The Toronto Maple Leafs buying out Mikhail Grabovski and re-signing Tyler Bozak to a multi-year contract in the offseason is the type of move that’ll pay off big for the club despite what the stats might say.
Grabovski stormed out of the gates when the puck dropped on the new season by scoring a hat-trick in his first game with the Washington Capitals. After three games, Washington’s new second line center has recorded five points whereas Bozak has only tallied two points in four contests.
The fact of the matter is when it comes to offensive talent, Grabovski blows Bozak out of the frozen water. Unfortunately for the former Maple Leaf, when it comes to everything else coaches look for in a hockey player, Bozak has a significant edge.
Bozak can’t skate as well as Grabovski can. He can’t blow by defenders like him or dangle and shoot the puck the way Grabovski can either. What he can do is play in all three zones of the rink and be counted on to perform each and every night.
The problem with Grabovski wasn’t that the Leafs didn’t think he was talented. They just didn’t like his attitude.
They didn’t like how he’d pout because he’d be dropped in the lineup after floating through four or five games. They didn’t like how instead of dumping the puck in at the blue-line, Grabovski would attempt to dangle through the opposition by going one-on-two, or sometimes even one-on-three, against defenders. One in 50 of those attempts would work and Grabovski would look like Pavel Bure, but then the other 49 times the opposing team would usually have an odd-man rush going the other way.
Bozak, on the other hand, is a coach’s dream. He’s an unselfish player who is capable of playing in any situation and rarely turns the puck over by doing something stupid. Since entering the league, Bozak has quickly turned into one of the better faceoff winners around and is routinely trusted to take big draws in his own end. He’s a superb penalty-killer who has proven he can score shorthanded, and he isn’t afraid of throwing his body into shooting lanes in order to block shots.
Above all else, Bozak has proven he can have chemistry with more than just two players on the roster. Since joining the Leafs, Bozak has been able to play with nearly everybody on the club whether it be Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk, or with Nazem Kadri when the former London Knight was playing on the wing to begin his career. It’s also been well documented how close Bozak and Phil Kessel have become, as it’s believed a small part of why Kessel signed an eight-year extension to stay in Toronto was because Bozak would be sticking around for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, in his entire time in Toronto, Grabovski was only able to play with Nikolai Kulemin and another player who floated through stretches of games, Clarke MacArthur. Whenever Grabovski wouldn’t be on a line with Kulemin and MacArthur, it looked like he’d shut down and couldn’t care less about what was going on during the game.
The Maple Leafs didn’t keep the more talented player; they chose to keep the better team player. Bozak is a much better fit than the offensively minded Grabovski, which is why Bozak is still wearing the blue and white. The Leafs have players like Kadri and Kessel who are just as gifted offensively, if not more than Grabovski. What they needed were players they could count on to do the little things needed to win games, and players they could depend on each and every night.
Grabovski will outscore Bozak this season, but he’ll never come close to outplaying him.