Leafs add a much-needed type of player to their top-6 in Tyler Bertuzzi
Photo credit:Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
By Alex Hobson2 months ago
There was a strong sense of dejection around the Toronto Maple Leafs, specifically toward general manager Brad Treliving, after day one of free agency.
The Maple Leafs lost a total of seven players to other teams, including Ryan O’Reilly, the poster boy for the boneshaker of a trade deadline this past season, and Michael Bunting, the Scarbrough kid who signed for pennies and dropped 63 points in his first year with the team.
Meanwhile, they left the first day with three signings, kicking things off with Ryan Reaves. A beacon of good vibes and just an all-around good teammate, but from an on-ice standpoint probably not worth $1.3 million annually for the next three years.
Later in the day came the deal for defenseman John Klingberg, a decent second pair option who will provide some much-needed puck movement and power play presence at the expense of poor defense. And, squished in between those two contracts, the signing of defenseman William Lagesson, likely for AHL purposes and nothing else.
The next day, the Treliving and the Maple Leafs took those feelings of dejection and turned them into memories, announcing the signing of power forward Tyler Bertuzzi to a one-year contract worth $5.5 million.
Bertuzzi had a slow, injury-riddled start to the season that limited him to only 14 points in 29 games with the Detroit Red Wings. His fortunes changed when he was dealt to the Boston Bruins at the 2023 deadline, finishing the regular season with 16 points in 21 games. He then turned a new gear in the playoffs, scoring five goals and notching ten points in the Bruins’ short-lived playoff run.
When you look at the trajectory of his career, there’s reason to be excited about what he brings to the table. He got his first taste of regular NHL minutes in 2017-18, finishing the year with 24 points in 48 games. He recorded 47 and 48 respectively in the following two years, hitting the 20-goal mark each time as well, and after a back injury limited him to only nine games in 2020-21, he finally had his breakout year in 2021-22, scoring 30 goals and adding 62 points in 68 games.
He averaged around 19 minutes of ice time each season up until this year, where it slightly dipped down to 16. While not much of a physical player like his uncle was, he’s consistently a positive corsi player and has the ability to get under your skin. The Maple Leafs had this with Bunting, but Bertuzzi takes it to higher levels and also produces more offense.
What makes this signing more valuable than his offensive abilities, specifically valuable to the Maple Leafs, is the fact that they haven’t had a player like Bertuzzi since the days of Darcy Tucker.
They’ve had all sorts of variations of power forwards. James van Riemsdyk didn’t throw booming hits, but he had slick hands in front of the net. Zach Hyman wasn’t going to get under your skin, but he had more hustle than any Leaf player in recent memory possessed. And while Bunting wasn’t a physical player by any means, he would always be in the middle of things after scrums.
Bertuzzi can use his body to score goals and chirp your face off in the process. While he’s not known as a fighter, with only five fights in the NHL since his debut, he’s far from a timid player either. He’s your prototypical “playoff” player, somebody who will give you everything he’s got and then some when the going gets tough, and he’ll serve a valuable role that the Leafs haven’t had for a long time.
With the signing of Bertuzzi, and then the subsequent signing of Max Domi, Maple Leafs fans are in a much better place following the second day of free agency, and given that the team is over the cap limit, there are sure to be more moves to come.
Recent articles from Alex Hobson