In Defense of Tyler Bozak

MONTREAL - NOVEMBER 20: Tyler Bozak #42 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates with the puck while being chased by Josh Gorges #26 of the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on November 20 2010 in Montreal Quebec Canada. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Tyler Bozak is a second year forward playing big minutes.  He's a 24 year old playing a bit out of his depth on the top line, but he hasn't shirked his responsibilities all season long.  He's likely suffered as a result of the raised expectations that he's been expected to match up to, and many Leaf fans have jumped all over his numbers this year, blaming him for much of the perceived problems on the Leafs top line.

I've defended him repeatedly in multiple threads, but I think much of what I've been saying has fallen on blind eyes (or deaf ears?) - take that for what it's worth, but if you're fine with Bozak's level of play, this argument isn't likely to be directed at you.  He doesn't deserve half of the flak he's taken this season, and he's on a relatively well trodden path towards being a solid contributor in the NHL.

Read on for some points in defense of Bozak's development, and see where you sit at the end of this discussion.

First - Bozak in comparison to his peer group.  No I'm not referring to top line centres in the NHL, I'm talking about second year forwards who play their first 2 seasons between the ages of 22 and 25, and who produce between 50 and 65 points in their rookie and sophomore seasons.

Bozak has played 115 games in his first year and a half, and he's produced 21 goals and 57 points.  Despite his reduced output this season with only 30 points in 78 games, those numbers are still quite respectable overall.  On a per game perspective his immediate peer group production wise would include the following players.

Player

GP

G

A

Pts

PPG

TOI

Pts/60

Patric Hornqvist

108

32

26

58

0.54

1574

2.21

Mike Johnson

95

17

34

51

0.54

N/A

-

Anson Carter

116

27

34

61

0.53

N/A

-

Dustin Penner

101

33

19

52

0.51

1374

2.27

Tyler Bozak

115

21

36

57

0.50

2213

1.55

Ryan Craig

120

29

26

55

0.46

1841

1.79

David Backes

121

23

31

54

0.45

1714

1.89

Jay McClement

148

14

49

63

0.43

2059

1.84

Jonathan Cheechoo

147

37

26

63

0.43

2020

1.87

Rene Bourque

121

23

28

51

0.42

1886

1.62

David Booth

121

25

25

50

0.41

1640

1.83

Ruslan Fedotenko

152

33

29

62

0.41

2170

1.71

Here we can see that from a game by game perspective, Bozak is in some decent company.  Unfortunately, he's also playing bigger minutes than every player on that list.  This is where the being asked to do too much comes into play.  It is entirely possible that Bozak's development will peak at a lower level than this set of players, all of whom become 50+ point producers except for Ryan Craig (Craig's 3rd NHL season was decimated by injury, and he only played 9 hockey games - he has never really bounced back).

Secondly - before anyone jumps all over the raised minutes as a reason for concern, here are his peers from both a minutes played and points per game perspective.  This group is likely MORE indicative of the type of player he could develop into going forward.

Player

GP

G

A

Pts

PPG

TOI

Pts/60

Tomas Plekanec

150

29

47

76

0.51

2200

2.07

R.J. Umberger

154

36

30

66

0.43

2143

1.85

Jeff Halpern

159

39

32

71

0.45

2337

1.82

Erik Cole

134

30

37

67

0.50

2209

1.81

Nikolai Kulemin

151

31

36

67

0.44

2284

1.76

Niklas Hagman

158

18

33

51

0.32

2160

1.42

Samuel Pahlsson

156

10

19

29

0.19

2395

0.73

So using this group as more of a guideline, there should be some hope that he'll develop into solid and responsible defensive presence.  Unfortunately Bozak has the worst two season plus minus of this group at -33.  That's fairly comparable to  Pahlsson's -30, and Umberger's -23.  Despite the fact he has played roughly 40 fewer games than those two did, his ice time is quite comparable, thus giving him an equal opportunity to be on the ice for a goal against.

Umberger's first two seasons were played on the 2005-07 Flyers. Coached by defensive specialist Ken Hitchock as a rookie, he posted a +9 on a 101 point team, that received .896 goaltending.  In year 2 he posted the worst +/- on a team that finished dead last in goals against (-32).

If Bozak can develop into a comparable player to this set of forwards, I think long term he'll be a very capable 2nd or 3rd line C, and at this point he still has offensive upside down the line.  The higher end of possibilities would see  Bozak continue his recent string of production (3 g, 6 pts in his last 10 gp), and finish the season on a high note with another 2 or 3 points (or more).  That would give him 60 points in 119 games, a 0.50 ppg production rate and 1.57 pts/60 for his first 2 years.

Lastly, just for the sake of comparison using a number of advanced statistics here is a listing of Bozak and other centres around the NHL.  The first group is a set that have performed at a comparable level of with respect to  Balanced Corsi REL in the past few seasons.  The second group are centres from this year that have faced similar Corsi REL QoC.

Player

YR

TM

GP

G

P

OZ%

Z Shift

Corsi REL QoC

Corsi REL QoT

Balanced Corsi

Balanced Corsi REL

Olli Jokinen

2011

CGY

66*

14*

48*

52.3

+41

0.986

-1.565

-2.81*

-8.39*

Steve Sullivan

2009

NSH

41

11

32

61.2

-112

0.285

2.139

-13.24

-8.50

Mike Fisher

2010

OTT

79

25

53

51.3

+10

0.774

-0.814

-2.83

-8.75

Tyler Bozak

2011

TOR

68*

10*

24*

53.2

-47

0.277

-1.520

-10.54*

-9.15*

Evgeni Malkin

2009

PIT

82

35

113

63.7

-109

0.821

-0.583

-16.14

-9.20

Matt Lombardi

2008

CGY

82

14

36

49.4

+6

0.482

-2.176

-1.72

-9.32

Brendan Morrison

2011

CGY

66*

9*

43*

50.7

+2

0.775

-0.252

-3.91*

-9.73*

Jay McClement

2010

STL

82

11

29

41.2

+108

1.070

-2.176

-1.79

-9.83

Derek Roy

2011

BUF

35

10

35

61.3

-32

-0.406

1.247

-7.84

-10.10

Mike Cammalleri

2011

MTL

53*

15

36

51.9

-20

0.536

-1.342

-3.84

-10.31

Vincent Lecavalier

2011

TBL

50*

16*

37*

46.8

-21

0.284

1.184

1.52*

-3.61*

Josh Bailey

2011

NYI

56*

10*

24*

42.2

+32

0.276

-1.039

-2.09*

5.16*

Chris Kelly

2011

BOS

66*

12*

25*

45.8

+61

0.270

-0.536

0.73*

-2.64*

Gilbert Brule

2011

EDM

37*

7*

9*

49.3

-8

0.263

-0.183

-15.58*

-4.89*

Matt Stajan

2011

CGY

63*

5*

28*

52.4

-27

0.253

-0.823

3.28*

1.37*

Looking at this list, Matt Stajan, Chris Kelly, and Gilbert Brule seem to have had the most similar seasons to Bozak.  Unfortunately they all play far less, and yet their linemates are superior to Bozak's from a Corsi perspective.  These numbers indicate 3rd line level of production... obviously below expectations, but not necessarily entirely his fault.

In this context, Bozak is having an off year, but overall he has shown flashes of ability.  I think it is in everyone's best interests (including Bozak's) to with hold judgement on the player he's going to "develop" into for another season at least.

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