As I write this sentence, Tyler Bozak has been a Toronto Maple Leaf for 1,930 days. Coincidentally, by the day the 2014-15 season is set to start, Bozak will have been a Leaf for 2015 days.
If following the Montréal Canadiens is a religion, then being a fan of the Leafs must be akin to Existentialism.
Don't get me wrong, Brian Burke made a great move when he signed Bozak as a free agent out of the NCAA. Short-term UFA contracts for young players looking to prove themselves are every NHL general manager's dream come true, and when Bozak agreed to head north to Toronto, the Leafs gained a tradeable asset for nothing but cap space. The problem, of course, is that neither Burke nor his Shakespearian Brutus, Dave Nonis, have been able to recognize that 1) Tyler Bozak is not a first-line centre, and that 2) and upgrade is necessary in that position.
It's true, the Leafs have talked about upgrading at centre long enough, but if they actually recognized the severity of the problem facing them, they'd already have a top-line player skating with Phil Kessel.
You can read piles of articles outlining why Bozak needs to go, but I'd prefer to focus our collective attention on the simple fact that five seasons is entirely too long to go without having made an upgrade.
"But it's difficult to get a first-line centre!" you'll say. Yes, it's true, they don't grow on proverbial trees, but perhaps they're available more often than we've come to think. Cost is another matter, but let's just consider for a moment some of the centres who have changed teams since Bozak put his tiny feet into Mats Sundin's giant, vacant shoes. Shush, Matt Stajan.
Update: Because I made some silly omissions, I've updated the list.
|Year||Name||Trade/UFA||New Team||Old Team|
|2014||Paul Stastny||UFA||St. Louis||Colorado|
|2014||Mikhail Grabovski||UFA||NY Islanders||Washington|
|2014||Brad Richards||UFA||Chicago||NY Rangers|
|2013||Valtteri Filppula||UFA||Tampa Bay||Detroit|
|2012||Jeff Carter||Trade||Los Angeles||Columbus|
|2011||Mike Richards||Trade||Los Angeles||Philadelphia|
|2011||Vaclav Prospal||UFA||Columbus||NY Rangers|
|2011||Brad Richards||UFA||Tampa Bay||NY Rangers|
|2010||Olli Jokinen||UFA||Calgary||NY Rangers|
|2009||Vaclav Prospal||UFA||NY Rangers||Tampa Bay|
A few notes on this list:
1) Some players, like Cammalleri, have played both wing and centre. In Cammalleri's case, I only included his earlier change in team because it was mostly earlier in his career that he played at C.
2) Some players became available during free agency but opted to re-sign with their old teams, with Henrik Sedin being perhaps the most high-profile instance of this, back in 2009.
3) It's important to keep in mind that many of the above-listed players are perhaps not massive upgrades on Bozak, but most of them would have been at least a marginal improvement at the listed time of their change of teams. Some of the listed players came available more than once but would only have been an improvement at one of those times due to age/injuries/development, etc.
4) The Leafs would probably have been stupid to sign Vaclav Prospal, or whatever else you may choose to single out from this list. The point is that the Leafs' top centre is Tyler Bozak, and that a lot of superior centremen have changed teams since he joined the Leafs, and there's really no excuse not to have had at least ONE of those players.
5) No pressure, William Nylander.