Size isn’t everything: Tyler Bertuzzi has to do more to please the Maple Leafs

Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
7 months ago
Editor’s Note: this post was written prior to the Leafs vs. Blue Jackets and the data in the article reflects that’.
Tyler Bertuzzi is quietly joining the ranks of power forwards who haven’t been able to find their place in the Leafs top six. Or maybe he has and it is just that his fit comes at the cost of his own point production. We’ve seen the Leafs bring in big bodied players before, and one-by-one, David Clarkson, Wayne Simmonds, Nick Ritchie, and so forth have departed from their top six roles and the organization. Now 26 games into Bertuzzi’s time with the Leafs, it seems worthwhile to contemplate whether he is a slow starter or if he just isn’t going to get going for the Maple Leafs and he’s a bad fit.
Monday night against the Islanders, Bertuzzi looked like a bad fit. On a night that he was riding shotgun to John Tavares and big things were expected of both Bertuzzi and Marner, the line fell somewhat flat. It seemed that any time that Chris Cuthbert stated, “pass over to Bertuzzi,” the play would die shortly after the Leafs would be heading back towards their own net. Despite having three shots on goal, had an individual expected goals of 0.09, making him about as effective as Ryan Reaves was against the Islanders. That came despite playing over 16 minutes of 5v5. Bertuzzi would finish the game with a 33.3% GF, and sub-50% on-ice expected goals for and high danger corsi for numbers as well. It wasn’t a great game for the Sudbury product, and it seems like the majority of the season can be described that way.
Tuesday night was interesting as well. I’m not sure you can say any Leaf looked like a bad fit, but the offensive output from Bertuzzi remained absent in a game where the Leafs netted seven goals. His +3 on the night certainly shows that he wasn’t hindering his linemates success, but not even accidently picking up a second assist by a puck bouncing off of him at some point should raise a bit of concern about his ability to add to offence in the Leafs top six. In contrast, Noah Gregor, new to top six play managed to pick up an assist while filling in for Matthew Knies, and Gregor played over two and a half minutes more than Bertuzzi. His individual expected goals actually dropped from Monday night by a small margin, as he had a 0.08 ixG on the night, 8th out of the 11th dressed Leafs forwards.
As much as this is looking like a bash Bertuzzi type of post (and in some ways it is), there are a lot of little things that Bertuzzi has been doing that can be appreciated. He is absolutely a thorn in the side of his opponents, he potentially is creating more space for John Tavares and either William Nylander or Mitch Marner to do their things on the ice, and for the chart crowd, it’s hard for it to get much better than this:
If you want to take something away from that, it looks like Bertuzzi is doing everything but scoring when he’s on the ice and you can absolutely hold onto the belief that the points are coming. His 5v5 shooting percentage is 6% and his all situation shooting percentage is 8.6%. Last season was the only year worse for the former Red Wing for shooting percentage, but that was masked by his impressive assist total while he was in Boston. This year the helpers are as hard to come by as the goals. Still, the numbers say not to write him off.
The other piece of the puzzle is that Bertuzzi’s game may simply not fit in with what Sheldon Keefe’s thrives at. When the Leafs have possession in the offensive zone the team thrives on puck cycling and moving the puck until there is a shooting lane. Or the Leafs top six will rely on exploiting a rush into the zone. Neither of these areas are where Bertuzzi excels, and his puck retrievals are helpful but don’t translate into chances. To some degree this would apply to Matthew Knies as well, but he has proven far more capable to keep up with the rush attempts despite remaining similarly stagnant when it comes to retrieval driven opportunities.  There are also going to be different standards for an entry level contract rookie than a $5.5M AAV veteran when it comes to getting on the scoresheet, something that Knies has done more of than Bertuzzi.
When it comes to fixing Bertuzzi, it might be as simple as flipping him with Robertson in the lineup. With the Domi/Robertson pairing not producing what it did in the early days of their time together and with Marner now on the Tavares line, it would be interesting to see what Marner can do with Robertson as a shooter and Tavares as the net presence. And from his side of things, putting him with Domi gives Toronto 2/3rds of a line that will absolutely get under the skin of their opponents and potentially gives two players who have struggled to find their offence with the Leafs more of an opportunity to do things their way rather than adapt to what works for Toronto’s core four.
It’s also worth remembering that while the Tyler Bertuzzi experiment looks like an expensive one that is yielding underwhelming results so far, he was a decision based in the Leafs need for “playoff hockey” type players. It could just be a long 82 game hike to see what Brad Treliving brought in Bertuzzi to do. Of course, it would be nice to have a bit more confidence in the payoff rather than heading into the post season with a question mark.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Leafs have the 5th best points percentage in hockey heading into Thursday night’s game. They are 6-1-3 in their last 10 and there isn’t a sense of urgency around the Leafs offence coming out of a 7-3 beating of the Metropolitan Division leaders. Still, good teams and good players find ways to be better and improving Tyler Bertuzzi is an opportunity for the Leafs.
Data sourced from Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey
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