They live together. They work together.
And with Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle committed to playing Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak together, they also end up on the ice with each other more than 90 per cent of Bozak’s even strength ice time.
They even, at one point, earned the nickname Bert and Ernie, after the Sesame Street duo, from their teammates.
But, as Kessel explained on Thursday at Leafs training camp, he doesn’t get sick of being around his pal everywhere he goes.
“I don’t see him all day,” Kessel said as he answered the usual round of Bozak-related questions from the media. “Obviously, we each go to our rooms and take naps, you know, like a normal day. He goes to play video games and whatever, right?”
The Kessel-Bozak pairing is one of the most curious in the league – matching one of the league’s top scorers with an undrafted centre who has scored at a roughly 45-point pace so far in his NHL career – but it’s become vitally important for Toronto the last two seasons.
Last year, Kessel finished tied for seventh in NHL scoring, as he produced on an 89-point full season pace and a surprisingly strong showing in the postseason against the Boston Bruins.
That success came while Bozak was relied on by Carlyle more than any other Leafs forward, averaging 20:18 minutes ice time a game to put him 18th among all forwards in the league.
He played power play. He played penalty kill. And, as always, he played a lot with Kessel on his right wing.
While a lot has been written and said the past three years about the need for Kessel to get an upgrade at centre, the Leafs re-signed Bozak to a sizeable five-year deal in the summer and the Leafs coach clearly intends to keep rolling the pair out together this season.
Carlyle maintains that he likes their chemistry together – even if, at least statistically speaking, many analysts have shown that that chemistry appears to be a little more myth than reality .
“I look at the sum of the parts,” Carlyle said. “You try to fit people together and put people in situations where they can work well together. Obviously before I came here there was a bond that had developed between Kessel and Bozak, and it just seemed natural to carry that on… “Bozak was an integral part of that [being an effective line]. Obviously the faceoffs are a big issue as far as starting with the puck. I think he was our top centre ice man in the faceoff circle. Then he got to start to take more important draws from a defensive standpoint and penalty killing and using him in that area and then on the power play. All those things are a compliment to him. That’s why he was so highly thought of during the summer months.”
Kessel, meanwhile, has grown accustomed to defending Bozak on these sorts of areas and offered these thoughts on if it matters that their point production is so different.
Despite playing almost exclusively together, both at even strength and on the power play, Kessel has double the goals and 198 points to Bozak’s 107 in the last three years.
“I don’t think it’s important,” Kessel said. “I think you guys make that a bigger deal than it is. Bozie does a lot of things on the ice that he does not necessarily get credit for and people look at. He’s in the right area, he makes good plays, he might get the fourth assist or something like that on plays. Guys I think make a big deal that he doesn’t put up a bunch of points, but he’s there and contributing a bunch every game.
“He’s a good two-way player,” Kessel added. “He makes good plays. He knows where I am on the ice. Now we’ve played together for a couple years, we understand where each other’s going to be and it makes life easier. He’ll get me the puck. I like playing with him a lot.”
The Leafs have to hope that that bond is a big enough factor in keeping Kessel in Toronto, as his contract is up at the end of this season and talks over an extension have been relatively quiet.
Bozak, meanwhile, is locked in until 2017-18, whether Kessel is alongside him 24/7 or not.Report Typo/Error