Toronto Maple Leafs: Wave Goodbye to Tyler Bozak

By Lukas Hardonk (@LukasHardonk)

In case you have been living in a cave for the last year or so, let's get you caught up on the raging debate concerning Tyler Bozak potentially leaving the Toronto Maple Leafs.

  • Bozak's contract is up this summer.
  • No one is entirely sure what to think of him.
  • The Maple Leafs seem to think they need him.
  • Major confusion ensues.

And now we're here. Two weeks from the beginning of free agency. Bozak doesn't have a contract. Nor does Clarke MacArthur. Time is ticking.

Let's focus on the third point above. Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, who many have critiqued for his distribution of ice time, appears to hold the belief that Tyler Bozak is crucial to his team's success. Proof? Not only was Bozak relied on in key situations throughout the season but he averaged the most amount of ice time among Leafs forwards during the playoffs with 21:43 per game, over two minutes more than the next guy. That was a carry over from the regular season where Bozak saw an average of 20:18 per game, 30 seconds more than Phil Kessel, who was next in line.

Good news for Leaf fans (and you'll begin see why this is good news below), general manager Dave Nonis might not be as big of a supporter of Bozak as Carlyle is. If you clicked on that link, ignore the fact that talks aren't really going anywhere with MacArthur. That's a different story for a different day.

What is Bozak's true value?

Fans and media alike from NHL cities across North America have been trying to determine Bozak's value ever since the Maple Leafs signed him as a college free agent in 2009. Four years later, no one has come up with a conclusion.

Although he would argue that he is ─ and rightfully so due to his current role on the team ─ capable of holding down a first line centre position in the NHL, Bozak is nowhere near deserving of the money the likes of Stephen Stamkos, John Tavares, Ryan Getzlaf and Pavel Datsyuk see on their contracts. If we were to take the most recent of those four to have signed a contract, Pavel Datsyuk, and compare his AAV of $7.5 million to what Bozak should receive, we would be in two totally different ballparks.

There are also people who say Bozak isn't deserving of second line money. He has never hit the 50-point plateau and wouldn't have done it in a full 2012-2013 season. But on a team like the Maple Leafs where skilled centremen are scarce, Bozak held down a top-six position all season. This will give him leverage in contract negotiations and certainly drive up the cost to re-sign him, possibly to somewhere between $4 million and $5.5 million.

Production wouldn't be overly missed

As mentioned above, Bozak has never managed to put up 50 points in a season. In fact, he's never made it above 47 and the most goals he has scored during a single campaign is 18. He's not exactly a "sniper" and he's not a top-notch play maker either.

The Maple Leafs can afford to lose those 47 points. Nazem Kadri managed only three less points than that in just 48 games this season and showed tremendous chemistry with some of the team's other top scorers. Keep in mind that Kadri managed this success while playing a third line role for much of the season. If Bozak were to leave it would be too easy to slide Kadri up to the first or second line, further that chemistry and see huge success. That is assuming his 44 points in 48 games weren't a fluke, of course.

Let's also remember that the Leafs have forward talent waiting with the AHL's Toronto Marlies. No Bozak would mean a well-deserved chance for them as well.

Money can be spent elsewhere

Toronto's issues on defence have been well-documented this year. Dion Phaneuf is a more than capable force but without a regular defence partner, his play has been proven to significantly drop off. Just like a goaltender, a team cannot rely on one defenceman to interrupt the opposition before the puck finds its way towards the crease.

There are a select few who could be signed in free agency if Bozak were allowed to walk. The leftover money could also be used to bring in a high-priced defender via trade. Anything that would improve the back-end.

As mentioned here, the Leafs also have a shortage of depth forwards beyond their current NHL roster. No different than the situation on defence, leftover Bozak money could be used to shore up the bottom-six, a key component to the success of a team as we've seen in recent years.

Replacement options

As with years past the free agency crop isn't a very thick one; there are few star players to be had. With Kadri and Mikhail Grabovski waiting to take over the first and second line centre spots, the Leafs aren't in dire need of a replacement for Bozak. However if Nonis chooses to go that route, there are three notable players who will likely be available come July 5, all of whom could fill Bozak's shoes at centre.

Mike Ribeiro is a 33-year-old veteran whose contract with the Washington Capitals is set to expire next month. With 49 points in 48 games during the regular season, Ribeiro was an important part of the Capitals' roster in 2013. He has been a strong contributor to his team in each season of his career and isn't afraid to speak his mind either.

There is also Derek Roy, who regularly scores in the 60-80 point range when healthy. He had 28 points in 42 games between the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks during the regular season before adding another assist in the playoffs. Roy would certainly be a gamble but at the right price, he could be the Leafs' guy in the event they sign a centreman this summer.

Finally there is Stephen Weiss. With the exception of the lockout-burdened 2013 season he has been one of the Florida Panthers' top offensive contributors for the past several years. Weiss, like Roy, would be a gamble but would come with a nice reward if the signing were to go the right way.

Tyler Bozak undoubtedly helped the Toronto Maple Leafs get as far as they did in 2013 but that doesn't mean it is necessary to overpay in order to bring him back. There are enough options within the organization and outside it that would more than justify letting him walk.

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