Tyler Bozak wanted to sign a long-term deal this offseason. Doug Armstrong is knowingly overpaying him at a shorter term. Here's what you should expect from him.
Overshadowed by the acquisition of new top center Ryan O’Reilly was the July 1st signing of center Tyler Bozak. Bozak will be paid $5 million per year for the next three years, and appears to be penned in as the third line center for the Blues, Robert Thomas pending. Even if the rookie forward climbs up the lineup, it’s hard to see Bozak dropping out of the top 9.
Bozak will play for the Blues until he’s 35, which essentially ensures that he will not be worth $5 million by the end of his contract. However, a cap hit that steep is made more palatable by a relatively short term for someone signed as an Unrestricted Free Agent. This lines-up with Doug Armstrong’s UFA strategies from the past (see: Stastny, Paul). The bottom line is, you have to pay to improve in free agency, and the Blues paid heavily for an asset in Bozak that once filled a position of weakness, but now appears to be one of the deeper areas on the depth chart.
While it’s hard to say what Bozak will be capable of contributing two years down the road, coming in to this season he will be a third line center the likes of which the Blues haven’t had in years. No more Jori Lehtera, no more Vlad Sobotka, and (even though I always have been and always will be an apologist) no more Patrik Berglund.
Let’s take a look at the numbers. Bozak had a pretty solid 2017-18 season on the surface with 43 points from the Leaf’s third line. 30 of these points came at even strength, which would be good for 5th among Blues players last year (Tarasenko, of course, led the team with 41). 22 of his even strength points were primary points, which means that he either scored the goal or had the primary assist, again transferring to 5th among the Blues (and again, Tarasenko led the team with 32).
Going deeper, the Bozak’s stats continue to impress. He rocks a 52.36% Corsi For % (CF%), which essentially means that when he’s on the ice, 52.36% of total shots taken by either team are taken by his team. If you aren’t familiar with CF% yet, it’s a great stat that is very telling of which players help control play through possession of the puck. Bozak also has a Goals For % (GF%) of 56.25%, which is pretty self-explanatory as the percentage of total goals scored by his team while he’s on the ice.
By their nature, both of these stats tell a good story of what fans would notice watching the game, and they also offer a moderate amount of predictive abilities about future performances. Players with a good CF% one year tend to have good CF%’s most years. However, since these stats are also heavily influenced by the team you’re on, good teams can often mask bad players, and vice versa. A good tool to combat these potentially misleading numbers is looking at Relative CF% or GF%, which takes that player’s number compared to other players on his team. Bozak shines here as well, with a 3.54% Rel CF% (meaning he’s 3.54% higher in CF% than the typical Leaf) and 2.81% Rel GF%, both among the top 5 of his team. Bozak was a good performer on a good team.
One potential red flag about Bozak’s season in Toronto is who he played with. Bozak spent a whopping 82% of his 5v5 time on ice with James van Riemsdyk. For comparison, Blues fans will remember how it appeared that Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn were stapled together last season, but only 69% of Schenn’s 5v5 minutes came with Schwartz. Bozak’s other two most common linemates were Connor Brown (45% of the time) and Mitch Marner (42% of the time). JVR and Marner are both certainly better than anyone Bozak will regularly be playing with in St. Louis, so a viable concern would be whether you could expect the same level of production with a lower quality of linemates. [note: all time on ice data from Micah Blake McCurdy (hockeyviz.com)].
In conclusion, Tyler Bozak will thrive on the Blues, even if his production falls off slightly due to playing with less skilled guys than he did in Toronto. While Bozak has never been the best player on his line going all the way back to the Phil Kessel era in Toronto, he has always shown an ability to produce alongside his wingers and help drive play for them.
He’ll compliment Alex Steen nicely on the third line, and shows an ability to play and produce with star players if he needs to move up the lineup in a way that no third or fourth liner could in recent years.
*All stats from Emmanuel Perry’s amazing site (unless otherwise noted)