Sunday, September 26, 2021

Bozak had no desire to leave St. Louis

Veteran center signed one-year, $750,000 contract filled with incentives late in 
the free agency process, wasn't worried about not getting contract, leaving here

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- In the end, it was a slam dunk decision for Tyler Bozak.

The 35-year-old and elder statesman on the Blues' roster will wear that moniker for at least another year when he signed a one-year, incentive-laden contract worth the league minimum of $750,000 that can grow to $2 million with performance bonuses of $750,000 for 10 games played, another $250,000 for 41 games played, $100,000 for winning the first round of the playoffs and $150,000 for winning a second round in the playoffs. And it includes a no-trade clause until March 6, 2022.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Tyler Bozak (21) will play a fourth season with the Blues when he signed a
one-year contract at the start of training camp.

"There was a lot of different ways we were trying to find a way to make it work for both sides," Bozak said. "I think this way works, I think it keeps the cap hit down to help the team but also gives me some incentive to perform well, play hard and play a lot and for the team to do well in the playoffs too. I think it's good for both sides."

Bozak, who spent the past three seasons with the Blues after signing a three-year, $15 million contract to join them from the Toronto Maple Leafs, has become entrenched in the city with his wife Molly and three kids. 

There are more than just a job to consider with the Bozak clan. It includes lifestyle, loving where you live and schooling for kids. Bozak checked off all the markers again that he checked when first coming to St. Louis in 2019 and knew all along that there would be a place for him where he helped the franchise win its first Stanley Cup his first season here.

"Obviously it was the place I wanted to be from the start," Bozak said. 'I was in no rush to get it done. I always thought it would (get done). There were other opportunities too, but there's a lot more that goes into it now in making those decisions than when you're a young kid and single with no kids. A lot of that stuff comes into play. I love the guys here, love everyone here. My family loves it here, my wife loves it here, kids have all their friends and the schools that they're in and stuff. It was obviously a place I wanted to be, so I'm happy we did get it done.

"Wherever you are, there's going to be good schools, but at the same time, your kids have their friends they're comfortable in the places they are at. Obviously you never want to take that stuff away from them, especially if they are close with their friends and love what they're doing. I'm sure maybe later in life, they won't remember it, but it is a difficult decision for sure and a lot goes into it."

Bozak had gone through the free agency process twice before, once re-signing with the Maple Leafs, where he spent the first nine seasons of his NHL career, and then joining the Blues. But in those instances, contracts were consummated pretty quickly, but as Bozak said, there was no rush, even as training camp approached quickly. But still, there had to be some tense moments in the end.

"It was different," Bozak said. "... The second time, I had a good idea that I wasn't going to be back in Toronto and it happened pretty quick. This dragged out a little bit longer, but I'm 35 years old now so I didn't really expect to sign right away or something like that. We were patient. I was fine with it. I know how the business side of it works and all that stuff. I wasn't caught too off-guard by any of it."

Bozak, who scored 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 31 games that cut his season down by a concussion suffered against the Vegas Golden Knights on a blindside hit by their captain Mark Stone, drew interest from a few different suitors, including the Pittsburgh Penguins, who will begin the season without their top two centers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. 

"I had a few teams and some opportunities there," Bozak said. "You have to weigh all the pros and cons, but this was the place I wanted to be. The priority was to get it done here first and foremost."

Bozak, who played in the Blues' 6-2 preseason win against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday and assisted on James Neal's second goal of the game, has been as versatile as any player on the roster since he arrived playing a variety of jobs. Being a third-line center has been first and foremost, but being an exceptional face-off specialist, penalty killer, power-play duty, play the wing when necessary, leader on and off the ice. A jack of all trades that will likely start the season as the team's fourth-line center.

"I think just the same as how it has been," Bozak said of his role. 'Obviously bringing good leadership and play wherever is needed. Obviously throughout the season, things change and you know you're going to move up and down the lineup playing different spots, there's going to be injuries, different things that happen. Just be ready to play in all positions. I think I can bring that kind of flexibility and versatility where I can slide into different roles and different spots throughout the lineup."

Blues coach Craig Berube has always been a Bozak fan and is pleased the veteran is back.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Tyler Bozak (21) had opportunities to sign elsewhere as a UFA but did not
want to leave St. Louis.

"A super guy, we all know that," Berube said. "Great guy in the locker room for sure. Guys love him. He's a pretty solid two-way player. Very smart and intelligent player that we can use in a lot of situations and he's a great team guy."

When Bozak sustained the concussion last season, he missed 21 games because of it. It wasn't his first concussion, and even though there is a wife and three kids to also consider, Bozak and his family gave him a green light to return.

At least for one more year, and here.

"I definitely didn't think about not playing this year," said Bozak, who's scored 449 points (167 goals, 282 assists) in 12 NHL seasons. "I think if last year would have ended different for myself, when I did come back from the concussion, I felt great, I played really well, produced well and had good numbers. Obviously that gave me the confidence to know that I can still play and still wanted to play. That wasn't on my mind at all. Obviously when you do have head injuries, it's something that you don't take lightly, especially with a family. The whole family's on board wanting me to play. I feel good, I still feel I can contribute, still confident. I wasn't thinking about that at all this off-season."

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