The Maple Leafs, having more success off the ice in recent days than they enjoyed all season, have outfought several other clubs for the right to sign talented Denver University forward Tyler Bozak.
Bozak, 23, has told the Leafs they are his preferred destination for his first NHL contract, with a contract expected to be signed sometime today. The Leafs are believed to have outmaneuvered Ottawa, Colorado and Anaheim, among other clubs, to sign the U.S. collegiate star.
|Tyler Bozak had 18 goals in 41 games with Denver in 2007-08.|
After signing Christian Hanson of Notre Dame, who will make his NHL debut tonight in Philly, earlier this week, snaring Bozak gives the Leafs two of the top U.S. collegiate free agents available, with Boston University defenceman Matt Gilroy still on Brian Burke's radar.
Quite clearly, these free agents are looking at the Leafs and seeing opportunity for immediate NHL work based on the club's lack of depth at every position. This week, in a way, has turned into the draft before the draft for the Leafs, who desperately need to add prospects to their bare talent cupboard.
Bozak, a native of Regina who played his junior hockey in B.C. before heading to Denver, is thought to have more of an offensive upside than Hanson, but is smaller and missed most of the past season with a knee injury. Both are skill players, and Burke undoubtedly made it clear to both that he intends to add muscle around them to make their introduction to NHL competition easier.
Getting both players, meanwhile, is in part a credit to the stability the Leafs are enjoying these days.
With Burke clearly in charge, the Leafs are now a team that speaks with one voice. There's no players hanging out with owners undermining management, no assistant GM fighting with the chief scout like the days when Mike Smith and Anders Hedberg couldn't get along, no lame duck coach lobbying for a different approach and none of the nonsense that has plagued this franchise for, well, decades. When Pat Quinn was running the show, he was fighting with Ken Dryden. When Cliff Fletcher was having some success in the early 1990s, it was after Steve Stavro tried to have him removed before he even started on the job.
When you talk to Burke, however, you're talking to the Leafs, and you're talking to the guy who is going to be speaking for the Leafs for the next five years or more. You also know that Ron Wilson isn't going anywhere, and that if you sign with the Leafs he's going to be your coach. For comparison, check out what's going on in Edmonton right now, with the owner, Daryl Katz, making sporadic comments on the future of head coach Craig MacTavish, while president Kevin Lowe and GM Steve Tambellini try to speak with a united voice at the same time folks there wonder which man is actually running the hockey organization.
Now look at some of the other teams that were in the hunt for Bozak.
First, Ottawa. Well, if you're talking to the Sens, you can't even really say you know who is going to be coaching or managing the team next year, can you? If you're a kid like Bozak with a choice between upwards of 20 teams, and with none of them able to offer more money than any other, that would be meaningful.
Then there's Colorado. You might think the Avalanche would have the inside track on Bozak given his history of collegiate hockey stardom in the state.
But nobody knows who is going to manage or coach the Avs next season, only that it isn't likely to be Francois Giguere or Tony Granato, respectively.
The rumours won't go away that Patrick Roy may be heading to Denver to run the Avalanche, but that's a ways away from being confirmed, if it happens at all.
Signing Bozak layers another good prospect on top of Hanson. Throw in a first rounder in June and two more picks in the top 50, and you have the beginnings, at least, of some depth in an organization that for the first time in a long time is presenting a united front to the hockey world.