The Toronto Maple Leafs are stuck with Tyler Bozak on their hockey club until the conclusion of the 2017-18 season. Many may think that Bozak is someone that the Leafs will be able to offload at some point during his contract, but forwards who make $4.25 million a season and have recorded only a .56 points per game average (despite playing top line minutes both at even strength and on the power play) tend to not be very valuable trade chips.
The manner in which the Bozak deal is structured would also lead one to believe that it is something rival General Manager’s will be reluctant to absorb. For example, this current season will see Bozak receive only $3.5 million in cash despite carrying a $4.25 million dollar cap hit. The remainder of the contract has the Leafs pivot receiving: $4 million in 2014-15, $5 million in 2015-16, $4.5 million in 2016-17 and $4 million in 2017-18. Bozak also gets a $2 million dollar signing bonus on July 1st of every year of this contract. Bozak will be turning 28 in March meaning that at this point in his career he is already what he will ever be in this league: overpaid.
Instead of shitting on Bozak though, it may be time to maximize what he can provide the Leafs moving forward. The issue of Bozak being a top line centre has been beaten to death. The verdict is in: he’s not capable of playing in that role. Oddly enough, lately Head Coach Randy Carlyle has proven that he values his checking line more than any of his other units based on the allotted ice-time someone like Jay McClement has been getting. McClement has been used more in the past few weeks than the Leafs top line forwards. This reliance on McClement reinforces why Bozak led all Leaf forwards in average time on ice last season. Once Carlyle feels safe with a player he rides them hard.
This season Bozak has once again led all Leaf forwards in average ice time per game at 21:13 a night. The high minutes for Bozak has nothing to do with his linemates, it has to do with Carlyle’s trust in him. Therefore, with Dave Bolland expected out for the majority (if not the entirety) of this season why not place Bozak in that third line role? Playing Bozak in that way allows the Leafs to load up on the scoring lines by placing Nazem Kadri on the top line with Phil Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk all while providing Carlyle with a dependable third line of Nikolai Kulemin, Bozak and Mason Raymond.
Such an experiment will reduce Bozak’s load as he will no longer be looked to as an offensive distributor (something he has proven incapable of being) while giving Carlyle someone he trusts in a role that he values greatly. The Leafs are going to need to identify the best way to have Bozak help their hockey club because he’s going to be here for awhile. Many may argue that Bozak’s defensive zone play is nothing to write home about either. They are right. However, learning to be defensively responsible is possible. Learning how to be a top line centre is not. The opportunity to try him in a role other than alongside Kessel may have finally arrived. Would it be the worst thing in the world to try and see if it works? The alternative would be to play McClement heavy minutes on the third line. Even I would chose Bozak over that.