The year is 2013. The Detroit Red Wings and their offense are led by the “euro-twins” Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Alongside that duo on the top line is Justin Abdelkader — a “piano puller” according to Datsyuk. Fast forward to 2020, and the Red Wings’ top line features a new piano puller: Tyler Bertuzzi.
Since grabbing a full-time spot on the Red Wings’ roster during the 2017-18 season, Bertuzzi has provided his trademark snarl to the lineup. But he’s not just there to do the dirty work. Though the season is currently paused due to COVID-19, he has already established a new career-high in points this season with 48 in 71 games. He very well could have broken the 50-point plateau, and that has value — especially on this roster.
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Bertuzzi is set to become a restricted free agent at the season’s conclusion. General manager Steve Yzerman will likely look to sign the 25-year-old winger to a long-term deal, much like Anthony Mantha. What that deal will look like is one of the biggest unknowns facing the Red Wings this offseason.
A Familiar Comparable
When negotiating contracts, general managers tend to use other players around the NHL to establish an idea of what the contract should look like. For Bertuzzi, his comparable comes in the form of a player whose contract was negotiated by the Red Wings in 2017: Tomas Tatar.
Tatar’s current deal is a four-year pact that carries a cap hit of $5.3 million. When the Red Wings signed him to that deal, he was a top-six forward and one of the team’s top producers in the offensive zone. It’s why the team was able to acquire premium draft capital from the Vegas Golden Knights when they dealt him in 2018.
I know what you’re thinking — Bertuzzi and Tatar are FAR from similar players. The latter is more of an offensive catalyst; he’s the kind of guy that takes the shot or makes the pass that leads to a goal. The former is the player that does the dirty work so that players like Tatar can shine. So how do they compare?
When Tatar signed his current contract, he had a point per game (P/G) rate of .568 with the Red Wings. His best season was in 2014-15 when he collected 29 goals and 56 points. His production never reached the heights of a clear-cut, top-line forward. However, he still maintained a role as one of the Red Wings’ top offensive weapons.
As of this writing, Bertuzzi has a P/G of .597, with 119 points in 199 games. He has benefited from playing on the top line alongside Dylan Larkin, the team’s best player. However, Larkin has also reaped benefits from playing with Bertuzzi. According to Natural Stat Trick, the duo has a Corsi% of 57.62. This means that when they play together, they control over 57% of the offensive chances on the ice. When separated, Larkin has just a 44.03 Corsi%. This goes to show that Bertuzzi is a key part of Detroit’s attack just like Tatar was.
Bertuzzi is a year younger than Tatar was when he signed his deal, which means that “Bert” has another year of RFA-status after this season. In theory, this will bring down the value, unless the Red Wings aim to buy more years of his unrestricted free agency than they did with Tatar. With well over $30 million in cap space to play with in the offseason, the Red Wings will likely take the opportunity to lock down key pieces of their team to long-term deals.
There’s a sweet spot of four to six years that the Red Wings are working with when it comes to long-term deals. Larkin signed a five-year pact in 2018. Mantha looks poised to sign a deal within the same range. It only seems natural that the third member of that top line signs for the same length.
Although Tatar signed for just four years, he was ready to become a UFA the next year. Bertuzzi’s deal will buy the same amount of UFA years, plus a year of RFA status. This puts us at a five-year deal. Tatar’s cap hit of $5.3 million came at a time when the salary cap was lower, and the Red Wings had less money to go around. His production was similar but inferior to Bertuzzi’s at this point. It should go without saying that Bert is poised to sign for more than $5.3 million but by how much?
A five-year deal at a cap hit of $5.5 million would be an ideal outcome here. However, given the comparison to Tatar, and the fact that Bertuzzi exhibits the traits of a future leader for this team, I’ll bump up the value a bit. With that in mind, the Red Wings should expect to lock-down their new piano puller to a five-year agreement valued at $28.75 million — a $5.75 million cap hit. Sign it and sell some jerseys with the number 59 on the back.