He had just returned to the lineup after missing 12 games, and unfortunately it looks like Tyler Bozak will be out for a significant amount of time once again for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
A week after returning for the first time in a dozen games, Bozak suffered an oblique strain in a 4-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks. It’s unlikely Bozak will be back in the lineup anytime soon. This is devastating news for the Maple Leafs as they are free-falling in the standings, given their current five-game losing streak. Losing Bozak for what will likely be double-digit games after just getting him back is a crushing blow for a team trying to find themselves.
Toronto wasn’t able to replace Bozak when he was gone for 12 games, and they likely won’t be able to replace him this time either. Bozak’s wingers, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, suffered greatly without their center, and a quick look at the stats suggests that Bozak’s value to the team is underestimated.
Prior to Bozak’s first injury, Kessel had 12 points in 11 games while van Riemsdyk had nine points in nine games. In the 12 games that Bozak was out, Kessel recorded nine points while van Riemsdyk recorded seven points. However, after the first two games Bozak was out, Kessel and van Riemsdyk combined for only seven points in the following 10 games.
Once Bozak returned, he was able to play five games while centering the American wingers. In those five games, Bozak recorded five points while van Riemsdyk also recorded five points. Kessel managed to tally four points. The stats prove that with Bozak in the lineup, Kessel and van Riemsdyk are point-per-game players.
Along with Bozak’s offensive talents, his defensive abilities are what the Maple Leafs might miss the most. Toronto’s penalty-kill unit was ranked third at the end of October, but has fallen to 25th overall with Bozak mostly looking on from the sidelines. He leads the team in ice time for forwards with just over 21 minutes per game, and it’s largely because he kills the majority of the team’s penalties.
Bozak’s ability to win face-offs and provide solid defensive checking against the opponent’s best players are two things the Maple Leafs have missed the most with their penalty-kill unit.
Bozak’s loss can’t be understated as Toronto won’t be able to fill his void, especially with Dave Bolland still out of action at least until the New Year. He’s not the most gifted player, but Bozak’s chemistry with Kessel and van Riemsdyk is undeniable. For whatever reason, he sparks the American duo offensively.
However, the way Bozak is able to play like a poor man’s Patrice Bergeron is what makes him so crucial for the Maple Leafs’ success on offense and defense.