Count me among the people who don’t think John Tavares to the Leafs next summer is entirely impossible. A long shot? Without a doubt. But I do believe Toronto’s front office will at least go to the whiteboard and see if that could work. I mean, they sort of have to, no?
With that in mind, I’d say we’re pretty unlikely to see the team offer up any contract extension to Tyler Bozak before he hits free agency next season. Indeed, I’d bet he isn’t being considered in their long term plans at all as the team continues to lock into their young core, Tavares in the fold or not. They’re going to leave things as wide open as possible, I would think.
That isn’t a knock on Bozak. His production has been solid, and because of that, his ask on price and term next summer might be a bit outside what Toronto is willing to pay as he turns 32 years old. He’s also part of the old core of this team, so management has probably never felt particularly attached.
So, how about a trade?
Over the last month now I’ve seen Bozak connected (but also totally not connected!) to the Rangers, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post. I’m not entirely sure how connected Brooks is to New York’s front office, but it’s definitely notable that he’s honed in on Bozak, writing columns speculating his potential fit with the blueshirts twice this month.
Here’s a quick blurb from July 8th, after the Rangers had evidently struck out on Marleau and Thornton in free agency:
If the Maple Leafs’ addition of Marleau prompts the club to solicit offers for Tyler Bozak, the 31-year-old center whose average ice time has declined from 20:57 to 16:26 over the past four seasons, expect the Rangers to be among the interested parties.
Nick Holden likely would be the opening ante to get in on Bozak, a one-year right-handed rental at $4.2 million who habitually has excelled at the dots.
I don’t really buy Holden as a piece to be involved here, since the Leafs have a lot going on with left-handed defencemen right now. In fact, at first glance, it’s difficult to see anything the Rangers could move out in trade. They’re a bit of a wreck.
But one thing is clear, New York could really use a center. As things stand, the depth chart down the middle for the Rangers looks to be Zibenejad, Hayes, Desharnais and…uhh…Cristoval Nieves? It’s a place they could certainly bolster after shipping out Derek Stepan to make room for Shattenkirk.
And while most of the free agent and trade talk has died down substantially over the last couple weeks, Bozak again was a target for Brooks’ column in the Post this morning:
If the Rangers were engaged in serious talks with the Maple Leafs regarding Tyler Bozak, the only way the Blueshirts could pull off a deal for the veteran center with the $4.2 million cap hit would be to buy out Marc Staal by Thursday’s deadline.
There is zero indication that either is happening.
It’s strange to start off an article with “here’s everything that isn’t happening”, but I suppose that’s the way it goes when mid-summer hits. As Brooks notes, it’s unlikely there’s a play to be made for Bozak by the Rangers here, mostly since they clearly aren’t set up to do so – not for lack of need.
But ignoring the Rangers, on the Leafs end there is a decision to be made. If Bozak is set to walk next summer, they’ll have to weigh out whether they look to ship him out or lose him for nothing. They could justify the latter approach by simply viewing him as a rental in this final year, but either way, I would think they’ll draw up a plan.
With that said, we have it on good authority the Leafs did make a major push for Joe Thornton in free agency to go along with Marleau, and obviously only went 1 for 2. If that’s true (which it is), that would have meant they almost certainly planned on how to move out Bozak afterwards.
All in all, my bet would be that Brooks has heard Bozak’s name out there generally in league circles, and is trying to spin that Rangers angle since, well, he’s a Rangers writer. But the overall insistence on him being a potential target does give us something to at least keep an eye on, especially in such a slow time in the offseason. Perhaps those whispers have been silenced entirely after the Thornton return to San Jose, but I expect players like Bozak, Van Riemsdyk, and Komarov, whose status beyond this season is so up in the air, will get their share of these speculative posts popping up until something gives.