Thursday, July 4, 2013

"$40 million in this bag right now and nobody gets hurt, I mean it!" - Tyler Bozak

When the NHL fought to keep player contracts to fewer than 8 years (7 for UFAs leaving for a different team) I don’t imagine they expected Tyler Bozak to be one of the players discussing such a deal. 

A friend asked how I felt about the contract demands and whether the Leafs should consider acquiescing to Mr. Bozak. My response is probably best summed up by Michael Scott:

It has been hard not to laugh a bit the last couple days at the expense of the Leafs soon-to-be former number one centerman. Asking for 5 million dollars a season for 8 years is almost inconceivable for a player who is considered among most hockey pundits to be best served as a third liner.

The proposed contract really only makes sense when we break it down into sub parts. Had he asked for 8 years at 1.75 million we could have understood his wanting long term financial security in lieu of a big pay day. Had Bozak requested 10 million a year over 2 seasons we could see his wanting to cash in on a short term deal - thereby forcing him to earn his next contract.

Neither seems to be the case. And with the recent acquisition of Dave Bolland is seems rather unlikely that Tyler Bozak has any leverage in this negotiation. The Leafs are capable of starting next season with Kadri – Grabovski – Bolland – McClement as the 4 players down the middle. There isn't a place for Bozak on this team anymore, and his absurd contract demands seem to be the explanation point on what was already going to be an unworkable situation.

It’s interesting to reflect on the Bolland trade now in the context of Tyler Bozak. Yes, it’s nice to no longer be handcuffed by our lack of center depth, allowing the team to dismiss Bozak's demands and finally cease the never-ending quest to anoint him a first line center. Conversely, the acquisition of Bolland has created a log jam of 2nd and 3rd line centers on a team that desperately needed someone to play in the top six.

Rumors have circulated this week that the signing of Toronto native David Clarkson is all but complete once the free agency period opens later this week. It’s difficult to argue with Clarkson’s production over the past 2 seasons, amassing 30 goals in 2012-13 and 15 in this ears truncated campaign. He has managed to morph his game from that of a prototypical 3rd line grinder into a useful player that can play across an entire lineup.

The potential issue lies in committing significant money and term to a player that is approaching 30 and plays a style of game that hasn't historically been conducive with aging. It is possible that Nonis turned over every stone in search of a centerman this off season and simply failed to land anyone of significance. As a substitute he addressed the need via trade with a Chicago team desperate to stay under the cap and through drafting the hulking six foot five Frederik Gauthier 21st in the draft.

Part of me wanted  Nonis to bring in a Vincent Lecavalier or one of the pending 2014-15 free agents in Patrick Marleau or Joe Thornton. However, I can only imagine the price either Shark would have commanded, and the contract signed by Lecavalier is two years too long for a player in his mid 30s.

If Nonis is successful in adding Clarkson and perhaps a 2nd or 3rd pairing defensemen (Scuderi, Ference…etc) than he will have addressed many of the teams needs, at least in earnest. Goaltending depth was an issue – he brought in Bernier. Bolland, to a degree, addresses the need down the middle. Clarkson, despite some concerns around his age and wear, would be a significant improvement to the team’s top 9 forwards. An additional top 4 defenseman would help alleviate some of the onerous minutes Dion Phaneuf has been forced to consume the past two seasons. Of course neither Clarkson nor a defenseman has transpired yet, but if you believe any of the news circulating this week it’s hard to think Nonis will stand pat in free agency, especially given the cap flexibility the team still possesses.

The old cliché says that a rising tide raises all boats. With some tinkering in a number of places Dave Nonis is working diligently to improve multiple facets of the roster, bit by bit. One of the outcomes of these improvements may be the departure of Tyler Bozak and his faceoff wizardry (or slightly above average-dry). And I’m quite alright with that.

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