May 17 2013 11:00AM
via Claus Anderson/Getty
Okay, maybe that wasn't the *big* news of the day, but it's something that happened. Tyler Bozak, the first-line centreman for the Leafs for the last four years, is an unrestricted free agent this summer and it doesn't sound like the Maple Leafs have a huge interest in bringing him back.
In the playoffs, the Leafs were short-handed for two games without Bozak—games six and seven—and replaced his spot in the lineup with Nazem Kadri and filled Kadri's spot with Joe Colborne. In an effort to stack the deck against Bruins' defenceman Zdeno Chara, Kessel spent a lot of time in the playoffs, pre-Bozak injury, on a line with Kadri while Bozak played with Joffrey Lupul and Matt Frattin as an improvised third line.
Kessel's offence was unaffected by this.
The thing with Bozak is that he's spent the better part of four years playing with players much better than him, and dragging down Kessel's production rather than complementing it. This is a point I've touched on before, but now that we have four years of data
Kessel scored four times in the playoffs. On none of the goals did Tyler Bozak record an assist. Of Kessel's 20 regular season goals, just four were assisted by Bozak. Of Tyler Bozak's
14 13 goals this season, regular season and playoffs, Kessel was the primary assist on six of them.
It isn't too hard to see exactly what's going on here. Using some of the data from Hockey Analysis, you can split out and check out the difference between the Leafs when Kessel is on the ice and not Bozak, and when Bozak is on the ice but not Kessel:
|BOZAK||Goals/60||Points/60||Goals %||Corsi %||TOI|
|KESSEL||Goals/60||Points/60||Goals %||Corsi %||TOI|
(I used David Johnson's site and ought to link to his own post with his opinions on Bozak. He isn't as generous as me in his assessment.)
Bozak has played 584:20 in his career at even strength sans Kessel and has just
two three goals and five eight points. In that stretch, the puck is in the Leafs opposition's end just 43.6% of the time and the Leafs have scored just 36.4% of all the goals scored. Bozak's goal rate increases by 111% and his points rate increases by 103% when he plays alongside Kessel.
Comparatively, when Kessel is out with Mikhail Grabovski, or Nazem Kadri, or any one of the fine young centremen in the employ of the Maple Leafs over the last four seasons such as Matt Stajan, John Mitchell or David Steckel, Toronto's actually a plus-possession team, meaning, they take more shots than they give up.
Kessel's point rates are similar, presumably because it wasn't really until this year that he started generating a tonne of assists. But when somebody other than Bozak is setting him up, his scoring increases by 26%.
Given these stats, that Kessel is clearly the better player when he's apart from Bozak, means I twitch a little when I read things about Bozak like:
...while being a top level faceoff specialist, and solid playmaker who developed chemistry with leading scorer Phil Kessel...
There's no chemistry there. If anything, there is biology, in the respect that Bozak is in a parasitic relationship with Kessel.
Kessel has flaws. He's not a particularly good defensive player and needs a good centreman to help him out. He needs a top-line centreman, that you can trust to take the brunt of defensive play and provide some speed and skill. You don't need to go on the trade market. You have Mikhail Grabovski. You have Nazem Kadri. There are players who have a history of being very, very good both with and without Kessel on their wing.
It's clear who is driving the bus in TO on that first line.