If Tyler Bozak is headed to the minors, it'll have to happen pretty quick.
Bozak has only six points in 22 games this season, even while playing on the Leafs' first line and alongside Phil Kessel essentially all year. Today at practice he was bumped down to the third unit alongside Freddy Sjostrom and Kris Versteeg, and he will likely begin to get far fewer minutes on the power play than he has to date.
More of a scoring line player than a checker, Bozak would probably be best served by playing at least some games with the Marlies. Because of his age (24) and when he signed his first NHL contract, however, once he plays 60 career games, Bozak will have to clear waivers to go to the AHL.
And Saturday's 3-0 loss to the Senators was his 59th.
Toronto's next game is tomorrow against the Lightning, meaning Bozak would have to be sent down in the next 24 hours (or scratched) if the Leafs intend to make that move. Even with his struggles (three goals and no assists in his last 18 games), it's extremely unlikely Toronto would risk losing Bozak on waivers for nothing, so if he plays tomorrow, he's staying with the big club all season.
For better or worse.
"Obviously a little slump. Still not too worried," Bozak said after practice today. "Throughout my short NHL career I've still put up decent numbers so I'm not getting too worried and you know killing myself over it. Just looking forward to getting out of the slump I'm in now.
"Some may think I got demoted by going to this line but you know I don't really look at it that way. I'm still living, playing with the big club here and that's what I want to do. I'm still going to just approach the game the same way and try to contribute here as much as I can."
Coach Ron Wilson said today that one of Bozak's problems has been pressing too much, something he said he hopes can change now that he'll be playing less than the 19 minutes a game he's averaged this season.
"Bozie's just got to relax a little bit," Wilson said. "And I think every time during a game I've slipped into what you might say is a third line he usually plays a little more relaxed and a little better. And that's all I want from him: Just to relax and get back to playing his game."
Leafs GM Brian Burke didn't offer a comment this weekend when asked if Bozak may be sent down before tomorrow's game.
The Islanders pulled a similar move this season when they demoted Josh Bailey after his 159th game, one before he would have needed to clear waivers to go down. (Bailey was considerably younger than Bozak when he entered the NHL and needed 160 games played before requiring waivers as per the CBA.)
Given Toronto's scoring woes (and attempts to win now), it seems unlikely they go that route.
Wilson's line blender was at work again today at practice, although the coach said these units could change come game time Tuesday. With Bozak bumped to the third unit, Nazem Kadri has been moved up and back to his natural centre position:
MacArthur - Kadri - Kessel Caputi - Grabovski - Kulemin Sjostrom - Bozak - Versteeg Orr - Brent - Brown
Wilson also had somewhat nice things to say about Kadri today, which is probably music to Don Cherry's ears.
"He's started to not turn pucks over in the neutral zone, making quick plays," Wilson said. "He has a real knack on the power play for setting up on the midboard and finding open people and we want to continue to encourage that. He's a work in progress for getting better in the defensive zone and better on faceoffs.
"He's got a really good set of hands. But you need the vision and to imagine where people are [on the ice]at the same time and read the other teams' defences. Just learning that things in the NHL go a lot quicker. Understand how big and strong usually the defencemen are ... Those are the little things that Nazzy is starting to catch up and feel better about himself playing the game.
"He seems to have played fine at the wing. Now the challenge is can he be creative offensively without being a real detriment defensively and I think he understands that."
Giguere nears return
J-S Giguere said he's closing in on being able to play after recovering from a groin injury. Expect him to get one of the three starts this week with home games against the Lightning, Oilers and Bruins on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Jonas Gustavsson will likely start tomorrow against Tampa Bay, however.