Backwards: Bertuzzi Blackballed While Thornton Makes Millions

Todd Bertuzzi can’t seem to find a job these days, and it isn’t just because he is coming off the worst full season of his career at age 39. Late this past summer, a dark cloud which had been hanging over the entire NHL for years was lifted when the Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident was finally put to rest. With the confidential settlement of a CAD$68 million lawsuit spawned by Bertuzzi’s sucker punch in Vancouver over ten years ago, all parties – Bertuzzi, Moore, and members of the Vancouver Canucks organization, past and present – seemed poised to finally move on.

Detroit Red Wings Forward Todd Bertuzzi
Todd Bertuzzi can’t find a job and it isn’t because he doesn’t have anything to offer a team. (Icon SMI)

Finding a Home in Detroit

In the years following the incident, Bertuzzi bounced around the league, playing for five teams before finally finding a long-term home with the Detroit Red Wings in 2009. He had previously been brought to the Red Wings at the trade deadline in 2007, and Ken Holland had no reservations about signing him as a free agent three seasons later.

Bertuzzi was adored in Detroit, both by fans and the organization alike. The fans loved both his production and his penchant for dropping the gloves for his teammates, something not often seen in Detroit in recent years. The players loved his kind, soft demeanor, despite his ever-present (and ultimately misleading) reputation as a dirty player. Jimmy Howard even once referred to Bertuzzi as a “big teddy bear.” And nobody will ever forget his heroic ping-pong antics after Shea Weber played Whack-A-Mole with Henrik Zetterberg’s head (starting at 0:15 below) in the 2012 playoffs. But none of that has ever mattered to anyone other than Red Wings fans. If you want proof, just find an internet news publication featuring Todd Bertuzzi, and no matter the subject, you will find the words “Steve Moore” in the comments. This fear of bad PR, combined with the ugly incident being recently dragged back into the spotlight, is ultimately the reason Bertuzzi remains without a team.

Lack of Interest in Free Agency

Following last season, the Red Wings made it abundantly clear to Bertuzzi that he would not be re-signed. Between his age, decline in production, and the team’s wealth of prospects at forward, this was of little surprise to anyone. What is surprising, however, is the complete lack of interest he has received on the market. Bertuzzi can’t even get a PTO when forwards like Jared Boll, Colton Orr, and, most egregiously, Shawn Thornton remain on NHL rosters. These are players – forwards, mind you – who don’t score goals or offer anything defensively, despite playing against the worst possible quality of competition while receiving mostly offensive zone draws. These guys are literally making millions of dollars to punch faces and be bad at hockey. But Todd Bertuzzi, former 46 goal, 97 point scorer, can’t even get an invitation to a training camp.

I single out Thornton because he is the player most comparable to Bertuzzi in terms of age (37), and because he committed an act as equally heinous as Bertuzzi just last December when he sucker punched Brooks Orpik. Fortunately for all involved, Orpik “only” received a concussion when he was knocked unconscious, as opposed to a prematurely ended career and a lifetime of physical and emotional distress. But the fact remains: Thornton committed the same crime Bertuzzi did, albeit with differing consequences.  What’s more, Thornton has never approached Bertuzzi’s offensive contributions.  And yet, Bertuzzi is the one who can’t get an invitation to any training camp.

If it wasn’t for these (objectively) bad hockey players still being employed, it would be understandable that Bertuzzi couldn’t find a job. He’s a 39 year-old winger coming off the worst full season of his career. In that career-worst year Bertuzzi scored a paltry .27 points per game. Meanwhile Thornton, whose career-best is mark is an even more anemic .25 PPG, was signed to a two year $2.4 million contract by the Florida Panthers to provide them with “veteran leadership.” Never mind that this is the same organization that just gave Dave Bolland $27.5 million over five years; the important point is that Shawn Thornton gets to continue punching faces for a $1.2 million AAV over the next two years.  And Bertuzzi still can’t get an invitation to any training camp.

Boston Bruins Forward Shawn Thornton
Shawn Thornton has never offered even a modicum of hockey skill when compared to a player like Todd Bertuzzi. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

NHL’s Culture Change Not Enough

There was no shortage of coverage following the Bertuzzi-Moore settlement, but my favorite take on the issue came from Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski. Wyshynski, who had previously dropped the hammer on the “idiocy” of Thornton and of his defenders, noted that the NHL has come a long way since that night in Vancouver ten years ago:

The aftermath of the Bertuzzi incident featured some trying to rationalize why it happened within the context of the game. Not many endorsed it – the vast majority condemned it as something borderline criminal. But the catalysts for it, including the marching orders he answered from teammates and (again, allegedly) team executives, were acknowledged as threads in the fabric of the game for a century.

The aftermath of the Thornton incident, outside of the Bostonian apologists rallying for one of their favorite quotes, featured vast denunciation of the act and the role Thornton was playing.The notion of an “enforcer” was all but ridiculed, especially when combined with John Scott chasing around Phil Kessel earlier in the season like someone trying to corral a free-range chicken.

Watching Thornton’s attack was like hearing your grandfather telling a racist joke: What played 30 years ago doesn’t play anymore.

We’re smarter, shrewder and more sympathetic. We know it doesn’t have to be that way.

Bertuzzi/Moore made us consider a violent act’s place in hockey.

Thornton/Orpik was a violent act that we immediately knew had no place in hockey.

My, how far we’ve come…

And he’s right. The overwhelming public response to that embarrassing episode was immediate condemnation and calls for a hefty suspension. But that’s not enough. Because as long as there are general managers willing to waste a roster spot on guys like Sean Thornton, this issue will continue to rear its ugly head. And as long as there are ownership groups more concerned about the comments on their team’s Facebook page than employing players with actual, discernible hockey skills, we will end up back here the next time one of these antediluvian trolls invokes “The Code” on another unwilling participant. And that’s a shame. Because while players like Thornton litter rosters across the league, Todd Bertuzzi – superior forward, veteran leader, and, yes, “teddy bear” – can’t even get an invitation to a training camp.

28 thoughts on “Backwards: Bertuzzi Blackballed While Thornton Makes Millions”

  1. There are a few teams that can use Bertuzzi. Its amazing that Kassian and a bunch of dead beat continue to play and Todd gets no chance to show his moves. He still has the great hands and can help on the powerplay and show a toughness that will be needed in the playoffs againts some meaner teams.

  2. He is done and should retire. He had a fine career, but hung around too long. Wings never should have brought him back, but for some reason Holland feels loyal to older players such as Bert & Cleary and Samuelsson. All should have not been resigned or traded while that had some worth.
    Todd offers no scoring, limited ice, he does not skate or backcheck, his current style of play is useless in the NHL.

  3. The injury to Moore could just as easily been a concussion or bloody nose. What Todd did was not right but I don’t think a player of his caliber would ever wish that injury on anyone. He is a talented player who plays with an edge. What would any team have to lose by giving him a tryout? Are there any teams that would benefit from the veteran skill and presence? Not a question.

  4. Bertuzzi should have been in jail instead of on an NHL roster. Playing hockey on ice doesn’t give you permission to cowardly disable another player from behind. He should count his blessings that he even had the opportunity to suit up for any NHL team, much less walk the streets as a free man.

  5. I hope Bertuzzi gets another chance. Buffalo is in need of a guy like this to show some leadership and a meanness,

  6. I have the odd coincidence of sharing both first and last names with the player whose career was ended by Bertuzzi’s punch – and although I wasn’t watching the NHL at the time, I’ve certainly read plenty about the incident and its context, and have seen the footage many times, as well.

    I’ve really enjoyed watching Bertuzzi play over the past several seasons with DRW, and wish he was still there, to be honest. I realize there are plenty of trade-offs to be made with almost any player on a roster, and I sure like watching the faster youngsters wear the Winged Wheel – but it doesn’t change my opinion that Bertuzzi has something worthwhile to offer the NHL – whether its the Wings or a team with for his skills and attributes are a better fit.

    People seem to love hating him, but I agree with the writer of this article, and with many of the other commentors, wishing to see him play again. He did something egregious, and that feels more so in today’s hockey world. I feel he’s been sufficiently punished for it. I’d pick him for my team over that POS Thornton any day and every day.

  7. I agree that Bertuzzi is not done. What a waste of a big presence . He can still alter a game with his size , and is healthy and ready. If Alferdson doesn’t come back, they will be lacking skill on the right side. Now that Tyler Bertuzzi has signed with Detriot.Let them play a few games together and watch some magic as Todd passes the torch to his nephew. Without the size and toughness , they will lucky to make the playoffs with no third line right wing.Carolina will be lucky to win 30 games this year.. Sign Bertuzzi .. Like they were thinking at the beginning of the summer. Hurricanes can use a real vet that can shake things up.

  8. What people need to stop and think. He has been hurt the last to season. Go three to four seasons back and those seasons Arguably are his best he ever had! I’m a big fan of Bertuzzi and Cleary. I get hate from all directions. Bertuzzi can still get back to that Level I feel. The one game he played in last years playoffs he had a goal I believe! Zetterberg shot and bertuzzi knocked it in. I want him back in Detroit he and cleary are with the mule! and kronwall is the most physical we got. We him for the bruins!

  9. It looks like Bertuzzi will have to wait until the expansion to play. Very unfair, he is better than half the forth liners in the game. Still has presence and can screen with the best of them. Keep skating Todd , the injuries will pile up and a team like Carolina will be knocking on your door.

  10. In my opinion, Bert is no longer effective. That is why he sat on the bench most of last year with the wings. As far as being a physical threat, he hasn’t been for years, not wanting to look like a violent person, as a result of the Moore litigation.

  11. Let Bertuzzi prove himself in the AHL like everyone else.
    Funny you don’t mention players that cause real harm as bad as Bertuzzi, like Cooke, Orpik etc.
    A little fight rarely hurts anyone, orpik probably would’ve found that out if he was man enough to drop the gloves. But the dangerous hits guys like orpik make have real consequences that cause real injuries. Those are the players you get rid of first than you have a real chance at getting rid of fighting.

  12. Bertuzzi still has a place in the NHL. Someone should give him a shot.He has the soft hands and stands in front of the goalie like no one else. Some weaker teams can use a guy with grit , that protects his teammates . Winnipeg or Edmonton need the size.

  13. you are an idiot! the two incidents were not even close!!! Thornton played on the the most productive 4th line in the league the last 4 years. He played big minutes for a 4th line guy. He got what he deserved for hitting Orpik, who by the way did not get anything nor did Neal for which both should have been suspended longer than Thornton! Please don’t go away mad, just GO AWAY and maybe watch a game or two before writing.

  14. Just because he’s 39 doesn’t mean a thing.Bertuzzi has been skating all summer and was ready to try to make a team . He still has soft hands and can protect his teammates when they need help. This old school player can help a lot of teams that need the grit. If some team would get the guts to sign him, he can screen the goalie as good as anyone in the game and score in the shoot out. Come on Winnipeg or Edmonton , your not gonna make the playoffs without one real warrior on the ice,

  15. Thornton can play more hockey than Bertuzzi can in his old age. I’m a wings fan and I seriously would’ve traded Bertuzzi for a roll of tape. Somehow, randomly he could pull through in a shootout. What Thornton did was wrong, but is he JUST an enforcer? No, last year he racked up a decent amount of goals with the Bruins. There are other guys I would give the “enforcer” tag to over Thornton… Ott, and like half of the Flyers.

  16. It’s unfair.. This man deserves another season. There should not be Politics in hockey . A valuable player that has been ready all summer to give himself to any team

  17. Give the man a last run.. He’s ready and healthy and can score . He’s had been skating all summer. Maybe Winnipeg can use some brawn and flash . He is alway fun to watch

  18. Excellent article .The truth of the matter is , that Bertuzzi should be the a leader on some teams that have never been in the trenches. Edmonton or Phoenix are teams that need an older guy that can still drop em and protect a star. The old days of hockey may have gone away with the likes of Betman and his clean up act. But make no mistake this is a game of grit and manhood. Look at Boston or LA.. They are not a nice bunch of kids picking cherries.Bertuzzi has the hands and the balls to make a stinker team like Buffalo or Pheonix take a run .The Canucks sure could have used him in the play offs against Boston a few years back when they used a Sedin as a punching bag.Hopefully some team shows some guts and give Bert a shot at a decent end the most hated and misunderstood players since Ty Cobb

  19. You don’t need to invent a conspiracy to see why teams aren’t interested in a broken down 39 year old power scoring winger who no longer has any power or scoring.

    Teams aren’t passing on Bertuzzi because they are worried about bad press. They are passing on Bertuzzi because he is no longer any good.

  20. You sign Shawn Thornton to be your 4th line, tough guy. What’s Todd Bertuzzi these days? He can’t score anymore, and he doesn’t fight, so what line do you put him on then?

    • Well at least you changed it, but SHAWN Thornton has been an effective 4th liner. Florida was dumb to have signed him for that money, but as for the players they had altercations with, one is still playing (and just got $27.5 million over 5 years) and the other wont play hockey again.

      Thats the difference.

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