What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. This week Tony Wolak, Devin Little, Patrick Brown, and Kyle Knopp are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
With 16 points in his first 13 games, Tyler Bertuzzi is off to a scorching start for the Red Wings. His 3.33 expected goals-for per 60 at five-on-five ranks eighth among NHL forwards, placing him right in between Connor McDavid (3.36) and Auston Matthews (3.29). Not bad company, eh?
Bertuzzi’s place among the NHL’s elite begs the question, does he deserve a spot on Canada’s Olympic team?
In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, The Hockey Writers’ Red Wings coverage team debates the likelihood of Bertuzzi joining the Canadian Olympic team this February in Beijing.
Tony Wolak: Deserved, But Unlikely
Based on his play thus far, Bertuzzi deserves to join Canada’s Olympic team as one of their 14 forwards. His gritty style around the net and ability to kill penalties are attributes that would benefit Team Canada during the Winter Games in Beijing. Clearly, he’s been a top-line NHL forward this season – counting stats and advanced analytics agree on that.
However, other players with greater brand equity will be chosen over him. Sean Couturier, John Tavares, and Patrice Bergeron bring a little more to the table, even if they’re not having as good of a year as Bertuzzi. In addition, Bertuzzi’s below-average foot speed may be a concern on the larger Olympic ice.
Devin Little: Not Even if Bertuzzi was Vaxxed
If there’s one thing Team Canada doesn’t have to worry about when the Winter Olympics roll around, it’s icing a competitive hockey team. From playmakers to grinders, to power forwards and two-way forces, Canada produces some of the very best hockey talent this world has to offer, meaning that only the best of the best earn the honor of wearing the maple leaf on the international stage.
As great as Tyler Bertuzzi has been for the Red Wings this season, a hot start in the 2021-22 season is not enough to earn him a spot on Team Canada’s roster – and that’s before considering anything about his vaccination status. It would maybe be different if Dylan Larkin was Canadian – you could pitch the idea of keeping Larkin and Bertuzzi together for chemistry’s sake. Instead, Larkin is an American, and Bertuzzi is a Canadian forward that is essentially the poor man’s Brad Marchand – and I mean that with all due respect to No. 59. The Olympics simply aren’t in the cards for the junkyard dog.
Patrick Brown: Bertuzzi’s Vaccine Status Too Much to Overcome
I’m not here to debate anything about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, rather, I just don’t think the Team Canada brass can move forward with a player who isn’t vaccinated given the country’s strict requirements around it. Add to that the fully-vaccinated wealth of talent that the team has to select from, and it’s really not a difficult decision at all.
The 26-year-old is having a fantastic year, and in my opinion he undoubtedly deserves a spot on the roster, but Bertuzzi was also aware of the potential consequences surrounding his decision. Right or wrong, that’s what will prevent him from representing Canada in the 2022 Olympics.
Kyle Knopp: No Chance for Bertuzzi
I hate to be the pessimistic one of the group, but there are two main reasons behind my answer. First, Canada is stacked to the fourth line with generational and top-line talent. That’s not to say that Bertuzzi couldn’t fill a certain role on that team, but if he were on the Tampa Bay Lightning during their past two Cup runs, he would likely be a Yanni Gourde or Blake Coleman-type player. Two players who played huge roles for their team, but won’t find themselves on an Olympic roster anytime soon.
Secondly, the whole vaccination thing comes into play. If Bertuzzi continues to refuse to get the vaccine, then there is no way the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is going to grant him permission to live in the Olympic Village and compete with the rest of the athletes and put others at risk. After the Summer Games getting a lot of heat for potential outbreaks and getting requests for tighter restrictions, I expect there to be too many barriers for Bertuzzi to play with Team Canada as long as he remains unvaccinated.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.