Tyler Bozak is an awful top 6 center and here’s why

Claus Andersen

The Leafs (and Randy Carlyle) may have the worst top 6 C selection of any NHL franchise - but Nazem Kadri could be the solution to that problem. *Updated with FANCY NEW NUMBERS*

This posting started as an analysis of Tyler Bozak - and what he might be costing the Leafs at both ends of the ice in comparison to other NHL Centres of comparable value. Eventually as I looked further into it - it has morphed into a more full blown dissection of just how awful the Leafs selection of their top 6 C`s might actually be. I'm going to look at things here in 3 parts - first I'll explain my methodology in selecting my set of NHL C's for the sake of comparison. Secondly, I'll explore how the Leafs C's stack up against the competition offensively and defensively. To conclude I'm going to explore alternative options that make sense to me - and illustrate just how concerning this should be for Leafs fans.

Selection of Comparable Cs

Initially I started off looking at all forwards with over 1000 minutes of TOI in the prior 2 seasons, but then I thought that if I'm looking at Bozak specifically, it makes more sense to compare him to his peers. Then I had to decide how I narrow down on C's and specifically C's with an offensively slanted top 6 role in the NHL. To that end, I started off by totaling up the face-off numbers for all the players in the NHL over the past 2 NHL seasons and this year so far, and comparing the ratio of Power Play to Short Handed draws to weed out C's that largely take on a defensive role with limited offensive usage.

I set the ratio for the cut off at 0.75 initially filtering out any C that had 3 PP draws for every 4 SH draws. Unfortunately for some NHL clubs this limited me to one top 6 C, so in certain instances I included the next highest C for a given team. Some teams also ended up including 3 C's as they either had recently added a top 6 C, or the player had previously had that role for a prior franchise. Thus the total group of players to have played the role in the past 2+ years ended up at around 75 skaters. Unfortunately a number of rookie or second year players with limited minutes ended up on the list and their 2 year data wasn't worth including in the sample. Those players specifically include Barkov in FLA, Monahan in CGY, and Arcobello in EDM. This left me with a group of 72 NHL Centres that have played significant 1st or 2nd line minutes over the past 2 years.

The specific players I would like Leafs fans to focus on here are Bozak, Bolland, and Kadri - the 3 current Leafs that made the list. I'll be including all the data for every player I looked at for the posting though, so if you're reading this and you're NOT a Leafs fan - feel free to follow along through the methodology to see where your players end up.

Offensive and Defensive Analysis

Ok - so in looking at Bozak as a top six C, there are two key areas of concern: his offensive contribution and his defensive role. He doesn't play goal so I'll be ignoring his impacts on team SV%, but everything else is basically fair game. First his offensive contributions are up for discussion and debate.

Offensively, a player can contribute in a number of ways, but the outcomes are what most fans pay closest attention to. Goal production tends to be what resonates for most fans, but goals are a result of shots, and passes that lead to shots.

I think there's really only one obvious option here - and that's to make Kadri the top line C for the future... and the future is now.


Last season Rob Vollman at Hockey Prospectus introduced the concept of "passes". Unfortunately the idea would ideally be to track passes that lead to shot attempts on net, but that data isn't logged by the NHL (and if teams are tracking it they don't share with the public). So rather than sit back and do nothing - as so many anti-stat types would have us do! - a proxy solution appears to arise out of some logic and simple math. I've modified Vollman's calculations here by using Fenwick Events rather than shots on goal.

Basically if we assume that a player's 1st Assists (passes that do lead directly to goals) are distributed fairly evenly over the long term (i.e. he'll be credited for a fairly equivalent proportion of passes that do score goals as he is for passes that don't) we can generally assume this ratio holds for most players.

Obviously in some instances this could be an underestimate (i.e. Crosby likely has a higher proportion of his passes end up as goals than a player like oh - Trevor Smith?), but this likelihood is compensated for in the other aspect of the calculation - which is the players' On-Ice SH%. That is to say the percentage of shots that actually end up in the net.

For this calculation I'm actually going to use Teammate Fenwick SH% - which is basically the On-Ice SH% of all Fenwick Events (shots on goal and missed shots - but no blocked shots) by a player's team-mates when he is on the ice (we do this so the player isn't penalized because of the shots they're taking that go in for goals). If we take the players' 1st Assist rate per 60 and divide it by the players' Teammate Fenwick SH% we should get a decent approximation of the Fenwick Attempts that resulted from passes by the player. That is to say, the number of unblocked shot attempts the player set up or produced the final pass for. Obviously there is SOME randomness in this calculation's results, but the idea is that over the long term that randomness would wash out.

To this we can add the individual Fenwick Events the player is responsible for on their own, i.e. the Fenwick Events that they produce per 60 minutes. If we combine these two values - iFenwick Events and Fenwick Passes - we get an idea of how much offense the player is actually responsible for while they're on the ice. This ignores the SH% aspect in the sense that it should just give us a proxy for the events occurring as a direct result of the efforts of the player.

Here is the listing of my set of 72 NHL top 6 C's - ranked by their Total Fenwick Event production (iFenwick + "passes") rate per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time over the previous two seasons (2011-13). Their percentile score is also shown - this is the percentage of C's in the data set that have fewer passes than the player in question.

Player Team TOI iFen FirstA/60 iFen/60 Fen Pass/60 iFen Event
MALKIN, EVGENI PIT 1591.02 348 1.244 13.124 20.16 33.28
CROSBY, SIDNEY PIT 841.07 168 2.212 11.985 20.89 32.87
COUTURE, LOGAN SJS 1725.43 381 0.696 13.249 18.79 32.04
SPEZZA, JASON OTT 1277.23 249 1.174 11.697 18.53 30.22
BERGERON, PATRICE BOS 1665.82 337 1.008 12.138 16.95 29.08
STAAL, ERIC CAR 1975.77 359 1.124 10.902 17.50 28.40
KADRI, NAZEM TOR 878.45 158 1.434 10.792 16.90 27.69
TAVARES, JOHN NYI 2104.70 406 0.855 11.574 15.77 27.34
KOPITAR, ANZE LAK 1896.37 323 0.823 10.22 16.41 26.63
GIROUX, CLAUDE PHI 1782.58 320 1.043 10.771 15.83 26.60
ZETTERBERG, HENRIK DET 1846.77 406 0.877 13.191 13.28 26.47
TURRIS, KYLE OTT 1473.32 268 0.611 10.914 15.10 26.01
STAAL, JORDAN CAR 1593.05 271 0.753 10.207 15.59 25.80
DATSYUK, PAVEL DET 1663.07 272 1.01 9.813 15.56 25.37
SEGUIN, TYLER DAL 1796.90 450 0.701 15.026 10.13 25.16
PAVELSKI, JOE SJS 1855.28 391 0.582 12.645 12.46 25.11
TOEWS, JONATHAN CHI 1528.08 304 0.785 11.937 13.02 24.96
KESLER, RYAN VAN 1257.28 234 0.668 11.167 13.32 24.48
CULLEN, MATT NAS 1453.00 219 0.991 9.043 15.12 24.16
DUCHENE, MATT COL 1447.55 255 0.58 10.57 13.49 24.06
FILPPULA, VALTTERI TBL 1704.83 244 0.985 8.587 15.29 23.88
HANDZUS, MICHAL CHI 1185.48 131 0.81 6.63 17.22 23.85
KREJCI, DAVID BOS 1846.37 259 0.877 8.416 15.33 23.74
GETZLAF, RYAN ANA 1943.98 266 0.926 8.21 15.12 23.33
THORNTON, JOE SJS 1863.30 215 0.869 6.923 16.21 23.13
RIBEIRO, MIKE PHX 1771.48 218 0.881 7.384 15.53 22.92
O_REILLY, RYAN COL 1618.05 241 0.667 8.937 13.94 22.88
PLEKANEC, TOMAS MTL 1672.05 312 0.574 11.196 11.40 22.60
BACKES, DAVID STL 1905.60 352 0.598 11.083 11.47 22.55
BENN, JAMIE DAL 1616.57 336 0.594 12.471 9.67 22.15
STEPAN, DEREK NYR 1841.62 279 0.815 9.09 12.98 22.07
STAMKOS, STEVEN TBL 2142.47 413 0.672 11.566 10.44 22.01
GRABOVSKI, MIKHAIL WAS 1702.50 291 0.634 10.255 11.73 21.98
BACKLUND, MIKAEL CGY 943.20 203 0.382 12.914 8.98 21.89
LITTLE, BRYAN WPG 1818.83 237 0.759 7.818 14.04 21.86
ZAJAC, TRAVIS NJD 873.10 114 0.481 7.834 13.37 21.21
BACKSTROM, NICKLAS WAS 1262.95 180 0.76 8.551 12.64 21.19
RICHARDS, BRAD NYR 1892.52 297 0.634 9.416 11.69 21.11
ELLER, LARS MTL 1535.15 246 0.664 9.615 11.46 21.08
LECAVALIER, VINCENT TBL 1459.35 228 0.863 9.374 11.70 21.07
SEDIN, HENRIK VAN 1861.52 163 1.031 5.254 15.72 20.97
GOC, MARCEL FLA 1359.82 195 0.618 8.604 12.17 20.78
HANZAL, MARTIN PHX 1395.00 255 0.559 10.968 9.39 20.36
CAMMALLERI, MIKE CGY 1496.68 241 0.561 9.661 10.64 20.30
ANISIMOV, ARTEM CLB 1389.32 207 0.561 8.94 11.01 19.95
DUBINSKY, BRANDON CLB 1337.55 211 0.583 9.465 10.21 19.67
STASTNY, PAUL COL 1715.93 272 0.455 9.511 10.15 19.67
RICHARDS, MIKE LAK 1496.70 236 0.441 9.461 10.17 19.63
JOHANSEN, RYAN CLB 1245.17 171 0.578 8.24 11.18 19.42
HODGSON, CODY BUF 1556.22 246 0.617 9.485 9.92 19.41
KOIVU, MIKKO MIN 1515.58 230 0.515 9.105 10.25 19.35
LEGWAND, DAVID NAS 1782.03 214 0.64 7.205 12.02 19.23
BRASSARD, DERICK NYR 1532.73 188 0.665 7.359 11.73 19.09
VERMETTE, ANTOINE PHX 1682.78 248 0.571 8.842 10.09 18.93
NIELSEN, FRANS NYI 1617.83 229 0.593 8.493 10.07 18.57
OTT, STEVE BUF 1640.50 208 0.585 7.607 10.50 18.10
WEISS, STEPHEN DET 1423.38 150 0.59 6.323 11.35 17.68
BERGLUND, PATRIK STL 1665.07 272 0.396 9.801 7.77 17.57
GAGNER, SAM EDM 1720.87 269 0.558 9.379 7.77 17.15
DESHARNAIS, DAVID MTL 1722.18 153 0.766 5.33 11.55 16.88
SCHENN, BRAYDEN PHI 1217.32 181 0.345 8.921 7.82 16.74
BRODZIAK, KYLE MIN 1767.58 269 0.272 9.131 7.50 16.63
NUGENT-HOPKINS, RYAN EDM 1448.20 225 0.456 9.322 7.18 16.51
JOKINEN, OLLI WPG 1799.12 278 0.433 9.271 7.23 16.50
ROY, DEREK STL 1685.30 228 0.463 8.117 8.06 16.18
HENRIQUE, ADAM NJD 1593.68 190 0.489 7.153 8.78 15.93
STAJAN, MATT CGY 1298.60 142 0.647 6.561 9.36 15.92
FISHER, MIKE NAS 1611.10 245 0.372 9.124 6.40 15.52
KRUGER, MARCUS CHI 1378.05 155 0.435 6.749 8.76 15.51
BOLLAND, DAVE TOR 1336.27 151 0.404 6.78 7.05 13.83
BOZAK, TYLER TOR 1738.62 175 0.483 6.039 7.61 13.65
KOIVU, SAKU ANA 1606.07 153 0.486 5.716 7.69 13.40

Ok - so a couple of things I'd like to point out - Bolland and Bozak are 70th and 71st respectively on this list. Kadri is 7th, Grabovski was 33rd. Carlyle - until he was forced to by Bozak's injury - has been playing Bozak as his top line C. He played him ahead of Grabvski, he's playing him ahead of Kadri, he's even played him ahead of Bolland who looks like Chicago's own version of Bozak frankly.

Just an aside on this point - maybe this helps explain WHY Chicago had Bolland as their 3rd C? Just a suggestion that maybe the Stanley Cup champions, who have won multiple times in recent years, and do well according to fancy stats, know more about his value than the Leafs? But I digress.

So - this discussion inevitably leads to a discussion of the fact that Bozak plays with the most productive wingers in the NHL (Kessel/Lupul/JvR) and he deserves credit for that fact. In reality he participates in the lowest percentage of Fenwick Events of ANY of the C's on this list (32% of those that occur with him on the ice). Nazem Kadri - oh so ironically - leads this list of NHL players by participating in a whopping 69% of the Fenwick events that occur while he is on the ice.

It should be noted that much of Kadri's ice time in recent years has occurred alongside Clarke MacArthur, Nikolai Kulemin, Joffrey Lupul, and Matt Frattin - Who range from the low end for top 6 wingers in Fenwick Event production to the very high end (Lupul). His top 2 wingers (MacArthur and Kulemin) combine to rank 46th for the top 2 line mates in iCorsi for this group of C`s (33rd percentile). This hasn't seemed to cause a drastic shift in Kadri's output on the passes front - where he ranks 7th.

Bozak ranks 67th in passes and Bolland ranks 71st - but Bozak's top 2 line mates ranked 5th in combined iCorsi while Bolland`s ranked 29th. Bolland has a bit of an excuse on that front (not much of one) while Bozak just sucks.

All evidence would indicate that offensively speaking Bozak is a total passenger on his line, who happens to benefit occasionally from being present when goals are scored.

So maybe his value lies in the defensive end? Unfortunately all evidence would contradict that as well. Using the regression technique I have used to compare a player's Expected Corsi to their actual Corsi (based on situational usage) dCorsi, Bozak is actually the 678th worst NHL forward - of the 712 to play 200+ minutes at 5v5 from 2007 through last season - defensively. (Bolland is a slightly better 600th in the same ranking)

Bozak's dCorsiA (Delta Corsi Against) is -1.922, which implies he is dragging down his linemates significantly.  Bolland posted a -1.122 in Chicago over the last 6 years.  For the sake of comparison Phil Kessel is only a -0.682, which is well within 1 standard deviation (1.175) of the mean value of 0. Bozak is 1.636 standard deviations below the mean - he is significantly below average defensively. This is NOT a reason to play him on a top line.

Nazem Kadri ranks 270th defensively with a dCorsiA of +0.301 (he helps his linemates reduce Corsi events against). He is vastly superior to Bozak from a defensive possession standpoint.

Options

I think there's really only one obvious option here - and that's to make Kadri the top line C for the future... and the future is now.


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