Tyler Bertuzzi’s first year with the Maple Leafs was a tale of two seasons

Photo credit:© Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Joseph Zita
18 days ago
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After signing Ryan Reaves and John Klingberg to contracts on the first day of free agency last July, Brad Treliving and the Toronto Maple Leafs won the fan base back over by signing Tyler Bertuzzi to a one-year, $5.5M contract the following day on July 2nd.
Coming off a brief stint with the Boston Bruins following a trade from the Detroit Red Wings ahead of the 2023 NHL trade deadline, Bertuzzi found instant success with the Bruins, registering 16 points in 21 regular games with them to go along with 10 points in seven playoff games.
The Bruins, who went all in at the trade deadline last year after a historic season, had a handful of pending UFAs, and Bertuzzi was one of the handful of players that walked in free agency, signing a one-year deal with one of the Bruins’ biggest rivals, the Maple Leafs.
After losing Zach Hyman in free agency two years prior, signing Bertuzzi was considered the Hyman replacement who could play alongside Toronto’s best offensive players. Bertuzzi might not be the flashiest of players, but he has all the tools to be a very productive player while playing with an element that gets under the other team’s skin. Entering Toronto, he had three 20-goal seasons under his belt, including a 30-goal campaign with the Red Wings in the 2021-22 season, where he set a career-high in points with 62 in just 68 games.
You mix that recent track record of success while he was on some not-so-good Red Wings teams and his instant success with the Bruins the prior season, Bertuzzi had all the makings of having a monster season with the realistic potential of setting career highs in goals, assists and points, if played alongside Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares.

First half of the season

With the hype of Bertuzzi finally becoming a Maple Leaf and the Sudbury native projected to slot alongside Matthews and Marner on the top line, it wasn’t smooth sailing for him. It’s cliché to say new players will take some time to gel with their new teammates, which is obvious, given they have never played together. But what Bertuzzi went through in the first half of the season was strange.
It would be a different story if he looked completely out of place, but the former 2013 second-round pick looked fine on the ice. The puck was not going in the net for him. No matter how many chances he created.
MonthGamesGoalsAssistsPointsShooting %
As the table above shows, significantly low shooting percentage numbers affected Bertuzzi’s first four months as a Maple Leaf. Entering the 2023-24 season, his career average shooting percentage was 14.1%, owning a 7.5 shooting percentage last season (2022-23) split between Detroit and Boston when he scored only eight goals in 50 games.
Based on his previous four seasons before 2022-23, when he posted shooting percentages of 16.0%, 16.3%, 25.0%, and 16.7%, it was a likely possibility it was going to drop this season because those numbers were just not sustainable. However, I don’t think anybody predicted his shooting percentage to fall to 7.0% through the first four months of the season while playing alongside some of the best offensive players in the league.
Through 46 games, the former three-time 20-goal scorer had only six goals. Fortunately, he was able to add 14 assists, giving him a total of 20 points at the end of January with three months to go.
With three months to go in the regular season, the unofficial second half ahead was likely to be kind to Bertuzzi, who, as mentioned above, was getting his chances almost every game but couldn’t put the puck in the back of the net. According to Moneypuck.com, he finished the season as the third-highest Maple Leaf in expected goals per 60 minutes with 1.32. His chances were there in the first 46 games of the season. He couldn’t finish. The chances kept coming in the second half for him, and he made no mistake, going on a mini-heater in the final 34 games.

Second half of the season

After countless posts, crossbars, offside reviews, and great saves from the opposing goalies, the final 34 games for Bertuzzi were not only critical for the Maple Leafs with the playoffs right around the corner but for the player himself, who signed a one-year contract, likely looking to cash in with a nice deal in free agency come July 1st.
In the final 34 games of the 2023-24 regular season, it felt like he was a totally different player. The scoring chances were still there, yes. But he was scoring at a much higher rate and had pretty productive months points-wise compared to the first four months of the season.
After scoring just six goals in four months with a shooting percentage of 7.0%, the next three months from Bertuzzi were better. In 34 games, he notched 15 goals and 23 points with a shooting percentage of 20.3%, around his career-high, including a hat-trick against the Colorado Avalanche, which kick-started his hot second half.
MonthGamesGoalsAssistsPointsShooting %
As the table above shows, Bertuzzi caught fire, and almost everything he fired toward the net went in. After recording a shooting percentage of 11.1%, 9.7%, 5.0%, and 0.0% through the first four months, he followed February, March, and April up with eye-opening numbers (18.8%, 28.6%, and 14.3%).
He potted home 15 goals, more than doubling his total of six through the first half of the season, recorded his fourth 20-goal season and reached the 40-point mark for the fourth time in his career.
With arguably Toronto’s biggest free agent signing from last offseason finally looking like the player the organization signed on July 2nd, it had the fan base salivating at the thought of what he could accomplish in the playoffs with Toronto. Because, after all, a massive reason Brad Treliving and the Maple Leafs signed Bertuzzi (and Domi) was because of the playoffs.
Following a productive run to end the season, Bertuzzi and the Maple Leafs’ run in the playoffs didn’t last long and, as fans are very accustomed to, goals were hard to come by, limiting him to just four points – one goal and three assists – in seven games, which tied him for the most among his teammates along with Auston Matthews and Max Domi.

Open to a return, but will it happen?

The unfortunate part about Bertuzzi is he signed a one-year contract last summer and now sees himself as pending UFA again unless he and the Toronto Maple Leafs can agree on a contract extension for next season and beyond.
There is a mutual interest between the two sides to try and get something done to keep Bertuzzi in Toronto long-term. After all, Elliotte Friedman reported on Sportsnet Today before the season started that both sides tried to do something long-term.
“I’m of the belief that Toronto wanted to sign Bertuzzi longer and I think Bertuzzi wanted to sign longer. But, they just didn’t have the ability to do it now.
During locker cleanout day, Bertuzzi mentioned that re-signing in Toronto would be something he’s open to and that he and his family loved it here in Toronto.
It’s uncertain whether or not things will ultimately materialize into a contract extension, given the amount of pending UFA’s Toronto has, including Max Domi, another player that Toronto is reportedly interested in retaining, and the potential for the organization to pivot on the open market with some other forward names likely heading to free agency.
Toronto’s projected cap space this off-season is roughly around $18.5M, and after coming off a one-year deal worth $5.5M, it’s safe to say Bertuzzi and his camp will likely want something similar but for more term.
(Stats from hockey-reference.com)

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