Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Will Bolland be Leaf for Life?

Dave Bolland wants to be a Leaf for life, and a fellow Mimico boy might help make it happen.

“I’d like to get him signed,” Brendan Shanahan told the Toronto Sun a few weeks ago. “He’s the type of player I like, the type of player we need."

There's a lot to like about Bolland. He comes with a winning pedigree, grit, leadership, and the type of blue collar work ethic that plays well with the Toronto crowd. He's the type of player that does the little things that help a team win. But that doesn't mean the Leafs should break the bank to keep him.

According to Steve Simmons, the Leafs don't want to pay Bolland any more than the $4.2 million a season they are paying Tyler Bozak. That means there's a disconnect between the two camps, because Darren Dreger reported at the end of February that Bolland could be looking for as much as $5 million a year, and maybe more.

With close to $49 million already committed to only 12 players next season, giving Bolland anything more than $4 million a year means the Leafs view him as a core piece, rather than a complementary one, like he was in Chicago.

That would be a major mistake.

At the start of his first season in Toronto, Bolland was excellent, scoring 10 points in his first 15 games. Then he suffered a serious ankle injury thanks to an errant skate blade and finished the year a ghost of the player he was at the beginning of the year. Bolland admitted he rushed back from the injury, but it's entirely possible that even after a full off-season to heal, Bolland will never be the same player he was before the injury. That's an important consideration, because even before the injury he was only good enough to be a bottom-6 complementary player. He has never been a top-6 core forward.

In his career Bolland has only once cracked 40 points and has never hit 20 goals. He's never played in a full season, and has only twice played more than 65 games in a single year.

In his last year in Chicago, Bolland spent most of his time between Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, yet only managed 14 points in 35 games. And those are two premier wingers Bolland had at his disposal. Expecting Bolland to get anywhere close to his career high of 47 points—which is basically a minimum for a second line centre—with the Leafs, six years after he set that mark, is unrealistic.

Bolland is a checking centre. Nothing more. You don't pay checking centres big money over a long-term contract.

Even more concerning, the Blackhawks were under siege with Bolland on the ice in 2012-13. When Bolland was with either Sharp or Kane at even strength, the Blackhawks allowed the opposition to take over 55% of all shot attempts. When Kane and Sharp were away from Bolland the ice shifted and it was the Hawks who enjoyed over 55% of all shot attempts. That 10% swing is the difference in the Blackhawks controlling the play like, well, the Blackhawks, and the Blackhawks controlling the play as well as the Maple Leafs.

That isn't a one-season anomaly either. With Bolland on the ice his team hasn't generated more than 50% of all even strength shot attempts since 2009-10. The goals scored follows a similar pattern; with Bolland on the ice his team has allowed close to 60% of all even strength goals in each of the past three seasons.

The perception may be that Bolland is an elite shutdown centre, but the reality is he hasn't lived up to that reputation in at least three years. Unless he's willing to take a substantial discount to stay in Toronto, the Leafs are better off letting him be someone else's core piece.

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