Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs can breathe a sigh of relief: reinforcements are finally on the way.
Tyler Bozak is posed to return tonight and he’s expected to resume his regular role on the Leafs’ top line.
In his absence, that role fell to Nazem Kadri, but an inability to repeat last season’s high offensive production might see Kadri actually drop to the third line when the puck drops tonight.
Bozak has been out since Dec. 3 after suffering a strained rib cage.
In 16 games this season, Bozak has 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists). He signed a five-year contract extension worth $21 million with the Leafs during the past off-season. At the very least, that extension will keep him in Toronto until the final whistle blows on the 2017-2018 season.
While he’s not known for producing offence at an elite level, Bozak has proved critical to the Leafs’ penalty kill and he’s arguably the team’s best option in the face-off circle, too.
If you’ve been following the Leafs lately, then it’ll be obvious that these are two areas where the team needs to show immediate improvement. Their playoff hopes may depend on it.
As mentioned, the return of Bozak will force the Leafs to shuffle several of their lines. The surprisingly strong play of Peter Holland may earn him a temporary reprieve on the second line, which would see Kadri drop to the third line in turn.
The next big return for the Leafs will be Dave Bolland, who remains out indefinitely though there’s some talk that his recovery is currently running ahead of time.
Toronto’s recent dive in the standings coincided with the losses of Bozak and Bolland. Hopefully, the return of Bozak tonight can help set them back on the right course.
A matchup against the lowly Carolina Hurricanes tonight will certainly help the cause as well.
Follow me on Twitter for regular posts about sports (especially the Toronto Maple Leafs), politics and other news topics: @williamefwilson