The Pittsburgh Penguins search for a third line center continues, with an article on trade options written by fellow LetsTalkPenguins contributor Connor Andrews giving a realistic take on who the Penguins might target for that spot.
However, those on the Pittsburgh beat, specifically Jason Mackey, and other more national media figures like Elliotte Friedman have floated the idea that the Penguins have interest in Tyler Bozak, the current third line center for the Toronto Maple Leafs. While I suspect this is mostly speculation, this idea has been taken by some Penguins fans to mean this is the Penguins target. I do not believe that to be the case and below, I will outline a number of reasons why.
1) The Salary Cap Exists
Tyler Bozak carries a cap hit of $4.2M that expires at the end of the coming season. The Penguins current cap space is at an estimated $2.48M, including Chad Ruhwedel, Josh Archibald and Derrick Pouliot as the extra skaters for the time being. This would make it impossible for the Penguins to acquire Bozak and maintain their 1 million dollar buffer that they like to have without moving significant salary out from the team. I will get more into the idea of moving people from the team later, in a separate point.
2) Tyler Bozak does not fit the need
The Penguins need at third line center is not as simple as finding a center that plays the third most ice time on his team for centers. As the Penguins roster currently stands, and that’s without Matt Cullen, there is only one center that plays on the penalty kill and that is Carter Rowney. While the Penguins are flush with potential penalty kill forwards (Archibald, Carl Hagelin, Bryan Rust, Scott Wilson, Tom Kuhnhackl, Rowney), only Rowney has any experience at center. Acquiring Bozak does not help this matter as Bozak has not been a consistent penalty killer for the last 3 years playing in Toronto. Bozak is also an average at best defensive player if we use Fenwick as an authority.
Fenwick, which differs from Corsi in that Fenwick considers shot blocks to be a skilled play, is my preferred advanced statistic for use with the Penguins and their tendency to block a lot of shots. Throughout his career, Bozak has had a negative relative Fenwick to his team outside of the 2015-2016 season, meaning that his team suffers more unblocked shots against than average when he is on the ice. (Shout out to Puckalytics for the assist on this one).
For his lack of defensive play, and his lack of PK ability, this makes the fit for Bozak at third line center to be a bad one for the Penguins, no matter his offensive abilities.
3) The trade value
Sadly, teams are not in the interest of doing discounts for the back to back cup winners and in such, acquiring Bozak would require a significant payment. Bozak is a 2nd line center at his true value, and for the Leafs to split with him would require the Penguins sending back an equitable amount of value. The floated name by Mackey is that of Olli Maatta. It is here where I disagree with Mackey, and fellow LetsTalkPenguins contributor Brendan Labra, about the value of Olli Maatta.
Olli Maatta is a young top 4 puck moving defenseman with a long term contract at a reasonable cap hit for his level of play. Some will point to the flaws in his game, such as his foot speed, but it is worth noting that Maatta’s level of play is recognized by the coaching staff, who had Maatta skating an average of 20:36 minutes per game in the playoffs. This is higher than Ian Cole, who only skated 18:50 on average.
The issue with moving Maatta, and the reason I highlighted Cole, is that people believe that Cole would be able to move up to play top 4 minutes if Maatta was moved. This is clearly not an opinion held by the Penguins coaching staff and neither by me, as Cole skated the least amount of average TOI of the 6 full time NHL D that played in the playoffs.
If Maatta is not the piece moved, the Penguins would have to gamble a significant amount of futures on one year of Bozak. This may not even work as the Leafs have transitioned from a rebuiliding team into a playoff team within the last year.
For these reasons, I do not see Bozak as an adequate fit for the Penguins.