It’s hard to believe that Tyler Bozak has been a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs for nine seasons.
In a little under than a decade, Bozak has transitioned from a raw college talent into a capable two-way centre at the NHL-level. Consistent, competitive, and a natural leader, Bozak’s value to Toronto is incredibly extensive while his commitment to securing the Leafs’ success has never wavered.
Unfortunately for both parties, Bozak’s tenure — the longest of any current Toronto player — stands poised to come to a rather abrupt end. Currently skating in the final season of a five-year, $21 million contract he signed with Toronto in 2013, Bozak stands on the brink of unrestricted free agency and the freedom to sign with any league franchise.
Although Bozak’s contract status may appear to be inconsequential, it is, in fact, a rather serious matter. As a fixture on the Leafs’ third line and one of the team’s most valuable centre’s, Bozak’s potential departure could leave a major void within the team’s roster if not filled adequately. Further, his potential exit could strip Toronto of the considerable depth necessary to achieve success in the postseason.
So, despite an impending cap crunch and contractual complications, the time has come for the Leafs to re-sign Bozak.
Evaluating Bozak’s Importance
Throughout his nearly 600 regular season and playoff games played with Toronto, Bozak’s importance and role have rarely — if ever — been called into question. Extremely versatile and capable of contributing in numerous forms, Bozak’s true value as an individual lays in his ability to generate and contribute to his team’s success in a bounty of ways.
A Possession Dynamo
Although he doesn’t own a towering frame or seemingly endless strength on the ice, Bozak is a crafty player who can steal, obtain, and protect the puck from his opposition, consequently driving puck possession totals for his team.
For the Regina, Saskatchewan native, securing possession of the puck begins in the faceoff circle.
Incredibly consistent when it comes to taking draws, Bozak owns an impressive 53.5% success rate in his career to date and is once again claiming face-offs with startling regularity this year. What’s more is that 58% of Bozak’s zone starts this season have come in the offensive zone, meaning that his face off wins and resulting possession is fuelling Toronto’s offensive attack.
In addition to his face-off wizardry, Bozak and his fellow linemates are immensely successful when it comes to cycling the puck and, as a result, maintaining possession. Perhaps the most accurate statistic which reflects puck possession and chances generated as a result is Corsi For, or, more simply, CF%. Thus far in the 2017-18 campaign, Bozak has generated a 52.3 CF%, indicating that the Leafs produce far more scoring chances for while he is on the ice than the opposition manages against.
Perpetuating this sparkling statistic is Bozak’s relative CF%, which indicates the centre’s shot attempts for while he is on the ice compared to that of his teammates while he is off of the ice. Not surprisingly, the veteran owns a 3.5 CF% rel, indicating him as a far more productive player than a number of his fellow teammates.
Ultimately, the team which owns the puck and produces the greatest amount of scoring opportunities typically wins at the NHL-level. As a player who clearly drives possession and is instrumental in generating scoring chances, Bozak’s prolonged presence would only strengthen the Leafs’ already broad offensive attack.
Crucial Depth Production
No, he doesn’t shoot the lights out. However, Bozak has long been a tremendous depth contributor for the Leafs and one capable of providing timely scoring and general offensive production.
In fact, throughout his career to date, Bozak has generated a points per game mark of 0.61.
This impressive total is equal to the offensive production of the likes of Andrew Ladd, Brayden Schenn, and Alex Galchenyuk, three players who have long been recognized as elite performers within the NHL today. What’s more is that Bozak’s productivity over the years has been remarkably consistent, as outside of his rate in the current season, Bozak has failed to achieve a 0.6 points per game pace or greater on just one occasion, which came way back in the 2010-11 campaign.
While he isn’t the offensive player he once was given his decreased role within Toronto’s roster, the fact remains that Bozak is an incredibly effective player and one capable of producing consistent offence from his standing on the Leafs’ third-line. Further, when Toronto’s impressive forward depth is added to the equation, Bozak’s contributions become even less likely to slip in future seasons, as he would surely play alongside equally skilled teammates were he to return next season.
Although he doesn’t garner a wealth of ice time on the penalty kill, Bozak has long been a fixture on the Leafs’ power play in addition to his potent play at even strength.
Having averaged 2:50 of power play ice time per game in his career, Bozak’s ability to win face-offs, ensure possession, and consequently generate lethal scoring chances has allowed Toronto to own one of the most devastating power plays in the NHL. As a quick-thinking player who can pass the puck with ease, Bozak’s nose for the net and ability to pounce on rebounds has allowed him to tally 45 goals and 100 career points for the Leafs while on the power play.
Further, Bozak has scored an impressive five shorthanded goals in his career to date, an amount which places him in a tie with Zach Hyman for the most within the past decade. However, perhaps the most interesting tidbit of all regarding this startling offensive production is the fact that Bozak has averaged just 0:48 seconds of shorthanded ice time per game in his career — a statistic which further emphasizes both Bozak’s offensive potency and his versatility.
Predicting Bozak’s Next Contract
Given Bozak’s clear value to the Leafs and his ability to consistently produce at both ends of the ice, what could his potential contract extension with Toronto look like?
Well, perhaps the most accurate way to predict a future contract is to make comparisons to players of similar abilities throughout the NHL. Surely searching for a multi-year contract, Bozak could likely fetch a deal in the three to five-year range from the Leafs — a contract which would secure his place within Toronto’s roster until he reaches the age of roughly 35-years.
However, what type of salary could Bozak fetch and, perhaps most importantly, what does he deserve?
Well, as you can see below, Bozak’s career production is eerily similar to a number of other NHL stars. And, when you compare his annual salary to that of Artem Anisimov and Derick Brassard, it becomes clear that Bozak’s current income accurately reflects his recent play.
So, while a raise for Bozak could certainly be in the cards, securing an annual cap hit of greater than $5 million could prove to be a challenge for the veteran. As we have seen, Bozak is an incredibly valuable player and one who can contribute in a variety of forms to his team’s success. However, due to the arrival of younger Leafs players, Bozak’s role in Toronto has and will likely continue to diminish.
With ice time at a premium and internal competition at a high, the Leafs will have to be extremely careful and particular with regards to Bozak’s potential extension. A lower salary in the final years of Bozak’s deal would undoubtedly have to be negotiated, as the impending signings of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander will likely account for approximately $25 million in combined cap hit in the coming years.
The Final Decision
With all factors considered, a contract extension for Bozak — which should undoubtedly be offered by Toronto — should fall in the ballpark of four-years and $4.5 million per season. If inked, this roughly $18 million deal would allow the Leafs to secure a competent third-line centre and one who could be counted on throughout what is sure to be consecutive postseason runs.
Further, carrying a term of three to five years, Bozak’s presence would not stand as a long-term impediment to Toronto’s future success, and especially so if his play suddenly slips dramatically.
Since he is arguably exiting the prime of his career, the Leafs will need to be smart yet calculated in devising a potential contract extension for Bozak. While he remains incredibly valuable and relatively potent offensively, Bozak’s play has slowed this year and could prove to be a major indicator of his future production.
Ultimately, it goes without saying that Toronto needs to lock down a proven and dependable third-line centre, and especially so if the Leafs wish to sustain their success in the coming years. While he could certainly seek a greater deal financially elsewhere, Bozak’s long history with Toronto and his determination to win with the Leafs could influence the veteran centre to accept a hometown discount which benefits both parties.