It seems like Tyler Bertuzzi’s name has been in the rumor mill forever at this point. Prior to the 2021-22 season, it was rumored that the scrappy winger was a target of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Canada’s vaccination requirement basically completely shut that idea down. He then went on to have the best season of his career, posting 30 goals and 62 points as a top-line winger for the Detroit Red Wings. Now in the last season of the two-year deal he signed last year, word is that Red Wings management and Bertuzzi’s representatives have yet to begin discussions on a new contract. That leaves room for further speculation about the 27-year-old’s future in Hockeytown.
Not helping Bertuzzi’s case is the fact that he has not had the start to the season that he had hoped for. After playing just a little over eight minutes in the Red Wings’ second game of the season, he went down with an “upper-body injury” after he took a shot off of his hand/wrist area. He returned a month later, played seven games, and then this happened:
Through nine games this season, Bertuzzi has one goal and four points. But his counting stats don’t tell the whole story.
Bertuzzi is considered by many fans to be a key component of the Red Wings’ roster, but his recent struggles as well as his unfortunate battle with injuries this season puts him in an odd position as Red Wings general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman tries to figure out what he’s going to do with the scrappy winger this season.
Bertuzzi’s struggles this season can be linked to his injuries. Considering the first injury was to his hand/wrist, it was likely still difficult for him to use his stick the way he intended to, and that led to some mistakes that will make long-time hockey fans cringe:
Still, mistakes like that are to be expected from the Red Wings’ youngest players, not the guys expected to set an example. Perhaps it’s because he didn’t want to aggravate the injury again, but Bertuzzi also hadn’t been his usual scrappy self since returning to the lineup. That’s an element that few other players in Detroit’s lineup provide; that “heart and soul” type of play is what endears him to a lot of fans and makes him a player that would be a huge asset in the playoffs. While he has produced at almost a half-a-point per game this season, if he’s making blatant mistakes and he’s not bringing the sandpaper he usually provides, he simply is not living up to expectations, at least not right now.
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It is because of that that Yzerman may find himself in a situation where trading Bertuzzi is the best option.
Bertuzzi Needs a New Deal
Bertuzzi currently has a cap-hit of $4.75 million. Last season, his contract was a high-value one for the Red Wings as 30-goal scorers are hard to come by and they usually cost a pretty penny to retain. Because of that production, the intangibles he brings to the table, and the fact the salary cap is going to see a substantial increase within the next year or two, it’s not outrageous to suggest that he may be looking for a long-term deal in the $6 million range. If he can return to form by the end of December, he may yet prove that he is worth that kind of commitment from the Red Wings.
However, as has been written and said many times since his name first popped up in trade rumors, Bertuzzi’s game is not one that tends to age well. He missed all but nine games of the 2020-21 season due to a back injury (which are notorious for having long-term effects on the body), and his injuries this season is representative of his willingness to put his body on the line in defensive situations. When people talk about trading him now, it’s not because they don’t like the player he is today, it’s because they are worried about how he’ll look five years from now.
And that’s the point. Bertuzzi’s injuries are holding him back right now, and he doesn’t look like the type of player you commit a long-term deal to; after signing a one-year deal in 2020 and then a two-year deal in 2021, a long-term deal is more than likely what the father of a nine-month old baby is looking for.
It would be pretty easy to make that commitment to Bertuzzi if he was well on his way to replicating the season he had in 2021-22. Instead, the Red Wings have to wait until mid-January for “Bert” to return to the lineup, and probably a few weeks or more before he’s back up to speed and performing like the player we all know he can be.
By the way, have I mentioned the 2023 Trade Deadline is March 3?
Bertuzzi Still Has Value
Despite the disappointing start to Bertuzzi’s season, he is not a player without value. Consider that GM Yzerman was able to extract some serious value from the Washington Capitals in exchange for winger Anthony Mantha in a season where Mantha was made a healthy scratch and only produced at a half a point per game level while he was with Detroit. While their situations differ, it is not crazy to suggest that Yzerman could still fetch an enticing trade package should he decide to move on from Bertuzzi, as has been rumored for a while now. If the Red Wings are going to move on from this player, their window to do so is slowly closing.
There is also the fact that the Red Wings are facing a roster crunch, especially once we enter the new year. Robby Fabbri is set to return on Jan. 1, Jonatan Berggren has showed that he is NHL ready, and while Elmer Söderblom may need a little time in the American Hockey League when he returns from injury, he’ll be back in the NHL before long. While Yzerman could trade a lesser player and receive minimal value, trading Bertuzzi is likely their best shot at extracting premium draft assets, setting them up to cash in on what is projected to be one of the deepest draft classes in recent memory.
But make no mistake: the first step to all of this is for Bertuzzi to get healthy and back up to speed as soon as possible. If the Red Wings are going to trade him, they’ll want him playing well to extract as much value as possible. If they aren’t going to trade him, they need him to get going so he can help their push towards becoming a playoff team.
Nobody knows what the future holds, but what we do know is that the Red Wings’ future looks a heck of a lot brighter with a healthy and productive Bertuzzi once the calendar flips to 2023.
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.