If Lombardi is Healthy, it's Time to Cut Bozak Loose
Early yesterday morning Leaf fans were informed of the positive news that Matthew Lombardi is planning on attending training camp. Seeing as I've been excited since his acquisition, I quickly posted on Twitter that this meant there would be no place for Tyler Bozak.
If Lombardi is healthy, he will slide into the third line centre position between Armstrong and Kadri. That line will be able to provide the Leafs with plenty of offensive support, as well as checking strength (mostly through Armstrong and Lombardi). Depth at the centre ice position, something that the Leafs have been glaringly lacking, will be a welcome strength now that Lombardi seems to be on the mend.
Where does that leaves Bozak?
With the new status of Lombardi, the odd man out appears to be Bozak. There seems to be this idea among some Leaf fans that Bozak is a "great utility player" and a "perfect third line centre." People also argue that Bozak is a "great faceoff man" and "good penalty killer." Check out Jordan Bold and his tweets from yesterday to read these delusional theories about Bozak's abilities.
My reasons for having Nazem Kadri as a third line winger can be seen here, but I'd like to focus on the fact that Bozak is not what people think he is. When Brian Burke signed the highly sought after free agent, it was as a point producing player. During the introductory press conference, his excellent training camp with the Leafs, his Marlie days and his breakout 37 NHL games Leaf management sang the praises of an offensively gifted playmaker who had exceptional hockey sense. Not once was it said that if Bozak failed as a scorer he could check the opposition's skill players, kill penalties and be a great utility player. Unfortunately, Bozak struggled last season and proved that he is not capable of handling the load that is required of a first or second line centre, putting his status as an NHLer in limbo.
Too many times last season an undersized Bozak was pushed off of the puck and was unable to defend against bigger and stronger opposition. This lack of strength and size is detrimental to a player who people think can be a checking centre. Size is not everything though; good undersized checkers are blessed with great speed (see Darren Helm, Matthew Lombardi, Todd Marchant, Vernon Fiddler, Torrey Mitchell, Dominic Moore and John Madden), yet Bozak is nothing more than a decent skater, another knock against his checking ability. To refresh people's memory, Bozak finished last season -29. That horrible number may be a product of playing with Kessel and the flavour of the month winger, but he was poor in his own zone as well.
These weaknesses in Bozak's game also eliminate the argument that he is a strong penalty killer. The Leafs finished with the third worst penalty killing unit in the NHL, a unit in which Bozak was a part of all season. Once again, it is not all of his fault, but he is definitely guilty of performing poorly. Finally, his faceoff skills -- although his percentage was high (54.1%), too many times last season he was unable to win the important faceoff. Numbers are deceiving, as a strong faceoff man wins important draws.
This important faceoff from last season comes to mind (scroll to the 1:57 mark). The Leafs, who were struggling at the time, played a great home game. Mike Brown had just sacrificed himself by blocking a shot, which resulted in broken bones in his hand. Jonas Gustavsson had played well and the Leafs were a won faceoff away from two big points in the standings and a confidence-boosting victory. Bozak lost the draw, the Leafs lost the lead and soon into overtime lost the game. Bozak won too many meaningless faceoffs last season. Faceoff specialists are judged upon situational ability not percentages.
It seems to me the type of player that fans are longing for: great utility player, strong penalty killer, defensively conscious and excellent faceoff man, is under contract by the Leafs. His name is Mike Zigomanis he can help the Leafs more than College Boy can. However I think neither one will make the roster this season now that the Matthew Lombardi era seems to be upon us.