With every offseason comes chatter involving all sorts of players from around the NHL. More often than not, this talk amounts to nothing more than rumors and hearsay. Of course, every now and then, these rumors come to fruition. For the Detroit Red Wings, almost all of that offseason chatter surrounds one player, and it’s a player that fans of the Red Wings have grown to adore: Tyler Bertuzzi.
Known for being a gritty, heart and soul type of player, Bertuzzi quickly made fans out of the Hockeytown faithful with his style of play, as well as winning playoff MVP honors in the American Hockey League (AHL) during the Grand Rapids Griffins’ run to their 2017 Calder Cup championship. Since joining the Red Wings, he formed instant chemistry with team captain Dylan Larkin, and his one-tooth-missing smile has made him one of the most recognizable (and marketable) players this team has to offer. Color commentator Mickey Redmond affectionately refers to him as the “Junkyard Dog”, and like any family pet, it seems like Red Wings fans would jump in front of a bus for him.
And yet here we are. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from general manager Steve Yzerman’s two years at the helm of the Red Wings, it’s that if he thinks moving on from a player will benefit Detroit in the long run, he will do it. He doesn’t care if your name is Justin Abdelkader, Anthony Mantha or Tyler Bertuzzi – hockey is a business, and he is in the business of building a long term contender. It’s just a matter of whether or not it makes sense.
As was already mentioned, Bertuzzi has one of the most recognizable faces on this Red Wings roster. It’s not just his face though – his last name carries a lot of weight (especially in Colorado, where the fans still boo him over the infamous incident his uncle got himself into.) His name is well-known around the league, and he has done well to carve out a name for himself outside of what his uncle’s reputation might have put him in.
He plays hard night in and night out – Detroit Hockey Now reporter Kevin Allen referred to him as the Red Wings’ “courage” on a recent episode of The Hockey Writers Grind Line – and he’s been able to consistently produce offense over the course of his 208 games in the NHL. Who wouldn’t want to buy this guy’s jersey?!
To that point about his offense, Bertuzzi has an impressive 126 points through 208 games in the league, which equates to a points per-game rate of .61. During the 2019-20 season, Bertuzzi joined Larkin and Mantha on the Red Wings’ top line, and together they formed the only trio that could produce offense and possession with any regularity. “Bert” recorded his career-high point total that season with 48 in 71 games.
Simply put: Bertuzzi plays the type of game that is tailor-made for the playoffs. He does not back down from anything – it’s no wonder he won those playoff MVP honors four years ago. While he isn’t a physical player in the same vein as Darren McCarty, he’ll grind down the opposition along the boards, and he’ll go to the front of the net to either get a deflection or bang home a rebound. There’s a reason that front tooth of his is missing. When the Red Wings are back to being playoff contenders, this is the type of player they’ll want in their lineup.
Whether it’s Larkin or his junior hockey teammate Robby Fabbri, Bertuzzi definitely has friends on this roster, and their chemistry together is easy to see. While this isn’t the biggest reason anybody should decide whether or not to keep a player, there is something to be said for keeping players that make other players happy. It’s well-documented that No. 59 is a bit of a goofball, and that energy is always welcome in the locker room – especially for a team that has gone through as much losing as the Red Wings have over the last few seasons. GMs talk about bringing in veterans as “locker room guys” all the time; Detroit has one of those guys already, and he’s far from a “veteran” at just 26 years old.
Maybe I’ve been watching too much Loki on Disney+, but I’ve been thinking about timelines a lot lately. I think there’s reason to be concerned about whether or not Bertuzzi fits into the Red Wings’ competitive timeline. With the way he plays the game, it’s fair to wonder how much more tread is left on his tires before the wear and tear really starts to show – especially following a season where he missed all but nine games following an injury that was described as day-to-day at the start.
With Abdelkader’s buyout money still on the books for another five seasons, Detroit cannot put themselves in the same situation with a player that plays a similar style. At some point – if not this offseason – Bertuzzi is going to want a contract with some serious term on it. It might be beneficial to trade him and allow some other team to take the risk.
Speaking of timelines, it’s no secret that Yzerman’s mission right now is to acquire draft picks and prospects, and then develop them into premier NHL players that will help the Red Wings later on. With trades like the Tomas Tatar-to-Vegas and the Mantha-to-Washington deals, it’s clear that you have to give to get, but if you do give something worthwhile, you’re going to get a boatload of futures in return.
Ask anybody that follows the Red Wings and they will tell you that Bertuzzi is a quality piece. He’s the kind of piece that could net Detroit another first round pick and/or a quality prospect. The team most-often linked to him is the Toronto Maple Leafs; a deal sending him to Toronto could yield a good, young player like Rasmus Sandin in the right situation. A return like that is definitely something to at least consider.
As a restricted free agent, the Red Wings still hold Bertuzzi’s rights and can match any other offers that are thrown his way. After this season, though, that won’t be the case. His next contract is going to be an important one as it will determine when he will have the opportunity to test the open market as an unrestricted free agent. While it would normally make sense to buy up a few of those years, like Yzerman did with Mantha’s deal he signed last offseason, it may prove to be a bit difficult to determine a fair deal for a player that played just nine games this season.
After going to arbitration last year, Bertuzzi played on a one-year, $3.5 million deal. If the two sides were too far apart to reach an agreement after the player’s career-best season, where are they going to be after a fluky season where the player barely played, but produced seven points in the nine games he did play in? If a long-term deal can be reached, how long and how expensive is it? Cap space and roster flexibility is Detroit’s greatest asset right now, and how Yzerman approaches this contract will reveal a lot about how he intends on using it going forward.
It’s Time to Make A Call
Yzerman and the Red Wings cannot expect to keep kicking the can down the road with short-term contracts, especially for a player that is currently a part of the core like Bertuzzi. I anticipate No. 59’s next contract to have at least a two-year term, though I could see it going as high as four years. What Yzerman has to weigh, then, is whether or not the term and money makes sense for the Red Wings today, or if it makes more sense to take whatever assets you can get for the player and wish him the best of luck elsewhere.
This is a crucial decision in Yzerman’s rebuild. Players signed and drafted by former GM Ken Holland are starting to become far and few in between – with Larkin being the only one that seems like a lock to remain a part of Yzerman’s vision. Committing to Bertuzzi would keep a fan-favorite on the books, and it would cement his place as part of the Red Wings’ core – at least for now. Trading him would take a stance that truly anybody is tradable, and it would begin to set the timeline for when Detroit expects to contend for the playoffs again. These are the kinds of hard decisions that face every rebuild.
All you can do is sit back, cross your fingers, and hope it all works out in the end.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.