Would a Tyler Bertuzzi extension with the Maple Leafs be possible down the line?

Photo credit:Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
7 months ago
New Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brad Treliving stepped up to the plate and gave his new fanbase something to be excited about on day two of free agency. After a somewhat underwhelming opening day that featured only the signing of veteran fighter Ryan Reaves to a three-year contract and a one-year, prove-it contract for defenceman John Klingberg, he answered a call that many fans had been putting out there despite a somewhat weak free agent class. Of course, that call was for Tyler Bertuzzi. 
A member of the Detroit Red Wings organization for seven years, Bertuzzi was traded to the Boston Bruins at the 2022-23 trade deadline after a slow start to the season that featured a few stints on the injured reserve and only 14 points in 29 games. The fresh start proved to be a game-changer for the Sudbury native, and he instantly made his mark with his new team. Joining an already-stacked Bruins squad, he recorded 16 points in the final 21 games of the season and was their best player on their shockingly short playoff run, scoring five goals and finishing with ten points in their first round series against the Florida Panthers. 
While he doesn’t have the same mean streak or set of fists as his uncle Todd, who spent 19 years in the NHL with six different teams, he’s established himself as a premier offensive player who still possesses a bit of an edge. He won’t be throwing thundering hits all that often, and it’s rare to see him drop the gloves, but he’s got the hound dog mentality and will slide seamlessly into the same role that players like Zach Hyman and Michael Bunting have filled in the past, with his offensive production likely falling somewhere in the middle of those two. 

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It’s been two months to the day he signed with the Maple Leafs. You’ve probably already read all sorts of lore and watched a bunch of his highlights since then, so I’m not going to be focusing so much on his game style in this piece, but rather an interesting tidbit that came from Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman on Wednesday. In a radio spot on Sportsnet Today with Sam McKee and Jesse Rubinoff, he had this to say about the Bertuzzi contract (the link to the full interview is here).
“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. Well, what does that mean after January 1st, when they’re able to sign him to an extension?” -Elliotte Friedman on Sportsnet Today
Before I dive any deeper into this, I want to clarify that this is not being presented as a rumour. There’s no set-in-stone confirmation from anybody that they had talked about a longer contract extension. At the same time, regardless of how you feel about Friedman, he’s closer to the team than any of us are, so it’s reasonable to believe that there’s some life to his belief in the situation. That said, his opinion on the situation is different from an actual report, so we’re going to treat it like an opinion. 
So, suppose this is true, and Bertuzzi and the Maple Leafs do have a mutual interest in a longer-term contract. The first question is, is it possible? 
Toronto sorted out their biggest offseason priority last week, locking up Auston Matthews for the next four years. He’s not the only player Treliving has to worry about signing, with a potential extension for William Nylander looming as well, and this will likely be the biggest hurdle in a potential extension for Tyler Bertuzzi. This also doesn’t factor in the possible extensions for Mitch Marner and/or John Tavares which will be due two years from now. 
If Bertuzzi gets back on the pace he’s been developing at for the past few years, then a long-term extension for him more than likely comes in above the number seven. He’s been a capable 20-goal scorer since 2018-19 and broke the 30-goal mark in 2021-22 in addition to 62 points in 68 games. Now with the opportunity to skate alongside Matthews and Marner and join the most talented forward group he’s ever been part of, there’s reason to believe he could produce at the pace he did back in 2021-22. While that would be ideal for the Maple Leafs, it also likely makes an extension more difficult to accomplish. 
On the flip side, if the salary cap actually raises by $4 million like it’s expected to, that will open up some extra funds for the Maple Leafs to work with. But even with those extra funds, it feels like an extension for him in addition to keeping Nylander is only possible if somebody takes a discount. 
In a recent interview with Friedman, Nylander brushed off concerns about his negotiations and reinforced the fact that he considers Toronto home and doesn’t want to play anywhere else. While the quote helped fans breathe a little bit, it’s also not the first time a Lewis Gross-represented player expressed desire to stay with their team before eventually leaving. I’m sure he’s being honest when he says he wants to stay, but he and his team will also be looking for fair value, and as of right now it doesn’t seem like he’s slated to get any less than $9 million at least. 
Maybe Nylander doesn’t have to be the one to take a discount. Maybe Bertuzzi will see that, with Matthews locked up for five years including this upcoming season, he’s got the best chance he’s ever had to compete for a Stanley Cup. The Bruins had a well-established team culture where players took less than they were worth to buy in, which he saw firsthand. Maybe he brings that experience with him to improve his hometown team’s chances of competing for a title. While this would obviously be an outcome everybody would love, it’s probably not wise to bank on someone taking a discount.
I think we’re looking at a situation where an extension for Bertuzzi likely only happens if the Nylander negotiations go south. There’s still lots of time for the latter to sign, but if January 1st comes along and the two sides are still not close to an agreement, the likelihood of locking up the former is probably higher in the event that Nylander walks.
This all being known, maybe one or both players shock us and adopt that Bruins mentality. Morgan Rielly, despite gripes during the regular season about his contract, took less than he likely would have gotten on the open market to remain a Leaf. And while you can go ahead and laugh at the idea of Matthews “taking less” despite signing the most expensive annual contract in the league’s history, there’s no question that other teams would froth at the mouth at the idea of signing him to a long-term extension at a figure over $14 million annually. Instead, he took $13.25 million to commit the prime of his career to the Maple Leafs. 
Whether there’s any actual life to Friedman’s belief in the situation or not, it’s nice that the Maple Leafs have a bit of a backup plan if they can’t retain Nylander. Whether or not they pursue an extension with Bertuzzi will also depend on how he performs in his first few months with the team. But if there’s any possible way Treliving can manage to keep all of his star forwards in Toronto AND add Bertuzzi to that group, they’ll be looking at easily the deepest forward corps in the league. It’ll just come down to how bought-in they all are, and how much personal value they’re willing to sacrifice for team success.

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