Maple Leafs Round Table: Bozak and the Sixth Defenceman

After a couple weeks off, the Maple Leafs Round Table is back at it as the season fast approaches. Just under two months away from opening night – and a meeting with Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets – questions still remain when it comes to the organizational depth chart and one of their veteran forwards.

While the Leafs will have the majority of their lineup set for opening night, there is at least one hole on the blue line that will need filling before October 4. On top of that, with speculation swirling, the future of Tyler Bozak in a Leafs uniform remains up in the air.

The Leafs are overloaded with potential on defence. With guys like Calle Rosén, Andreas Borgman and Travis Dermott chomping at the bit this season, who will make the Leafs’ opening night roster as their sixth defenceman?

Forbes: Rosén might be the best option to fill out the Leafs’ defensive corps. At 23, he has some good experience playing for Rögle BK and Växjö Lakers HC over the past three seasons. He’s coming off a year where he put up 19 points in 41 regular season games, and hit his career high of 23 points in 42 games back in 2014-15 with Rögle BK. So he does possess some offensive ability.

Calle Rosen, Toronto Maple Leafs, SHL, NHL
Calle Rosén might have the upper hand in earning a roster spot this season. (Photo by Vaxjo Lakers/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

That being said, the Leafs have enough offensively-minded, puck-moving defensemen. What Rosén brings to the table is a good two-way game and the ability to make plays along the boards in his own zone. He’s not the biggest guy out there, but he doesn’t shy away from playing the body – something that could add to his value as a sixth defenceman on the Leafs roster.

Behind him, Dermott has to be the obvious back-up candidate to get the start. While there’s a good chance that he sees some NHL action this season, I have to agree with Fusco in that Dermott might be falling just short of that sixth spot for the Leafs.

Fusco: Everything I’ve seen out of Rosén leads me to believe that he will be the guy. He’s a mobile two-way player who is capable of taking that spot.

There’s also something to be said for Dermott. He’s extremely close to making this Leafs roster and I think he still will, just not on opening night. I believe that the spot is Rosén’s to lose.

Slawson: Well, as I wrote in a recent article, I believe that Rosén will open the 2017-18 NHL season as the Leafs’ sixth defenceman – and for good reason.

Travis Dermott, OHL, Erie Otters
The Maple Leafs have seen some major development from defenceman Travis Dermott. (Photo by Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

With two years of SHL experience under his belt, Rosén is a seasoned defender who has enjoyed ample playing time against tremendously skilled opponents. As such, Rosén should be able to acclimate himself to the NHL game much faster than either Borgman or Dermott, although I feel as though these two are excruciatingly close to NHL-ready as well. With Toronto inching closer to a deep playoff push, a strong blue line in 2017-18 will be essential to the success of the team, and especially so if they hope to enjoy a long playoff drive.

A smooth skating two-way defenceman, Rosén’s strong play at both ends of the ice will make him a tremendous addition to the Leafs blue line. With very little defensive depth over the past few seasons, inserting Rosén will add an element of reliability and security to a relatively young defence corps.

Langridge: Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Nikita Zaitsev, Ron Hainsey and Connor Carrick will be on the team. That leaves one, maybe two, spots open to fight for. Dermott has a chance to stick with the Leafs, but how the newly-signed Swedes perform could change that.

If Dermott doesn’t win the sixth spot, he should stick with the Marlies to get regular playing time. However, I do see him winning the role unless the Leafs actually make a trade to acquire another defenceman in the interim.

A lot has been said about Bozak’s future with the team. Is Bozak on the move prior to the season or not? Why?

Forbes: He’s not going anywhere before the season starts. The Leafs have minor decisions to make in terms of their opening night roster, but Bozak will be there when the Leafs take to the ice in early October. While the fact that he’s coming off a career-year offensively surely helps in the Leafs’ decision to keep him, he also offers them a veteran middle-man that can win big draws if needed.

Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL
Tyler Bozak will be a free agent at the end of this season. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

That, and the fact that he’s a free agent at the end of the season, will definitely dictate what the Leafs do with him come the trade deadline this year. If the Leafs are in the playoff hunt, don’t expect them to move the center, but if the return is something that can help the club in their hunt for spring hockey he could finish his career somewhere else.

Fusco: I don’t think he is. He’s still a valuable piece of the Leafs and performs well both offensively and defensively. I think he’ll be moved out in the future, but for now, he’s going to stay put.

Remember that Bozak was undrafted and signed out of college. He’s been a remarkable performer based on that alone. I see no reason to move him, unless the offer coming back is well worth it.

Slawson: Despite the immense number of rumours circling around Bozak, I don’t see him being moved prior to the start of the 2017-18 season.

As it stands, the Leafs’ roster is virtually set in stone. Down the middle of the ice, the team boasts a strong and deep group of capable centers – a strength which many NHL teams would love to boast. With Auston Matthews set to center Toronto’s top line, it appears as though Bozak will saddle the second unit, Nazem Kadri the third line, and the newly inked Dominic Moore the fourth line. With such great depth and skill in hand, dealing Bozak would make little sense at this point in time, especially so given the fact that the blue line – and its need to be upgraded – is of much less concern than at this point one year ago.

Auston Matthews, NHL, Toronto Maple Leafs
Matthews will surely be the Leafs’ number one down the middle this season, with Bozak following up behind him. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Unless the team can add an asset of incredible value, and one that would make trading Bozak essential, I don’t see him being moved in the near future. And unless one of the Leafs’ younger players breaks out as a highly successful center as the season progresses, Bozak will be staying put until the trade deadline. As a pending UFA, Toronto will surely entertain moving the veteran forward, however, at this point in time doing so would make very little sense and would threaten the potential success of the franchise this coming season.

Langridge: The answer is no. Bozak should not be on the move. Any rumour or speculation that has been put out there (Nick Holden, really?) should be shut down immediately. Why?

Have you seen the Leafs depth at center? It doesn’t look that good after the top four in terms of NHL-ready replacements. If an injury happens, the Leafs are in trouble. So in essence, the biggest reason that Bozak should stay is that no one wants to see Ben Smith playing for the Leafs again.

While the Leafs make their final decisions on their roster through training camp, we’ll be sure to discuss them here at The Hockey Writers. In the meantime, if you have questions about the Maple Leafs be sure to leave them here so our panel of Fusco, Slawson and Langridge can share their thoughts on the issues at hand.