Perhaps There's Something to Those Bozak Rumors

@ me

Phil Kocher

Managing Editor at Cleared for Contact
I believe in Nate Silver, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Christopher Hitchens, and hockey analytics.
Blogging between diaper changes.
@ me

In a bit of Sunday food for thought, Larry Brooks of the New York Post has effectively legitimized those Bozak rumors from early last week that suggested the New York Rangers had kicked tires on the 31-year old center.

If the Maple Leafs’ addition of Marleau prompts the club to solicit offers for Tyler Bozak, the 31-year-old center whose average ice time has declined from 20:57 to 16:26 over the past four seasons, expect the Rangers to be among the interested parties.

Nick Holden likely would be the opening ante to get in on Bozak, a one-year right-handed rental at $4.2 million who habitually has excelled at the dots (56.7 last year, 53.6 for his eight-year career), is capable offensively (18 goals, 37 assists, 55 points last season) and would slot into the middle two or three with Kevin Hayes behind Mika Zibanejad.

While Brooks’ report doesn’t confirm the Rangers have touched base with the Maple Leafs, it does confirm a level of interest worth noting.

The Rangers Need Another Center

Having lost two NHL caliber centers to start the current offseason—Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes in a trade, and Oscar Lindberg to the Vegas Golden Knights via expansion—the Rangers were already expected to be in the market for at least one center via trade or free agency. David Desharnais was signed a little under a week ago, presumably to backfill the role of Oscar Lindberg as the Blueshirts’ fourth-line center, which still leaves a sizable hole in either the two or three spot where Kevin Hayes is expected to compete for one of the available roles.

Brooks did confirm in this same report that the Rangers had a significant interest in bringing in 38-year old Joe Thornton, with the two sides having “extended, productive talks”, but Thornton ultimately re-upped with the San Jose Sharks for another year worth upward of $8M.

However, aside from Thornton, Unrestricted Free Agency (UFA) was never a very promising or deep pool for the Rangers to find a solution. Many of the other options available signed deals far too lucrative and/or lengthy for the Rangers to justifiably entertain—including players like Nick Bonino, Brian Boyle, and Martin Hanzal, for example—which explains the Rangers’ would be interest in Bozak.

With Restricted Free Agent (RFA) Mika Zibanejad in need of a long-term deal that should carry an Annual Average Value (AAV) of at least $5M, and with special thanks to the $2.9M that just opened up due to Kevin Klein’s decision to retire, the Rangers project to have a little over $3M to play with in acquiring one more center.

Making the Case

As Brooks noted, defenseman Nick Holden, who carries with him a $1.65M AAV for one more year, could be used to offset the salary cap space needed to bring in Bozak. In fact, if no other significantly priced items were included in the deal, a one-for-one trade should leave both teams salary cap compliant to start the season.

Plus, there’s much to like about Bozak beyond the handful of positives Brooks shared in his column. Not only is he an ace-in-the-hole at the dot—an area of the game the Rangers could surely improve—but he’s a fantastic skater with solid two-way instincts. Should the Rangers acquire him, those attributes should translate well to Alain Vigneault’s system that relies so heavily on quality skating and intelligence in all three zones.

Best of all, Bozak is a quality special teams player. His 63 Power Play Points (PPP) are fourth-highest on the Leafs over the last five seasons behind Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel (now with the Pittsburgh Penguins), and James van Riemsdyk.

In terms of possession metrics, he’s also been particularly reliable over the last two seasons in which the Leafs have bounced back with a star-studded cast of young talent. He has a two-year Corsi-For percentage (CF%) of 52.1%, and a Fenwick-for percentage (FF%) of 50.55% over the same span, all at five-on-five, and all while skating with only a slight edge toward offensive zone starts (oZS%) (54.85 oZS% to 45.15 dZS%).

Oddly, though his total time-on-ice has fallen each of the last three seasons, falling to a career-low 16:25 last season, as Brooks highlighted originally, his Points Per Game Played (P/GP) has actually increased in each of those seasons, as he finished last year with a 0.71 P/GP average. At the age of 31 (he’ll turn 32 in March) it’s difficult to project just how likely it is to continue to increase again this season, but even if it stayed flat, that’s still a projection of 58 points over 82 games, which is stellar second-line center production in today’s NHL.

A Need-for-Need Deal?

Given the Rangers rather dire need to find a quality second- or third-line center, Bozak is clearly a fine trade target to zero in on. The fact he’s a UFA at the end of the season is actually a positive, too, because it minimizes the risk should the trade derail his progress, or should he fail to find his footing under the bright lights of Broadway. In dealing Holden to the Leafs as part of the deal, they would also be trading from a surplus of NHL-caliber defensemen who can’t all make the opening lineup now that the Rangers have re-signed Brendan Smith and acquired Kevin Shattenkirk.

Conversely, from the Leafs’ perspective, Holden, who scored 35 points for the Rangers last season, is also a UFA at the end of the upcoming season and shares a similar risk/reward scenario for a young Leafs group who could arguably improve upon their third pairing while providing quality veteran leadership.

Still, assuming the cost isn’t too much more than a return of Nick Holden, it’s a deal the Rangers should absolutely be willing to make. Bozak would be a fine stop-gap solution to their middle-six depth problem, and might even help to keep Kevin Hayes protected in the third center position in which he registered career-high numbers playing at this past season. The Rangers have a strong NHL-ready or near-NHL-ready prospect in Lias Andersson, who they took seventh overall in this past Entry Draft, who should be in competition for a middle-six center role with the Blueshirts this season or next, but unless the Rangers are supremely confident in his ability to make the jump immediately (and to succeed once he does so), someone like Bozak is exactly the kind of player worth bringing in in the short-term.


All contract and salary information courtesy of CapFriendly.com
All analytics data courtesy of Puckalytics.com

Discussion
  1. Definitely a good team to ice with some question marks which could really pan out well for us. If nothing else, with cap room, it'll make deadline day that much more interesting depending on how the beginning of the season goes.
    this thread is awesome. worth a read again from the top. great give and take and sound discussion.
    guess holden's the new whipping boy.
    personally i'd like to see how camp plays out. give the kid a shot to crack the 3c. no sense making a rash move. nice to have a bit of cap space to play with.
    Zuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuc
    This. How in the world could we possibly lose a trade where we give away dog shit Holden who is a 6/7th D for a 2nd or 3rd pair guranteed 45-60 points center?
    I couldn't care less for Holden. I would give him away for free just to free up some cap space. Getting Bozak back? Holy shit what a deal that would be by the front office.

    Well it's also the fact that a 2nd rounder or more would have to be included. I'm not exactly sure Bozak is any better than Miller at center. Obviously the face offs, yeah but everything else?
    The cap space going to an uncomfortably tight number was also brought up as well as Holdens ability to slot up if there is an injury.
    Obviously with no cap and no picks the trade is a no brainier.
    Zuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuc
    Then we dump him after the season and finds someone new.
    I would trade Holden for a bag of pucks. Why would they even give up Bozak for Holden??

    Meant for this coming season. Give up on the season because you struck out on Bozak?
    I'm on the fence. It's sounds like a good idea. Probably the only logical solution that has been presented... But do you deal from what little depth on D you have as well as picks, for a borderline 2nd line center and eat up all the cap space, making it impossible to make another deal if he doesn't work out?
    I say yes, only because there doesn't seem to be any other deal that people are talking about. They need another good center, If this is all that's out there, I guess you gotta do it.
    Staal and DeAngelo as the third pair?........ I guess so.
    Mikey37
    The popular thought process is that it doesn't matter if Shatty can't play D because his possession stats tell everyone that the Rangers will have the puck more. Even tongue in cheek I still can't believe I just wrote that.

    I mean, that's why I didn't want to sign him.
    I didn't say that this team was immediately better because of the moves either, just that it would be a good offseason if that's how it went down.
    Mikey37
    The popular thought process is that it doesn't matter if Shatty can't play D because his possession stats tell everyone that the Rangers will have the puck more. Even tongue in cheek I still can't believe I just wrote that.

    I'm wondering how quickly the fan base starts to question those numbers when they see him on a daily basis.
    More likely, they blame AV for sheltering his minutes.
    josh
    Ironic, "fix the blue line"!!!
    Can't play d, can't play d, can't play d, can't play, can't play d.
    But we're better!
    Yeah...
    This is another half assed half in/half out weak ass move that has left the Rangers meddling in bubble land year after year.

    The popular thought process is that it doesn't matter if Shatty can't play D because his possession stats tell everyone that the Rangers will have the puck more. Even tongue in cheek I still can't believe I just wrote that.
    Future
    Rangers would really be winning the offseason, regardless of Shatt, if they trade Step, Raanta and Holden for #7, Bozak, Pavelec and DeAngelo (assuming he's a regular).

    Ironic, "fix the blue line"!!!
    Can't play d, can't play d, can't play d, can't play, can't play d.
    But we're better!
    Yeah...
    This is another half assed half in/half out weak ass move that has left the Rangers meddling in bubble land year after year.
    Vodka Drunkenski
    Suddenly we're worried about losing a 3rd pairing defenseman to replace one of the top two centers. What's going on here

    This. How in the world could we possibly lose a trade where we give away dog shit Holden who is a 6/7th D for a 2nd or 3rd pair guranteed 45-60 points center?
    I couldn't care less for Holden. I would give him away for free just to free up some cap space. Getting Bozak back? Holy shit what a deal that would be by the front office.
    The Dude
    I'm definitely not into Holden, but do we want to ditch him that badly? He's on a decent contract, he played better than I could have ever expected and is now relegated to the third pair, and can slot up in a pinch.. I mean I HATE Holden, but maybe they should keep him? Who is the insurance policy in case of an injury? Do we want the Rangers to be that tight to the cap?
    I like the idea. Just not sure it's a water tight plan. If they are going to make a move, I think they need to aim higher. If Bozak fails, they're probably stuck with him. Then what?

    Then you tell him to fuck off because he's a FA next year.
    I'm definitely not into Holden, but do we want to ditch him that badly? He's on a decent contract, he played better than I could have ever expected and is now relegated to the third pair, and can slot up in a pinch.. I mean I HATE Holden, but maybe they should keep him? Who is the insurance policy in case of an injury? Do we want the Rangers to be that tight to the cap?
    I like the idea. Just not sure it's a water tight plan. If they are going to make a move, I think they need to aim higher. If Bozak fails, they're probably stuck with him. Then what?
    Future
    Yea, except for the fact that, dating back to the start of the 2012 season, Bozak averages 2:51 PPTOI/game on the powerplay and Stepan is only at 2:34.

    If we want to get technical, Bozak had 28 PP points to Stepan's 32, in about 40 less PP minutes, from 2015 to present...
    In that same time period Bozak was 225 - 157 on PP faceoffs compared to Stepan's 131 - 150
    Bugg
    Thing is, Stepan got tons of PP time, doubt Bozak got nearly that much with the Leafs. You would not ask Bozak to be the top C, but to be a 2 or a 3. Stepan's 1st assists number is probably better because of that. No doubt much as he annoyed Stepan was defensively responsible.

    Yea, except for the fact that, dating back to the start of the 2012 season, Bozak averages 2:51 PPTOI/game on the powerplay and Stepan is only at 2:34.
    Drew a Penalty

    I'd be cool with adding Bozak. He's basically an older Stepan that's not as good defensively. He fills in that hole pretty well. I don't think he'd take Step's minutes but you'd at least have Zib-Bozak as your 1-2 as opposed to having Zib-Hayes.

    Thing is, Stepan got tons of PP time, doubt Bozak got nearly that much with the Leafs. You would not ask Bozak to be the top C, but to be a 2 or a 3. Stepan's 1st assists number is probably better because of that. No doubt much as he annoyed Stepan was defensively responsible.
    Rangers would really be winning the offseason, regardless of Shatt, if they trade Step, Raanta and Holden for #7, Bozak, Pavelec and DeAngelo (assuming he's a regular).

    I'd be cool with adding Bozak. He's basically an older Stepan that's not as good defensively. He fills in that hole pretty well. I don't think he'd take Step's minutes but you'd at least have Zib-Bozak as your 1-2 as opposed to having Zib-Hayes.
    Again, my general disapproval of the concept of trading draft picks is well-documented on this board. However, finally having a puck moving RHD (possibly two depending on DeAngelo), and one of the best in the league to boot, the addition by subtraction effect of losing Girardi, the permanent addition of Smith, the emergence of Skjei (and hopefully Buch this season), and having Lindy Ruff on board, leads me to believe that if we're going to get it done with this "core," this is the season to do it.
    We gave up a pretty damn good prospect and two 2nd rounders for the ghost of Eric Staal. I would be more than okay with shedding Holden (again addition by subtraction) to add a center like Bozak that can win draws and play up and down the lineup. And I'd be willing to part with a 2nd rounder to do it. At that point, with the exception of not having that truly ELITE #1 center that all the recent Cup champs have (which we won't get without picking first overall one year), this will be the most complete team we've iced post-lockout, bar none.
    Bozak would be one of those savvy, sort of under the radar moves that makes all the difference in the world for a Cup run. And I wouldn't wait until the deadline to do it. I'd want him to have a full training camp and season to get acclimated by the time the playoffs start.
    And no, I'm not saying Tyler Bozak is "the answer," or turns a team in to instant Cup contenders. But in our never-ending search for that "one last piece" to put us over the top, for once that one last piece isn't something massive, drastic or prohibitively expensive. If we're going to have a shot at getting Henrik a Cup, a move like this is vital to our chances.
    Long story short: I'd absolutely give Holden and a 2nd. Possibly an additional lower pick if needed. Now's the time. I think that a move like that would finally be justified, after years of chasing the biggest name every deadline and paying out the ass to do it, while throwing everything at the wall and praying it sticks.

42 comments

  1. Pingback: Another Look at a Marc Staal Buyout - Cleared for Contact

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *