Tyler Bozak: Should The Maple Leafs Re-sign him?
Given the lack of depth at the centre position within the Toronto Maple Leafs organization it would seem to be a no-brainer to re-sign pending restricted free agent Tyler Bozak to a new long-term contract.
Originally signed as a free agent by the Maple Leafs in 2009, Bozak made a quick ascent to the NHL, spending all of 32 games with the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies before joining the big club where Bozak put up 27 points in his first 37 NHL games (eight goals, 19 assists).
Blessed with playing alongside Maple Leafs sniper Phil Kessel, Bozak’s rookie season was deemed a success, all but earning him the first line centre position in 2010-11.
At a “cap hit” of $3,725,000 (his actual “salary” is only $875,000) Bozak is the Maple Leafs second highest paid forward (again, cap-wise). (all numbers courtesy of www.capgeek.com).
Problem is, while there is plenty of evidence that Bozak may evolve into a very good player, there is an equal amount of doubt surrounding his ability to be a number one centre, which brings into question what he should be paid in the future.
Waiting in the weeds Nazem Kadri looks to be the Maple Leafs first line centre of the future—that is if/when he finally cracks the lineup on a full-time basis.
So, with Kadri waiting for his shot and with Bozak nearing restricted free agency the question becomes, should the Maple Leafs look to re-sign Tyler Bozak and if so, at what cost?
When you look over the numbers, pro-rated or not, it would appear as if Bozak’s numbers equate more like a second line centre than a first liner.
Don’t forget, Bozak is putting up those numbers by playing first line minutes, which, if everything goes to plan (i.e.: Kadri making a splash), will likely no-longer be the case in 2011-12.
This season (playing first line minutes) Bozak has amassed a total of four points (one goal, three assists) in his first nine games and is a minus three on the season.
While ten games is not much to go on, it does appear as if Bozak “is what he is”—a legitimate second line centre with great face off skills, decent vision who struggles to contribute on the power play where he had a total of five points last season.
Even when you pro-rate the power play numbers, we are talking about 12 points a season here—which is not first line material!
Don’t agree with my assessment that Bozak is not a true first line centre?
Ask yourself this: How many NHL centres would you draft before you would take Bozak as your number one guy? Or, another way to make my point is this: how many of you would want Bozak as your number one centre on your favorite NHL team? Yeah, thought so!
One of Bozak’s greatest strengths is his faceoff abilities. With a success rate of 55.2 percent in 2009-10, Bozak was ranked 20th overall, which is impressive—especially in light of the fact that he was a rookie last season.
This season Bozak is sitting at a 58.0 percent success rate, which shows great consistency.
The trouble is, as good as Bozak is in the faceoff circle, there are not a lot of first line centres in the league that score 60 points or less in a season and scoring points is key to the position.
At a $3,725,000 (cap hit), Bozak is a little overpaid for what he brings to the table. Part of that may have been necessitated by the Maple Leafs strong need for his services, which may have left Brian Burke few options but to overpay him in order to guarantee his signing with the Maple Leafs.
Want to know what paying a player with 60-point potential to a big money contract looks like? Take a look a Matt Stajan’s contract in Calgary ($14 million over four years at a cap hit of $4.5 million in the first two years, $2.5 million per on the backend).
Now, I am not suggesting that Bozak is another Matt Stajan in the making—he’ll likely emerge as the better of the two players, but you get my point.
While nobody is suggesting that Burke should turn his back on Bozak, it would seem very likely that, unless Bozak’s game changes dramatically over the 2010-11 season, that Bozak will likely be offered a contract that is more in line with his abilities and output—say a $2.5-$3.0 million cap hit per season.
At that price Bozak would be more in line with what other second line centres are making in the NHL, which is where I feel he should be evaluated.
Final Verdict: Burke needs to find a way to re-sign Bozak, keeping in mind that he has to do so at a reasonable price for what Bozak brings today and what he may or may not bring tomorrow.
A three-year, $7.0-$8.0 million deal would seem just about right, that is unless Bozak has a huge season in 2010-11, which seems unlikely.
Until next time,