It can’t all be “wait until the playoffs”: Tyler Bertuzzi and the Maple Leafs

Photo credit:© Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
2 months ago
Snakebitten. That is the nicest thing that can be said about Tyler Bertuzzi’s offensive outputs this season. More or less that is true, but it is a snake bite that existed last season as well. Of course, that’s not why Tyler Bertuzzi is here. Bertuzzi is an exercise in ignoring the 6.5% regular season shooting percentages and focusing entirely on the 23.8% shooting percentage, 5 goals, 5 assists in 7 games sample that is Tyler Bertuzzi’s playoff career. He’s someone who did a lot of damage against the Florida Panthers and the Leafs are hoping that he is that guy again come April. And that’s why despite looking like a bust of a signing so far, so many people are still content to wait and see what comes next.
The thing is, Bertuzzi might just be this and trusting that in mid-April a switch will flip in his brain and he’ll score at will isn’t realistic, nor is it realistic to assume that the Leafs don’t need his help now. The guy brought in to be an upgrade on Michael Bunting presently has 5 fewer goals and 11 fewer points than Bunting. At best Bertuzzi has been a modest upgrade on Pierre Engvall and while I’m sure Bertuzzi’s edgier style of player has given him more leeway than Engvall ever had, Engvall also never took up $5.5M of cap space.
Bertuzzi’s 2021-22 season bought him a lot of credibility. He was a 30 goal scorer, had 62 points in 66 games, and ideally the Leafs believed he’d be that again. How could he not when it seemed he was destined to play with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. That was ignoring a couple of key things. The first is that in 2022 Tyler Bertuzzi broke his hand. Since that point he has 13 regular season goals in 90 games. The second thing is that when you look at his 50 games played last season that really isn’t far off his numbers this season. He had 2 more goals and 7 more assists, but really the offense wasn’t there (until the playoffs.)
Looking at Bertuzzi’s offence after the trade with the Bruins, his numbers did improve. He had 16 points in 21 games, four of which were goals. Still, Bertuzzi took time to figure things out in Boston and it took him 10 games to get a goal there. Eight of his 16 points came in the final four games of the season and I’m sure at the time the Bruins had their doubts about the 8 point in 17 game player that they just gave up a first round pick to rent.
There is something to be said about players needing time to find their fit and Bertuzzi eventually seemed to find it in Boston, having a productive end to the season and having it carryover for the Bruins brief playoff appearance.
The Leafs have given Bertuzzi over double the length of time he had in Boston to find a fit and instead of seeing an eight point in four game heater, the Leafs have a second line winger with one goal in his last 30 games and just 12 points over that same span of time.
While yes, this is a criticism of Tyler Bertuzzi, there isn’t a shortage of criticism to go around. Brad Treliving signed a 30 point winger to a $5.5M contract to play on the top line with the expectations that he would be much better and that hasn’t gone as planned. And Sheldon Keefe has had a history of issues in injecting a power forward type player into his top six at the NHL level and while Bertuzzi might be a better option than Wayne Simmonds, Nick Ritchie, or Nick Foligno, the results are playing out in the same fashion.
What offers some hope for Tyler Bertuzzi is that he has had exceptional on-ice numbers this season to the point of looking like a strong defensive presence:
This has come with some very choice assignments as Bertuzzi has been stapled to the Leafs top six and has been used more situationally at times earlier this year when protecting a lead, but Bertuzzi continues to have one of the best GA/60 (2.23) of the Leafs forward group only behind Marner, Matthews, and Holmberg. His expected goals against (2.45) are only behind Holmberg, and his Corsi against (58.07) is only behind Nick Robertson. While a lot of this might be born of deployment, Bertuzzi has numbers that could support someone like Holmberg or Kampf if the Leafs went with more of a shutdown line option in their bottom six. A Bertuzzi-Kampf-Jarnkrok line with Domi moving up into the top six left wing role might address a few of the Leafs needs while still leaving an interesting fourth line of Gregor-Holmberg-Robertson.
The other thing I’ve wondered about with Bertuzzi is whether he’d be capable of creating secondary offence if he was put with a shooter like Nick Robertson. Robertson isn’t as selective a shooter as the Leafs top six group and Bertuzzi could excel at handling rebound cleanup for the young winger.
While it might not have been the role envisioned for Bertuzzi at the time of his signing, it is the role the numbers are supporting and with second powerplay unit time still likely part of the plan for him, he’s not completely cut off from the chance to create offence and prove that he’s best suited for the Leafs top six.
In the meantime, from Bertuzzi’s on-ice numbers and the offensive outputs of his linemates, he definitely hasn’t been holding his linemates back and this does seem to mirror what the Leafs have also been going through with Matthew Knies as finding ways for the Leafs left wings to contribute with the juggernauts of the Leafs forward group has been a struggle. Maybe the key lies in sitting Bertuzzi down with a greatest hits of Michael Bunting tape and ask him to watch it and then do what Bunting did, only meaner.
Related: The Leafs aren’t utilizing Tyler Bertuzzi properly – here’s how to fix this – Alex Hobson
Data from Evolving Hockey and Hockey Reference.

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