The Bozak/Grabovski debate, all over again

Updated: September 1, 2016 at 10:55 am by Ryan Hobart

Today, a debate formed on Hockey Twitter regarding moves made by Dave Nonis. Specifically, which was the worst. TLN’s own Drag Like Pull had this as his entry:

And, former TLN blogger and current member of The Blogger’s Tribune, Tom Hunter, had this as a response:

This is clearly a tired debate. It happened 3 years ago, and I think it formed out of yearning for hockey to finally start. Nonetheless, I’d like to dig into it a bit and present why I think Grabovski is still a better hockey player than Bozak. And as follows, that the better move would have been to let Bozak walk and keep Grabovski, instead using a compliance buyout on him.

THE CONTRACT

Of course, the first obvious point is that Bozak’s contract is better. The details of each are shown below.


Year Signed AAV Year of expiry
Bozak 2013 $4.2M 2019
Grabovski 2012 $5.5M 2018

Leafs fans will undoubtedly be aware that after one year, Grabovski’s contract was bought out using a compliance buyout. This allowed the Leafs to nullify his contract without cap penalty. A clean release, as far as the cap is concerned. Shortly after, the Leafs re-signed Tyler Bozak to the contract shown above. Here, the topic of debate arises. The Leafs essentially chose to keep Bozak and get rid of Grabovski. How good that choice was is the question I hope to answer here.

The Leafs were up against the salary cap heading into the 2013-14 season. As such, I can give some credit to the management team at the time, creating $1.3M in cap space through this move.

However, when you look at where things stand now, Grabovski would still be costing $1.3M more, but the contract would expire one year sooner. To me, this makes their effects on the salary cap very similar, so much so that I would call it a wash. The $1.3M of space is nullified by having an extra year of the player (a player you largely do not want, in either case) on the books.

THE PLAYER

Now for the other side, the more important side, the actual quality of player. Here’s a table showing a few important stats, broken down into:

  • 2010-13 – the average of the 3 year period before the move
  • 2012-13 – the year before the move
  • 2013-16 – the average of the 3 year since
  • 2015-16 – last year.

I’ve left out usage stats in the interest of brevity, looking only at possession and production results. A proper analysis would be with a statistical model breaking all relevant factors down to produce a result, but this is enough to get the job done for a 3 year old debate.


Bozak Grabovski
Time Frame rel xGF% rel CF% P60 rel xGF% rel CF% P60
2010-13 0.17 -0.86 1.38 3.14 5.64 1.89
2012-13 -0.22 0.94 1.53 -6.4 0.57 1.16
2013-16 -1.68 -0.46 1.71 3.44 2.49 1.73
2015-16 1.75 1.16 1.59 1.46 -0.82 1.69

When I look at this chart I see a few things. 

First, the year where Grabovski was bought out, he was really bad. Worse than Bozak, which was a decent reason for justifying the move at the time. I didn’t show usage stats, above but below is a usage chart from http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts


The extra players are in there just to give an okay basis on where Bozak and Grabovski were relative to the league.

Second, Bozak wasn’t even better than Grabovski last year, the point at which it was supposedly obvious that Bozak was better, even by my own concession. While Bozak was a better possession player than Grabovski, it really wasn’t by much, and neither were excessively good or bad.

Third, management should have been capable of looking at the 3 year period leading up to making this decision. There are even ways to weight the more recent year stronger, with a statistical model like I mentioned above. That would have been a much better analysis. But it really appears that the Leafs were narrow-sighted in only looking at the 2012-13 season in making their decision.

And finally, in the 3 years since the move was made, Grabovski has been a significantly better possession player while scoring at basically the same rate. There’s no solid basis (in the stats here or in any other stats I researched but didn’t include) to say that Bozak has been a better player than Grabovski in any of those seasons except 2012-13.

Conclusion

When you roll together that their contracts are nearly the same, and that Grabovski has largely been a much better player than Bozak, I don’t see any way to justify that Bozak has been a “far better value” than Grabovski in any context. When you add onto this the fact that they wasted a compliance buyout that they could have used on Liles instead (which would have saved them trading for Gleason, though this also could have been done buy not buying out Komisarek who had 1 year left on his deal), it’s clear to me that keeping Grabovski would have been the better move.