It’s hard not to make a case for Zach Bogosian being the Leafs’ most pleasant surprise of the 2021 campaign.
When he signed with the team to a one-year, $1 million contract back in October, expectations of what he could provide to the Leafs were rather low in spite of coming off winning his first Stanley Cup with the Lightning. He played well in his role as a defensive defenceman and was a factor in why Toronto improved from 3.17 GA/G in 2019-20 to 2.64 this past season. With a full campaign donning the Blue and White under his belt, it makes total sense to keep him on board for another year.
Even with the defence being crowded next season (including the likes of Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren battling for roster spots), Bogosain’s game style is unique and valuable enough to warrant him a member of the Leafs for 2021-22. It certainly helps that one of Travis Dermott or Justin Holl will likely be heading to Seattle in the upcoming expansion draft.
Part of the reason why some fans were initially skeptical of Bogosian was due to him recently playing for the Buffalo Sabres and seeing his career take a nose dive towards a near early exit. He was struggling to get into their lineup either due to injuries or the coaching staff making him a healthy scratch. When Bogosian did get a chance to play, it looked nothing close to the promise he showed early on as the third overall pick of the 2008 NHL Draft. So when he was bought out in February 2020 and rumours emerged that the Leafs were one of the teams interested in signing him, people were baffled that they desired a player whose NHL career seemed to be on its last legs.
Of course, he ended up signing with the Lightning, in part because of some Zamboni driver, and things ended up working out well for Bogosian.
Fast forward to the present and his career seems to be revived with his value being shown in earnest on a competitive team.
The vast majority of Bogosian’s underlying metrics at 5v5 were all above 50% during the regular season. These include a 52.75 CF%, a 51.87 FF%, a 55.56 xGF%, a 56.10 SCF%, and a 57.75 HDCF%. Recording these kinds of numbers as a defensive defenceman (even if it’s primarily against weaker competition) is impressive and shows proof of him positively affecting the team instead of hindering them. He wasn’t brought in to record a bunch of points as Bogosian only scored four of them in 45 games played, and yet he showed a willingness to jump into the play to try and generate some offensive chances. Most importantly, he played with a physical edge to box out opponents or knock them off the puck, which is an uncommon sight for Leafs’ blueliners not named Jake Muzzin.
Now it is true that the free-agent market in 2021 is going to include a few interesting blueliners that would be a huge improvement over the defensive unit the Leafs had during the playoffs. Guys like Dougie Hamilton, Alec Martinez, and Jamue Oleksiak could help add some additional offence while also playing the defensive game that Bogosian was brought in for. And with a new defensive coach coming in for next season, who knows if they can get as much out of Bogosian as Dave Hakstol did.
While those three aforementioned players would be great additions to the Leafs, there is no guarantee they will be able to fit into the financial situation. Given that Toronto’s lack of reliable secondary scoring was once again an issue, the money could be better allocated towards addressing that need instead. And whichever assistant coach the Leafs decide to bring in will likely be aligned with Sheldon Keefe’s vision, so it should not dramatically affect Bogosian’s usefulness in a negative way.
Evolving Hockey projects that Bogosian will again sign a one-year deal while also taking a slight pay cut, regardless of whether that’s with the Leafs or someone else. Given the harsh realities of a flat cap that will remain in place for the foreseeable future, it is critical that Toronto uses its money wisely to remain competitive. It should make the process of getting Bogosian to agree to another inexpensive contract a simple one for Kyle Dubas to handle. In fact, Terry Kohsan of the Toronto Sun reported this week that the Leafs were interested in re-signing the 31-year-old.
All of which is to say that it is a no-brainer for the Leafs to bring back Bogosian for another year. He posted strong underlying numbers, plays his role well, and would not take up a chunk of their cap space on his next deal. While there are plenty of defencemen that could be on the open market in a few weeks’ time that are far better players than him, he has shown enough value as a bottom-pairing defender to warrant an additional season in Toronto.
It’s not a matter of if Bogosian will renew his contract with the Leafs, it’s a matter of when the team will announce his extension.
All stats unless otherwise noted are from Hockey-Reference.com.
All salary information unless otherwise noted is from PuckPedia.com.
The chart used is from Evolving Hockey.