The Toronto Maple Leafs have sorely missed Tyler Bozak at center ever since he was injured in a game against the Ottawa Senators on February 5th. Bozak was on pace for his best season offensively with 31 points in 47 games before getting injured. Luckily for the Leafs it looks like he will be back in the lineup soon. The only problem with Tyler Bozak returning is that it creates an issue of having too many centers on the team and not enough space for all of them.
Tyler Bozak’s Injury
Bozak says this was his 1st concussion … Finally cleared for contact yesterday
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) March 16, 2016
In the game against the Senators on February 5th, Bozak was clipped by a hit from Mika Zibanejad. It looked like Bozak was able to avoid the hit, unfortunately he wasn’t entirely able. It wasn’t a big hit. Not the kind that would make it obvious that the player just sustained a concussion. This was a hit that didn’t seem to cause any immediate injury, but because of the angle and speed involved it meant that Zibanejad’s elbow hit just the right spot to cause a concussion.
Concussions are one of the more severe injuries in hockey considering it can have lifelong effects and make the player more susceptible to future concussions. It’s important that a player doesn’t return to full contact too early as they have a big risk of re-aggravating their concussion and being out for even longer. With Bozak being cleared for contact it means that he will be back in the lineup soon, but it won’t be for at least another week. During this time he will begin to practice with the rest of the team. This will help him get back in shape and make sure there aren’t any lingering effects from the concussion before getting back in the lineup.
The Problem At Center
Bozak’s return will help the Leafs, but will also give them the problem of having too many centers. Right now the players playing at center are Nazem Kadri, William Nylander, Brooks Laich, and Ben Smith. Then there is also Peter Holland who has played on the wing instead of his natural position at center. When a player returns from injury, usually the AHL player that was called up to fill the spot is sent back down. The problem is that coach Mike Babcock has made it clear that he intends to keep William Nylander, Nikita Soshnikov, and Zach Hyman with the Leafs until the end of the season.
With that in mind there is only two options. Either keep all the current players up with the Leafs and just sit-out a player each night or send down Ben Smith or Colin Greening since they’ve both spent most of the season in the AHL. Babcock has liked the way both of those players have played since being acquired by the Leafs, so it looks like the best answer is to sit-out a player each night. Now the problem is having six centers and only four spots.
Babcock says he'll likely keep Nylander at centre even when Bozak returns.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) March 16, 2016
Keeping Nylander at center makes sense for his development, but then it means that Smith or Laich will need to be moved from center to the wing. Luckily Babcock has at least another week to decide on what to do before Tyler Bozak is likely to return. At this point it seems like foreshadowing for the problem next season with having too many NHL calibre centermen in the Toronto organization.
Featured image provided by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers