Bozak replies to Cherry, thinks Kessel will stay

Toronto Maple Leafs' Tyler Bozak (42) celebrates a goal with Phil Kessel (81). (AP/Gene J. Puskar)

When Tyler Bozak signed a new five-year, $21-million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on the first day of NHL free agency, many fans and pundits said that it was too much money for a player that has just 53 goals in 238 career games.

Notably, Hockey Night in Canada host Don Cherry told Sportsnet 590 The Fan Wednesday that although he likes Bozak, he felt the 27-year-old was “overpaid.”

In 46 regular season games in 2013, Bozak had 12 goals and 16 assists, while also being a valuable presence in the faceoff circle as well as in the defensive zone.

“I think every year except one I’ve improved on the point production and over a full season last year, it was averaged out to be over 20 goals, so people are going to criticize you and have their own opinions (but) the main thing that matters is the guys in the room and family and friends that believe in you,” Bozak told Jim Lang and Joey Vendetta on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Thursday.

“I don’t see myself getting 90 points or whatever, but a lot of the criticism I get at least is about puck possession. I don’t play the game where I want to hold onto the puck as long as I can,” Bozak explained.

“I’m playing with two highly skilled wingers; I try to get them the puck as quick as I can. I’m a big believer in give-and-go hockey – move the puck as quick as you can and get to an open spot.

“When you’re playing with Phil (Kessel) and JVR (James van Riemsdyk) or Joffrey (Lupul) they all three have amazing shots and obviously I’m going to try and get them the puck as often as I can in a scoring position.”

It’s believed that a major contributing factor to Bozak’s new deal, which has an annual salary-cap hit of $4.2 million, is the fact he plays on a line with Kessel, the team’s top star.

The two have chemistry on the ice and have played on the same line for the majority of the past several years.

“I really enjoy playing with him. He’s a good guy; we’re really good friends, spend a lot of time off the ice (together), so I know he personally enjoys playing with me,” Bozak said. “I think it obviously helped my contract.”

Kessel is entering the final year of his contract with the Leafs and is slated to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2013-14 campaign.

It is expected that Leafs management will open contract negotiations with Kessel at some point before next year’s trade deadline.

“He’s been the leader of our team on the ice and hopefully he can stay there for as long as he can and I know he enjoys it there; I know it’s his favourite place to be,” Bozak said. “I think if the money’s right he’s gonna stay for sure.”

Bozak added that Leafs general manager Dave Nonis never mentioned Kessel in negotiations, but the Regina native admitted his relationship with Kessel likely factored into how things played out.

“When a guy like him likes playing with you, you gotta take advantage of it and try and be with him for as long as you can.”

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