It’s Time to Respect Tyler Bozak
“I just can’t get no respect. No respect, I tells ya…”
– Rodney Dangerfield
I’m sure there has to be nights Tyler Bozak stumbles upon some of the jargon written about him that reigns supreme in certain social media circles. He must take a breath, look in the mirror and say this very same thing to himself. “I can’t get no respect.”
When questioned on the matter, the well-spoken Bozak makes light of the skepticism he’s dealt with during his tenure here in Toronto. Since assuming the role of 1C in the Big Smoke the critique of Bozak has taken on a life of its own and become more of a cultish hobby than a view on performance. #Blowzak and witty remarks like these have been known to roam the internet consistently after a Leafs loss. They’ve been known to float around after a win as well, depending on Nazem Kadri’s ice-time chart or Bozak’s percentage of something I know little about being under another percentage I know less about.
There are multiple factors at play as to why Bozak has been met with so much angst. Admittedly I’m no expert, but apparently he’s an analytical nightmare and that seems to be across the board with those adept in dissecting these statistics. I won’t attempt to discredit that. He has always spent too much time in his own zone and he’s not a guy who is going to drive the play a ton.
There are obviously a few deficiencies in his game, though I think we are doing Bozak a disservice if we don’t look at the role he takes on with the Maple Leafs. Here’s a guy that for the most part has played on a line where he gets the workload. “Bozie will get it.” is more or less the theme since he’s been flanked on the top line. While patrolling the D-zone he’s not overly strong physically, but he is crafty enough to get by and perform the duties asked of him. We aren’t going to be handing out the Frank Selke after the story today to the Regina born centre-man, but he’s adequate.
Bozak has been the conscience of the Leafs top line for the last 3 seasons. I’m sorry Hubbers, this is no slight to the talent of Phil and JVR, but Bozak has carried more mail defensively than the guy who drops off at Kris Kringle’s. He has been counted on night after night to do the little things that don’t show up in an advanced stat sheet, but the types of plays that coaches and teammates recognize. That’s perhaps why it hurts to hear some of the comments hurled Bozak’s at times and why I chose to write this. Many of us at the Hub realize how a player like him is regarded by the guys both on the bench and behind it.
“Tyler is a dynamic, quick skater. He’s very good in his own end. He doesn’t need to be taught the defensive side of the game. He has a blue collar mentality, but he is dynamic.”
– George Gwozdecky
Now let’s not feel too bad for Tyler. He makes out just fine as far as rewards go for playing in between two gifted wingers. A good portion of his 24 million dollar contract is due to the innate skills of his line-mates. Nobody can deny he’s been given a glorious opportunity. Hey, he even made himself a best friend.
The relationship between “Bert and Ernie” has been well chronicled (though I thought one was the Cookie Monster…but anyways). One simply could not talk about Bozak without including his friendship with Maple Leafs star, Phil Kessel.
They’ve been roomie’s now for quite some time and the word is Phil still hasn’t seen a rent cheque. The boys have admittedly had a few “shakers” over at Phil’s Frat-House (as they should). Just two good guys being buds. We make light-hearted jokes about the relationship they share but there’s no doubt they are close. The bond between guys playing together runs deep.
If we are going to examine how Bozak’s made it all the way to the guestroom at Kessel’s pad, maybe we should have a look at how this undrafted BCHL star (he checked in at 5’9, 155 lbs at the time) got there and became the most heavily taxed forward on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The path that led him to the NHL was an unconventional one. After failing to make the grade in the WHL the center made the most of things and dominated a league inferior to handle his ability, where he racked up 128 points in 59 games. Through his stand out play he then earned himself a spot on the University of Denver Pioneers. This is where Bozak rounded out his development, adding both height and weight while growing into the responsible player we see today.
Bozak had a successful first year in Denver, where he led his team in scoring with 34 PTS in 41 GP. He was well on the way to doing so his sophomore season (23 PTS in 19 GP) when a torn meniscus forced him to miss half of the season. His showing in the Rockies made him the most sought after UFA coming out of the college ranks. Bozak also earned the praise and trust of his then coach, George Gwozdecky, a highly respected man in the hockey community. You’ll notice a trend forming.
Gwozdecky compared Tyler to St.Louis Blues center and former U of D alumni, Paul Stastny, saying while no two players are the same, he thought they mirrored each other in many ways. He sighted Stastny as more of a playmaker and Bozak a finisher.
The coach went on to tell the Globe and Mail’s Tim Wharnsby in April of 2009, “Tyler is a dynamic, quick skater. He’s very good in his own end. He doesn’t need to be taught the defensive side of the game. He has a blue collar mentality, but he is dynamic.”
Brian Burke went to work that summer, wining and dining, and brought in three college free agents. Christian Hanson, Viktor Stalberg, but none more coveted than prairie boy, Tyler Bozak.
Bozak began the 2009-10 season in the American Hockey League with the Leafs farm team, the Toronto Marlies. A slow start had many worried about the promising 23 year old, but staff and scouts suggested that the bright young man may be thinking the game at a higher level than his teammates. After coming around a little he began to produce and after 32 games in the minors, he received the call from the big club to put that theory to the test. He’s never looked back.
His education in the NHL was trial by fire, where in 2010-11 he played in all 82 games, compiling a plus/minus rating of -29. His 15 goals and 17 assists were respectable, but there was obvious room for improvement. Coach Ron Wilson was not alarmed and often referenced the fact that Bozak just needed some seasoning and would continue to improve. It didn’t take long before he earned Wilson’s trust and held a prominent role during the aforementioned coach’s tenure.
Which leads us to present day. Tyler Bozak is easily Randy Carlyle’s favorite forward. Carlyle puts full faith in Bozak and utilizes the Swiss Army knife in all situations. He takes 35% of the teams draws, a number closer to 90% if you zero in on the important ones. He is winning over 54% of those draws and last night in Denver, a home-coming of sorts, we saw a prime example of how good he can be in the dot. He also chipped in a PP goal and added another in the shoot-out. It’s worth noting that Bozak’s numbers in the skils competition we call on to end games are staggering. He has become a breakaway specialist and more often than not, if Bozak gets in alone the light is going red. His shift in the 3rd period was likely the best of the game where he won the puck over and over to keep the Avs hemmed in their zone.
Last night represented the perfect display of what this guy brings to the table. He brings it consistently. You can hang your hat on the effort and play that you’ll get from him. There’s no surprises here. The Leafs get an honest, intelligent game from Bozak, night in and night out.
Pointing further to last night, he did it without Phil Kessel. Many expect Bozak to fall on his face now that he doesn’t have Kessel on his wing. “His production will dip.” No kidding? You stop playing with maybe the most dangerous player in the NHL I’d expect some drop off. When I checked the stats today though, Bozak has 12 PTS in 13 GMS. Now many of those points are attributed to Kessel, but it’s not like Bozak will forget how to skate without Phil. He has a skill set that is transferable between lines. At 4.2 million a year, I’m going to take that production and run.
Three consecutive coaches, men who don’t throw praise around lightly, have gushed over Bozak when asked for their assessment. This surely cannot be a coincidence, can it?
Look, we spend most of our time when discussing Tyler Bozak talking about what he isn’t. “He’s not a number one center” or “He’s not a good possession player” or “He brings Phil down”.
Is he a franchise-type center? No, not even close. As the Leafs continue to grow and add, Bozak will take his appropriate spot in the line-up. A role more suitable and we are already seeing signs of him slotting in accordingly, while remaining the teams “Jack of all trades”.
Is he a possession giant? No, he doesn’t drive zone play or control the puck much. Though isn’t it more important to ask ourselves “What does he do when he gets it?” Most times, he’s doing something clever with it and making the play that the coaches expect.
As far as bringing Phil down or narratives like that I’m not even going to touch. All I really have to say there is that here’s a guy who continues to improve each year he’s in the league.
So how about we try this? How about we talk about what Tyler Bozak IS.
Three consecutive coaches, men who don’t throw praise around lightly, have gushed over Bozak when asked for their assessment. This surely cannot be a coincidence, can it? Three men who’ve seen countless players over their careers, all with nothing but compliments when asked about number 42 for the Leafs. These are tough coaches. You don’t become their “pet” by accident.
Enough is enough with the Bozak debate. It’s high time that the fan base appreciates this guy. I think in some cases an “I was wrong” is in order. Or even a “yeah, he’s not bad actually”. Though I won’t hold my breath on any of that and I will say if I had to say sorry for all the times I was wrong about a player this would be my last article. I’d be too busy drafting apology letters.
We are a good fan base. There needs to be some common ground on this. Here’s where I think we should settle.
Is Bozak a stud center? Nope.
Is he one heck of a player that makes this team better? He most certainly is. Tyler Bozak is a big part of what the Leafs are trying to become and I hope he’s here to stay for many years.
Bottom line is that “Bozie” has done more than enough to finally earn the respect of Leafs Nation.
At LeafsHub.com he already has it.