Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Bertuzzi’s analytical profile suggests a 2024 eruption
1 month ago
Tyler Bertuzzi was always promised to be more than the centrepiece of Brad Treliving’s first offseason with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was a projection of what Treliving valued in his players with ostensibly starkly different qualities than the one Kyle Dubas searched for. Bertuzzi signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Maple Leafs — essentially, Bertuzzi was rewarded for the second half of his 2022-23 campaign while being expected to replicate Michael Bunting’s impact in the top-six after the latter joined the Carolina Hurricanes.
Bertuzzi was lauded by Treliving for his scoring punch and ‘snot’, the term de jour celebrating outright physicality. And through the opening weeks of the season, Bertuzzi delivered on neither promise. I wrote a dismissive evaluation of Bertuzzi’s season-to-date for Yahoo Sports Canada on November 3, highlighting that he hadn’t delivered the scoring punch or the toughness that was promised. Bertuzzi was demoted to the fourth line during a Nov. 2 loss to the Boston Bruins and Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe offered a simple explanation.
”He just needs to simplify his game,” Keefe said via Sportsnet’s Luke Fox. “Today we had a very simple plan, and he failed to execute that, so other guys had to take his place.”
During his morning media availability on November 4 ahead of a home game against the Buffalo Sabres, Bertuzzi stormed off after 80 seconds, evidently annoyed by the line of questioning surrounding his poor performances and why he appeared to be laughing on the bench during a confrontation with Boston Bruins captain Brad Marchand. It took a few more games to get acclimated with the team’s system but Bertuzzi has morphed into one of the NHL’s most analytically sound players since November 8.
Although it didn’t register in the scoresheet, Bertuzzi generated five shots and nine individual chances against the Ottawa Senators on November 8, then truly broke out during a November 11 game against the Vancouver Canucks, with two assists, three rebounds generated — more importantly, he displayed a true understanding of how to work off John Tavares and William Nylander, both of whom are expected to drive the line while Bertuzzi wins back pucks.
Nylander is in the middle of a tour-de-force campaign, Tavares is active in the slot, he’s generating tons of chances both off the rush and in stationary sequences in the offensive third, while Bertuzzi has understood the value of short passes and constantly getting open since the second week of November. It’s been a stark change and now Bertuzzi ranks 32nd in individual expected goal at 5-on-5, 37th in individual scoring chances while boasting just under a 60 percent share of the expected goals when he’s on the ice.
And we’re not even discounting his poor start to the year. From Nov. 8 onwards, Bertuzzi ranks 19th in individual expected goals, 29th in individual scoring chances, 12th in individual high danger chances, 46th in rush chances with a positive takeaway/giveaway differential via Natural Stat Trick. Is the anatomy of a star? No, but it sure as hell is the profile of a puck retrieval specialist aiding two elite linemates.
Bertuzzi-Tavares-Nylander is Toronto’s most commonly used line playing 221:46 at 5-on-5, with 10 goals for, six against, a plus-24 shot differential and a 61.2 percent share of the expected goals. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty good! They’re dominating their opponents and while the Auston Matthews line usually draws their opponents top competition, they’ve effectively functioned as a No. 1 line with Bertuzzi’s playmaking and improved spatial sense as a key reason.
You’ve put up with the math, let’s get into the fun! Bertuzzi was instrumental during Toronto’s best win of the season, a 3-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings. Bertuzzi displayed his short-area playmaking and spatial sense during Nylander’s opening goal, working in tandem with John Tavares as an outlet below the faceoff circle, then fired a no-look pass right to No. 88 for the 1-0 lead. It’s some terrific work from the line overall and it displays a maturity in Bertuzzi’s game, or at least, an understanding of where his linemates want him to be.
“If there was ever a guy that was going to make a play looking a little bit odd with one glove on, he’d be my pick,” Keefe said post-game via Sportsnet’s Luke Fox. “Stays in the battle. Makes the play.”
Bertuzzi is making spectacular reads, even without his nominal linemates. In the above play, Bertuzzi wins a puck battle against Andreas Englund, loses his glove and still fires a laser right to Calle Jarnkrok, who dangles around Cam Talbot for the insurance goal.
One of the hallmarks of greatness is being able to turn defense into instant offense and Bertuzzi did that well against the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 3, despite Lukas Dostal’s best efforts. Bertuzzi dives to pick off an errant pass, makes a short read to Tavares, who springs Nylander in for a dangerous scoring chance. He’s making these type of plays routinely and looking at the predictive data, it’s just a matter of time before Bertuzzi is routinely recognized on the scoresheet — although if he merely augments Nylander’s Hart campaign, that would be just fine.
Sometimes, it’s merely as simple as just being patient off the rush. Bertuzzi was tremendous in the Maple Leafs’ 7-0 throttling of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 16 with three assists and here, he just outwaits the defense before finding Nylander for a tap-in.
And of course, you can’t quantify vibes but Bertuzzi is certainly having fun out there.
Bertuzzi was looking like a failed Treliving experiment through the opening weeks of the season but patience is a virtue often lost on sports media, so consider this a mea culpa. He’s been tremendous for the Maple Leafs during the past two months, he’s augmented his two star linemates while producing just below star-calibre results of his own. He’s replicated the Michael Bunting role and while he struggled to build chemistry with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, he’s found something special with Nylander and Tavares, especially in small spaces in the offensive third. Don’t be surprised if he erupts in the 2024 calendar year.
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