no proper offensive zone breakout, poorly uses an already bad dump and chase method that leads to a lot of icings, and goes into shutdown mode when they aren’t far enough ahead (read: almost any score) to do so. Basically, Randy Carlyle is a thing and he’s still around. I can keep going, but we all know that there was a lot wrong with this team.

The wounds, of course, are still fresh for many fans and plenty has already been said about the season’s many negatives (I’m no exception here) so it might be nice to focus on one of its few positives instead.

I mean, this wasn’t a sudden dagger to the heart, but sure, positives. Phil Kessel is awesome, Jake Gardiner is awesome, Nazem Kadri is awesome, the Leafs have good goaltenders, they’ve brought in bottom six players who can actually play hockey, and the new assistant coaches seem like good choices.

I’ll show my cards upfront: I’m a huge fan of Tyler Bozak and I think the Leafs got an absolute bargain when they re-signed him to a five-year, $21 million deal last July. 

Oh boy, it’s a Tyler Bozak article. Well, he did have an improved offensive year last season, and I dislike management’s commitment to him moreso than I actually dislike him, so I’m open to hear what’s about to be said. Carry on, William!

A quick look at the stats would appear to justify this view.

…this is going to get ugly.

Bozak set a new career high for points in 2013-2014, recording 19 goals and 30 assists for 49 points across 58 games. 

He did! Full props to Bozak for his much improved season. Now, I don’t know how much stock I’d put into him maintaining that sort of result; it’s rare for a player to break out so significantly and maintain it, especially when attached to a career high shooting percentage (near the top of the league), and a career high on-ice shooting percentage (very near the top of the league). These are two incredibly hard numbers to maintain year to year, especially OISH%.

There’s also an “intangible” factor that he brings to the team: linemate Phil Kessel seems to play at his best when he’s skating alongside Bozak.

This isn’t true. If you haven’t read this post from last year, you should. Particularly section #2. Anyway, since then, Bozak has increased his career 5v5 points without Kessel from 8 to 11, in 675 minutes played (0.98 pts/60, and the equivalent of about 39 games at his current first-line ice time). This year, Phil Kessel had a higher CF% with Nazem Kadri than with Bozak, though the sample was limited. Bozak had the higher GF%, but again, shooting percentages come into play. 

In any event, this year was a step in the right direction, but at best, it’s a step from “actually makes Kessel worse” to “about even, maybe better in lucky situations”.

It’s hard to find a good comparison to Bozak in NHL given he’s somewhat quiet and often goes unnoticed playing between Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, but right winger Ryan Callahan from the Tampa Bay Lightning and center Ryan O’Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche can pass as acceptable comparisons.

This makes no sense. Before we throw Bozak into the mix, O’Reilly and Callahan aren’t even remotely similar players. ROR plays centre, Callahan plays RW. ROR is a lights out, top end possession player on a consistent basis, despite being put in tough situations. Callahan plays easier situations and is decent to below average at driving the play. Callahan is physical, ROR relies on positional play. I can keep going, but the point is, they’re not even comparable to each other.

Mix in Tyler Bozak, and we have a big mess.

These three players are comparable in my opinion because they provide a decent amount of firepower; assume both offensive and defensive roles; and play high minutes for their respective clubs. They’re also on the younger side of things (though Callahan is pushing this argument to the extreme).

Callahan and Bozak have provided firepower once in their career. O’Reilly has been on a 3 year incremental upswing. Getting minutes doesn’t mean you’re particularly effective at your role. As well, Bozak and Callahan are 28 and 29 years old. That isn’t the “younger side of things”, nor is it close to O’Reilly at 23.

O’Reilly is undoubtedly the best player of the trio and his relative youth will likely see this advantage expand over time. However, if the Avalanche hope to keep him next season, they must qualify him at $6.5 million. That puts his “cost effectiveness” into question – a consideration that’s important for all teams in the “new NHL” but especially a young one like Colorado. They’ll have many more of these situations on their hands soon.

That’s great, except for the fact that the Avalanche opted for arbitration and as such, did not have to qualify him at 6.5 million dollars. Even still, a 60 point, 23 year old centre who drives play and doesn’t get into penalty trouble is probably worth that much. But most importantly, again, there is no qualifying offer involved.

O’Reilly recorded 64 points (28 goals, 36 assists) in 80 games last season, which is better than Bozak on an overall basis but actually falls below him when points-per-game are taken into consideration.

If you opt for minute-based production rates rather than games (remember, Colorado is a magical place where Paul Statsny existed and Matt Duchene still does, lowering average TOI), they’re both at 2.42, with O’Reilly being slightly better. So there’s that. Though, in fairness, Bozak fared better at 5 on 5 this year.

On the other hand, Callahan’s production has dropped over the last two seasons and it was his exorbitant contract demands that saw the New York Rangers trade him to Tampa Bay in March. Callahan recorded just 36 points (17 goals, 19 assists) in 65 games playing for the two teams. Desperate for depth, however, the Lightning re-signed him to a six-year, $34.8 million deal this off-season.

So, even this guy knows that Callahan isn’t actually comparable to the other subjects.

Once again, my intention here is not to say these three players are equal but that they form a useful group for the purpose of comparison. From the financial figures and offensive numbers discussed above, I think it’s safe to say Bozak offers the greatest bang for the buck.

While Bozak’s contract is probably better than Callahan’s, I don’t think that it’s fair to say that he offers better bang for buck in any sense other than “dollars per point”. You may say that’s important; but value in offensive players is not linear. If it was, Sidney Crosby would be considered hilariously overpaid. You pay a premium for premium players, and O’Reilly is definitely one of those guys.

This isn’t even a hit on Bozak. He’s obviously not going to reject a situation that is advantageous to his playing career and financial status, and realistically, he’s getting paid a fair price for the minutes that he logs, even if he’s not particularly great at doing stuff when he logs them. But acknowledging that he’s not the solution on the top line is something for the coaching staff and management to address. 

What this actually is, is a shot at a lazy article, that fails to look past a very thin tip of an iceberg when presenting it’s argument. There’s statements that have been proven to be untrue, there’s some awful comparables, and they all come to a point that is completely irrelevant.

If there’s one weakness in Bozak’s game, it concerns his penchant for injuries. They were a big factor for him this season. He’ll need to stay clear of the infirmary next season if he hopes to improve even further.

I mean, there’s several weaknesses – every player has multiple. But at least you made a bit of sense to close off.

  • The Craig

    peww typical ignorant bozak hating article. Obviously bozak is a number 1 center and better than both o ‘ rielly and callahan. dont give me this corsi crap of how kadri was more successful than bozak. I mean everyone knows that corsi sucks and is stupid… did I also mention it was stupid. Anyway bozak should be paid 7-8 m per year MINIMUM!! He will definately repeat this season success and also be even more better. Instead of making an article on y bozak is lucky, y wont u make an article on how bozak is better than crosby.

  • SteinS

    I think one of the main reasons I actually liked Bozak last year was because I picked him up off the waivers in my fantasy league, and he lit it up after that. However, like every article about him suggests, the high shooting percentage that he put up is almost certainly unsustainable. The extent of his regression remains to be seen, but I hope that with depth signings that basically force Randy to play all four lines, our bottom six can at least somewhat account for that. While I was generally pleased with the offseason moves so far (Gunnar for Polak is still bothering me), a top centre was a problem that wasn’t solved (although centre depth was definitely addressed with Santo, Holland, and Kontiola). I guess we can only hope for #Stamkos2016 or #Tavares2018?

  • FlareKnight

    Wouldn’t this just have served better as a comment for the guy’s article?

    Nothing to write about so just sarcastically pick apart what someone else had to say?

  • FlareKnight

    This is becoming ridiculous. Bozak is a beauty and had a great season and half of the leaf blogosphere is up in arms trying to ‘prove’ by any means necessary that the numbers are wrong. Kadri got his chance this year to centre the first line when Bozak was injured and it was clear that he cannot (yet?) fill Bozak’s shoes. Why such hate for Bozak? Is his corsi bad or something? Worse in the league? We have an awesome first-line centre on one of the best first-lines in hockey and you feel the need to cut him down? Is it because Cam once declared Bozak a failure and now everyone has to run with that line because he must never be shown to be wrong? I really don’t get it. Who are you cheering for? The Leafs or corsi? Or Cam?

  • FlareKnight

    How does a player stay away from injuries. I mean do you think bozak heads out onto the ice and says well I’m going to go get injured today. It is almost as if you think avoiding injuries is similar in some ways to the voodoo mysterious skill that folks argue Clarkson has – “grit” and “leadership” and ability to “intimidate” opposition.

    Yes, let’s propogate a new myth loosely based on facts and largely on a biased opinion and call it “analysis”. I swear Simmons has hacked this site and are now writing on here.

    And really you could have said the same about many ex leaf centres like Bolland, Connolly and Grabbo who have all had injury bugs. Heck even Crosby is garbage – the guy is always getting head injuries. He needs to stay out of the infirmary. And the reason they have all had injuries is simply that they go about trying to intentionally injure themselves because mittenstringer bloggers and MSM writers like Simmon’s create a fable and say its true and have the masses adopt a flawed way of thinking.

    • FlareKnight

      Actually, there is something to being ‘injury prone’ – some players play a style of hockey that is more likely to result in injuries while others (Kesssel is a good example) play in a way that is unlikely to result in an injury – avoiding getting hit by refusing to go to ‘dirty areas’, boardplay etc.

      Also, some players are better protected by the goons on their teams than others (Crosby, for example, plays on a generally very ‘soft’ team and rarely has teammates stand up for him and punish the opposing players who are hunting for his head with impunity).

      Of course, this kind of stuff is really hard to quantify in terms of shots for and against so I understand if noone here wants to talk about it. Keep on counting shot attempts in the dream world…

  • FlareKnight

    I’m a fan of Bozak and think his deal if probably about right (given what other C’s are making)but Fansided article doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    I don’t know the complete ins and outs of the advanced stats, but think they can be helpful (though not fully representative) of an individuals ability. I have a few questions related to some of the data that maybe someone here can help me with or point me in the right direction.

    Looking at the chart (from the article you linked to in 2013) -I know Kessel does better away from Bozak but isn’t there value to the Leafs to have Bozak play with a player that makes him (statistically) significantly better? (and was the Kessel better away from Bozak as significant last year?)

    I would also note (based just on observation from Leafs games) -when the “first line” has a tough matchup (e.g. Chara) Carlyle often tries to protect Kessel and have him play up and down the lineup (possibly against weaker competition).
    It just got me to thinking whether or not quality of competition away from each other could be measured (I don’t know how to do it, and got me thinking about if match ups/ usage would be a factor).
    i.e. if Bozak was matched up against Chara when they were apart and Kessel had “easier” D/ opponents.

    Thanks for the post.
    Look forward to hearing the comments/suggestions from some of the advanced stat guru’s out there.

    • FlareKnight

      I’m no guru of any kind and especially not of the so-called advanced stats (which essentially amounts to counting shot attempts for and against) but here’s my two cents:

      You should check some of the comments to the 2013 article especially the ones pertaining to the fact that Bozak has been put out in situations such as to take defensive zone draws away from Kessel and in defensive situations generally against hard competition… Your hunch that this has to do with matchups that don’t reflect favourably on Bozak’s corsi is right.

      All Cam ever ‘proved’ is that Bozak doesn’t take a lot of shots – indeed he doesn’t – he’s the guy that digs out the puck in the defensive zone and sends the wingers off and flying down into the offensive zone (hence they end up with a lot of ‘controlled zone entries’ which is another favourite of Cam and co.) and Bozak looks like he was never there.

    • SteinS

      This would be an interesting investigation: seeing Kessel+Kadri and Lupul+Bozak/(any other centre that he played a significant amount of time with). Although sample size would definitely be much smaller, seeing how those stats compare to Kessel+Bozak and Lupul+Kadri would definitely be interesting. I would do the research, but (after an albeit quick search), I can’t seem to find any databases of stats that relate two people (like the stats in this article). Any suggestions?

  • FlareKnight

    I love how you take your time to write this article, and Tyler Bozak is sitting at home laughing lighting his cigars with $100 bills.

    He’s been a solid Center for us for years now, he’s slightly progressed every year. The guy plays on the first line because he’s better defensively than Kadri, and matches up against stars every night. Do you have a solution for someone else we can play as a first line Center without giving up a ton of assets ?

    He’s been our first line Center for years, like it of not. And it would have been very typical of Leafs management to grossly overpay him for this reason, I think the 4.2 cap hit is pretty fair.

    Nope. Like a blogger, you’d rather sit here and whine about the non-issue with no attempt at a solution.

    Shut up, Jeffler.

    • FlareKnight

      “The guy plays on the first line because he’s better defensively than Kadri,”

      Wow no he is not. Not even close.

      I don’t know where Leaf fans got it into their skulls that “Young Bozak” was good defensively, because he isn’t at all.

        • Back in Black

          Ooh, anecdotes! I’m pretty sure that in plural form that equals evidence!

          Anyway, no, Bozak is not good defensively. He has a difficult time identifying his man when defending the rush and tends instead to fall off and hang out around the middle of the ice. He’s terrible at winning puck battles – in fact, he doesn’t appear to think that’s his job, and settles for following the puck carrier around rather than challenging him. He’s not very useful at clearing the puck out, as his default decision even in the defensive zone is a short pass to his winger regardless of whether Kessel or JVR is in good position.

          At one time he was good at faceoffs, which some people superficially conflate with being good defensively.

          Kadri makes mistakes, but they are generally the mistake of trying to do the wrong thing; this is more helpful than the mistake of not trying to do anything.

          • “Ooh, anecdotes! I’m pretty sure that in plural form that equals evidence!”

            And then you proceed to use anecdotes to make your point… I don’t understand your logic. Or lack of.

            I don’t know where to start, winning a face-off isn’t helpful defensively in what world? That’s called puck control chum.

            So you’re saying Bozak commits to sticking with his check instead of trying to 1 vs 1 a player like Stamkos or Crosby, seems like the right move IMO.

            Using his line-mates,why wouldn’t that be his default move? He’s surrounded by two stars, getting them the puck means he’s doing his job. Dur.

            And you’re saying that not making mistakes is worse than making mistakes because you’re “trying”? Haha.. No… Just no…

          • Back in Black

            Oh, so you don’t know what “anecdotes” means. The Internet will help you.

            Winning a faceoff is helpful, but it only lasts for a surprisingly short amount of time if you don’t proceed to do more good things afterward. It’s overrated because it’s easy to count. Bozak isn’t particularly good at faceoffs anyway.

            Sticking with his check is what I said Bozak does NOT do. That’s what I meant by “falling off and hanging out”.

            Short passes inside your own blueline are a recipe for disaster if the target is not open to receive the pass and cleanly exit the zone.

            And oh, dear, you didn’t understand my last paragraph either. Read it again (or get someone to read it for you) there’s nothing about “not making mistakes”.

          • SteinS

            Lmfao, no I know just fine.

            Perhaps the wikipedia pages that you rely on at every turn told you the wrong info?

            What you’re saying is pure stupidity, let me explain to you why…

            You said that faceoffs aren’t a defensive skill, now you’re scrambling to “re-define” what you said. That’s fine, scrolling up isn’t too hard. Bozak kicks Kadri’s ass in the circle, just btw.

            And that’s not what Bozak does, I told you what he does. He may not take the idiotic leap at a player with a higher skill level at him because that’s begging to get beat. If he couldn’t keep up with a check it would be pretty evident.

            Don’t pass to a player who isn’t open… What a prodigy you are. Thanks for the lesson in Tyke hockey buddy, I’m sure that’s a massive revelation for you but everyone knows that… Including Bozak.

            Once again, perhaps you didn’t say what you meant to and are now trying to re-define it. Scroll up buddy, I’m sure you’ll google whatever confuses you

  • FlareKnight

    Yikes. I have a sneaking suspicion that all the negative comments above are really just the different pseudonyms of Claude Loiselle.

    Don’t listen to the haters.

  • FlareKnight

    You know how they tell people who are in love and making out to “get a room”. Well since this article is more like the opposite of “love”…and seems to be written purely out of mindless vengeful Bozak hate, I hereby provide an equivalent…

    Get yourself a toilet… You’re full of…


  • I’m probably going get hammered for this because I’m a huge admirer of this site’s tireless and thoughtful statistical analysis, but here goes.

    “There’s also an “intangible” factor that he brings to the team”

    I would argue that there is actually intangible weakness to Bozak, which is the strength of his on-ice authority and power. I just don’t think he has the presence and iron-confidence that a No.1 centre requires, which is why people snipe at him.

    I think he’d be much more suited to a No.2 centre role (not an original thought I know). I’d have no issue with him staying, but I think there’s something about Bozak which doesn’t inspire the team in the way that a No.1 centre should.

    Let the hate begin.

  • STAN

    Bozak has been solid between Kessel and JvR. The numbers prove it.

    Would Ryan O’Reilly look better in that role? Probably.

    But unless Shanahan-Dubas (I think they’ve internally relieved Nonis of any important personnel-related decision making) can pry him out of Denver, it’s clearly Bozak’s job to lose.