2009/04/03

Bruce Bennett

Tyler Bozak's Reign of Mediocrity continues unabated.

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 Sam Gagner Trade Arizona Edmonton
2014 Ryan Kesler Trade Anaheim Vancouver
2014 Jason Spezza Trade Dallas Ottawa
2014 R.J. Umberger Trade Philadelphia Columbus
2014 Paul Stastny UFA St. Louis Colorado
2014 Mikhail Grabovski UFA NY Islanders Washington
2014 Brad Richards UFA Chicago NY Rangers
2014 Mathieu Perrealt UFA Winnipeg Anaheim
2013 Tyler Seguin Trade Dallas Boston
2013 Derek Roy Trade Vancouver Dallas
2013 Valtteri Filppula UFA Tampa Bay Detroit
2013 Mikhail Grabovski UFA Washington Toronto
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
2011 Erik Cole UFA Montreal Carolina
2010 Olli Jokinen UFA Calgary NY Rangers
2009 Vaclav Prospal UFA NY Rangers Tampa Bay
2009 Saku Koivu UFA Montreal Anaheim
2009 Michael Cammalleri UFA Montreal Calgary

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.

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