The Bozak/Grabovski debate, all over again

Today, a debate formed on Hockey Twitter regarding moves made by Dave Nonis. Specifically, which was the worst. TLN’s own Drag Like Pull had this as his entry:

And, former TLN blogger and current member of The Blogger’s Tribune, Tom Hunter, had this as a response:

This is clearly a tired debate. It happened 3 years ago, and I think it formed out of yearning for hockey to finally start. Nonetheless, I’d like to dig into it a bit and present why I think Grabovski is still a better hockey player than Bozak. And as follows, that the better move would have been to let Bozak walk and keep Grabovski, instead using a compliance buyout on him.


Of course, the first obvious point is that Bozak’s contract is better. The details of each are shown below.

Year Signed AAV Year of expiry
Bozak 2013 $4.2M 2019
Grabovski 2012 $5.5M 2018

Leafs fans will undoubtedly be aware that after one year, Grabovski’s contract was bought out using a compliance buyout. This allowed the Leafs to nullify his contract without cap penalty. A clean release, as far as the cap is concerned. Shortly after, the Leafs re-signed Tyler Bozak to the contract shown above. Here, the topic of debate arises. The Leafs essentially chose to keep Bozak and get rid of Grabovski. How good that choice was is the question I hope to answer here.

The Leafs were up against the salary cap heading into the 2013-14 season. As such, I can give some credit to the management team at the time, creating $1.3M in cap space through this move.

However, when you look at where things stand now, Grabovski would still be costing $1.3M more, but the contract would expire one year sooner. To me, this makes their effects on the salary cap very similar, so much so that I would call it a wash. The $1.3M of space is nullified by having an extra year of the player (a player you largely do not want, in either case) on the books.


Now for the other side, the more important side, the actual quality of player. Here’s a table showing a few important stats, broken down into:

  • 2010-13 – the average of the 3 year period before the move
  • 2012-13 – the year before the move
  • 2013-16 – the average of the 3 year since
  • 2015-16 – last year.

I’ve left out usage stats in the interest of brevity, looking only at possession and production results. A proper analysis would be with a statistical model breaking all relevant factors down to produce a result, but this is enough to get the job done for a 3 year old debate.

Bozak Grabovski
Time Frame rel xGF% rel CF% P60 rel xGF% rel CF% P60
2010-13 0.17 -0.86 1.38 3.14 5.64 1.89
2012-13 -0.22 0.94 1.53 -6.4 0.57 1.16
2013-16 -1.68 -0.46 1.71 3.44 2.49 1.73
2015-16 1.75 1.16 1.59 1.46 -0.82 1.69

When I look at this chart I see a few things. 

First, the year where Grabovski was bought out, he was really bad. Worse than Bozak, which was a decent reason for justifying the move at the time. I didn’t show usage stats, above but below is a usage chart from

The extra players are in there just to give an okay basis on where Bozak and Grabovski were relative to the league.

Second, Bozak wasn’t even better than Grabovski last year, the point at which it was supposedly obvious that Bozak was better, even by my own concession. While Bozak was a better possession player than Grabovski, it really wasn’t by much, and neither were excessively good or bad.

Third, management should have been capable of looking at the 3 year period leading up to making this decision. There are even ways to weight the more recent year stronger, with a statistical model like I mentioned above. That would have been a much better analysis. But it really appears that the Leafs were narrow-sighted in only looking at the 2012-13 season in making their decision.

And finally, in the 3 years since the move was made, Grabovski has been a significantly better possession player while scoring at basically the same rate. There’s no solid basis (in the stats here or in any other stats I researched but didn’t include) to say that Bozak has been a better player than Grabovski in any of those seasons except 2012-13.


When you roll together that their contracts are nearly the same, and that Grabovski has largely been a much better player than Bozak, I don’t see any way to justify that Bozak has been a “far better value” than Grabovski in any context. When you add onto this the fact that they wasted a compliance buyout that they could have used on Liles instead (which would have saved them trading for Gleason, though this also could have been done buy not buying out Komisarek who had 1 year left on his deal), it’s clear to me that keeping Grabovski would have been the better move.

  • Tommy Cat

    What a silly debate. The right move clearly would have been keeping both, and not signing Clarkson. Would have left the Leafs with top-3 Cs of Bozak-Kadri-Grabovski, which is better than anything we’ve had since.

    A more interesting question to me is whether Kessel should have been on a line with Grabovski instead of Bozak?

    My view is no, for the same reason that Kessel didn’t work with either Malkin or Crosby, but played great with Bonino. People blamed Carlyle at the time, but Wilson never paired Grabovski and Kessel for the same reason.

    It’s not a knock on Grabovski. Quite the opposite. He is great with the puck on his stick. But so is Kessel, who plays better with a centre who gets him the puck as early as possible coming out of the defensive zone.

  • Trevor5555

    is this satire? I thought cappuccino left you guys. bozak vs grabovski was a debate 3 years ago. there is no grabovski vs bozak debate in 2016. yes, the bozak contract was a mistake. so was grabovski’s large salary that was bought out 1 year after being signed. yes grabovski is a better player. yes bozak shouldn’t have been resigned especially for that much money and term. grabovski has been on ltir his entire islander tenure. bozak is an overpaid bottom 6 centre who has never cracked 50 points with elite players in his entire nhl career. both aren’t worth the money they were given. one will be gone very soon while the other will probably struggle to find nhl work after his current contract. the leafs should have kept grabovski over bozak in hindsight when looking at who was a more productive and Impact nhler at the time. either way, the leafs lost because they got stuck paying the better player not to play for them and gave that money to the lesser player. case close. it’s not 2013 anymore so stop.

  • Stan Smith

    “I don’t see any way to justify that Bozak has been a “far better value” than Grabovski in any context.”

    Well how about this. In the past four seasons Grabovski has averaged 14.75 minutes per game of ice time, has won an average of 232 faceoffs per season, and scored 95 points in 215 games for an average ppg of 0.44.

    In that same time period Bozak has averaged 19.26 minutes per game, has won an average of 695 faceoffs per season, and has scored 161 points in 243 games for an average of 0.66 pts per game.

    I think those numbers definitely justify that Bozak has been “far better value” than Grabovski.

  • Trevor5555

    OK,OK already, you can sure tell that the fan(atics) are just climbing the walls. This happens to be the start of the 2016-17 season, so please pick a topic for this year and stop boring the xxit out of us with stats that are 3+years old and mean absolutely nothing today. If you are going down this road why do we not bring Keon into the discussion and just add Ballard to Nonis.

    • Gary Empey

      Like you I’m only mildly interested.

      Articles like this are ok, Some folks do like to rehash the past. As long as we also have some “the start of the 2016-17 season” stuff, there should be room for everything.

  • Trevor5555

    Grabovski was better in ’10 as it was his best year as a Leaf and Bozak was in his 1st full NHL season. In ’11 Bozak closed the gap scoring 18G 47Pts with a 52.6 CF% to Grabovskis 23G 51Pts with a 55.9 CF% Bozak was a better faceoff man and Grabovski was better defensively. In ’12 Bozak had better numbers scoring 12G 28Pts with a 49.5 CF% to Grabovskis 9G 16Pts with a 48.5 CF%.

    So to say Grabovski was clearly better is false. Bozak was every bit as good as Grabovski by 2012 both in terms of possesion and points scoring and he was 2 years younger.

    I agree that both were pretty good and it would have been fine to keep both and Clarkson was a terrible signing but the 3 years since letting Grabovski go Bozak has become the much better player offensively and his possesion numbers are just about as good. In light of the last 3 years it was the right move to keep Bozak.

    Further to say the Leafs were narrow minded and just looked at 2013 to make the decesion is totally baseless and theres no proof for such a claim especially considering they kept what turned out to be the younger, cheaper and better player.

    Stop trying to use obscure stats to rail on Leafs managment….there are enough real mistakes if you want to rail the old guard.

  • SEER

    Grabo was my favourite player, and I was really upset they got rid of him, but, if I remember correctly, he was having some health issues leading up to the buyout, something with his stomach. So all I could think was that a lot of the decision was based on uncertainty about his health.

  • SEER

    Grabo was my favourite player, and I was really upset they got rid of him, but, if I remember correctly, he was having some health issues leading up to the buyout, something with his stomach. So all I could think was that a lot of the decision was based on uncertainty about his health.

  • wallcrawler

    I was wondering where all the Bozak hate has gone. Sure enough, another one in the series of ‘if Bozak proves us wrong on the ice again, we’ll still come up with numbers to prove he sucks’ articles this pathetic site is famous for. You guys are truly ridiculous. Bozak has always been a better player than Grabo. He’s consistently put up more points and more points per game than Grabo. Grabo was a cool guy – charming and funny – but as a hockey player in a serious decline ever since that one great year he had under Rob Wilson. Bozak, on the other hand, seems to get better with age and with weaker wingers. There is no comparison between the two.

  • CMpuck

    I think if you asked Kessel who the more valuable player was he would say Bozak and management agreed and they wanted Kessel to stick around. Obviously things have changed since, Kessel is gone, Bozak is still here (and doing fine minus Kessel) and he’s got trade value. More value than trying to move Grabo had we kept him instead.

    p.s. Please no Kulemin is better than Komarov articles. I recall the same people who cried over Grabo crying over Kulemin.