The Toronto Maple Leafs held their season-ending locker clean out and media availability today, with players, coaches and front office executives addressing everything from their third period collapse to free agent statuses. Though head coach Mike Babcock and GM Lou Lamoriello wouldn’t comment on whether any of the Maple Leafs big three unrestricted free agent forwards—James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov—would be back, one of them made it clear that he’d like to be. Bozak, speaking to media including Kristen Shilton of TSN didn’t hide his love for the team:
It would be my top priority to stay here. My family loves it here, my kid loves it here, he thinks he owns the place. It’ll be tough on him if I’m not back.
Bozak has been with the Maple Leafs since signing out of the University of Denver in 2009, and has actually put together quite a career. Undrafted despite 128 points in his final year for the Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL, Bozak debuted for the Maple Leafs in the 2009-10 season and barely looked back. In 594 games for the club, he’s recorded 365 points and been one of the league’s best face-off men. Sometimes played above his head on the Maple Leafs’ top line, he nevertheless kept producing including a 43-point season this year.
Now 32, Bozak is set to hit unrestricted free agency but knows nothing but life as a Toronto Maple Leafs player. His son Kanon has become something of a viral hit over the last few years, and it’s clear that he is well-liked in the Toronto dressing room. Still, with the Maple Leafs heading into uncharted territory with contract extensions due for Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, there may not be enough room to keep the veteran center around.
The Maple Leafs will be one of the more interesting teams to watch this summer, as they deal with the disappointment of another loss at the hands of the Boston Bruins. With obvious deficiencies in their defense corps, and a young forward group that is set to lose many of their veteran pieces to free agency—Tomas Plekanec and Dominic Moore are also pending UFAs—there is a lot of work to be done before the 2018-19 season if they want to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.