Do yourself a favor and quickly review this offseason’s available free agent centres. It’s pretty thin. Obviously New York Islanders superstar John Tavares sits in a class by himself, but in a tier below him there’s veterans Joe Thornton and Paul Stastny. After those two there’s a slight drop off to names like Tomas Plekanec, Valtteri Filppula and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ own Tyler Bozak. In fact, you can make the argument that Bozak is the third or fourth most valuable centre on the open market, depending on how “available” you believe Thornton to be. What all if this amounts to remains to be seen, but it’s fair to predict that Bozak will receive a healthy pay day come July 1st.
The 32 year old Bozak is coming off a five year $21 million contract that paid him an annual average salary of $4.2 million. Expect him to earn a modest raise on that amount, likely in the $4.5 million range on a three or even four year deal. If that’s indeed the case, you have to imagine that things are through between Bozak and the Leafs.
While Bozak has been a loyal soldier for the Leafs the past eight seasons, the team simply cannot stomach handing out that kind of money and that kind of term in a contract to anyone not named Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner or Tavares himself. Oh, then there’s the decision on whether or not to make an offer on pending free agent James van Riemsdyk, as well. In short, there’s simply not enough money to go around for Bozak to stick things out in Toronto.
Since the arrival of Matthews in 2016 and Nazem Kadri’s transition into a legitimate second line centre, Bozak has slotted in nicely as the Leafs’ third line centre. In 2016-17, Bozak managed a career high 55 points in 78 games, which represented a bold statement to those who said he couldn’t put up points without former winger Phil Kessel. Last season in third line duty Bozak put up 11 goals and 43 points. And, while those numbers may not be eye popping, that’s some solid production from the third line centre position.
All of this is to say that come July 1st, Bozak will get PAID. He’s likely to get overpaid by a team desperate for a second line centre like the Montreal Canadiens or Detroit Red Wings. Still, should the Leafs line up their best offer for the veteran forward? Assuming they miss out on Tavares in free agency, does that change plans for Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas?
What do you think the Leafs should do with Bozak?