Bozak's big money, big hopes

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

In this, his coming-out party in front of the Toronto media, Tyler Bozak momentarily stared in disbelief at the white letters stitched on the back of the blue Maple Leafs jersey, letters that spelled out his last name.

"Awesome," the Regina native said yesterday morning as he eagerly accepted the sweater.

One day, the Maple Leafs hope that same word -- awesome -- is used to describe the play of Bozak, a player the organization spared no expense in wooing to Toronto.

No wonder Bozak was so giddy. Not only is he a member of the team he grew up watching on Hockey Night in Canada, he is being paid quite handsomely to be here.

According to Wade Arnott, Bozak's advisor, the University of Denver product has the "opportunity to earn just under $4 million US per season" if he reaches all his performance bonuses.

"His deal is equivalent to that of the first-overall pick in the draft," Arnott said. "He's getting the maximum you can negotiate under the entry level system."

What that means, people, is that Bozak's two-year deal translates into a cap hit of just under $4 million for the start of the 2009-10 season. That number might whittle down during the course of the season should Bozak fail to reach some of his bonus clauses.

Either way, that's a lot of cabbage.

At the same time, Bozak, 23, has a potentially impressive upside, so much so that at least 25 teams wanted him. In order to beat out the competition, the Leafs needed to show him the money. They did just that.

Of course, the Leafs had other factors in their favour.

Like using rookie Luke Schenn, a fellow Saskatchewan native, in the recruiting process.

"We're represented by the same agency (Newport Sports) and we're both from Saskatchewan, so we have some common interests," said Schenn, who hails from Saskatoon. "He's actually buddies with one of my second cousins.

"(Tyler) called me last week and we talked for about 20 minutes. He had narrowed his choices of teams from about 25 to six. I just told him about the benefits of being a Leaf, what the city is like and how great people treat you here."

"I think I sold him on it," he joked.

Bozak said he had recovered from a left knee injury and was able to play in the University of Denver's final game of the season. Projected to be a top-six forward one day, he won't play for the Leafs or Marlies this season but will report to the team's prospect camp this summer.

While Bozak said the chance to play for a Canadian team was a big selling point, Burke was far more blunt about the subject.

"Tyler's being polite -- part of the reason he signed here is because he sees opportunity as well," Burke said.

Burke was peeved at what he perceived to be public indifference when the Leafs were officially eliminated from post-season contention the other day, feeling the mood of the city was far too accepting that the team had missed the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year.

The next day, he compared missing the post-season to being kicked in the family jewels and vowed to do whatever it takes to lead the Leafs to the playoffs in 2009-10.

So far, he has acted quickly. In the span of three days, the Leafs inked a pair of college free agents, Bozak and Christian Hanson, and still are in the running for Boston University defenceman Matt Gilroy.

Burke hopes college free agents will not find Toronto a desirable place to play in the future because that would mean the team is still stuck in the type of rebuilding mode that allows such players an instant opportunity to play.

At the same time, he plans on stocking up the team's cache of young talent by any means possible.

"I could care less where players come from," Burke said. "We intend to build this team with junior players, college players, European players. If they start playing hockey on Mars, we'll draft players from Mars.

"I could give a rat's ass where a player comes from as long as he can play here."

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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