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Why it’s the perfect time to start thinking about an extension for Tyler Bertuzzi
By Alex Hobson1 month ago
After a puzzling Day 1 of free agency that saw new Leafs general manager Brad Treliving swing (and subsequently miss) on a pair of free agents in fighter Ryan Reaves and defenceman John Klingberg, he won over the hearts of the fanbase on Day 2 with the signings of Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi.
Depth scoring had proven to be an issue in years past for the Leafs, as well as consistently playing with ‘snot’ in Treliving’s words. Both players have helped in that department and have started to find their offence lately, but Bertuzzi specifically has taken a little bit longer to hit the scoresheet. Expectations for him were taller after he recorded 16 points in 21 games to close out last season with the Boston Bruins, then tied Brad Marchand for the team lead in playoff points during their first round series against the Florida Panthers.
With expectations of the Sudbury native finding a home on the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner coming into training camp, his five goals and 12 points in 28 games so far seem like a massive disappointment. Well, if you don’t watch the games anyway.
The eye test didn’t do Bertuzzi any favours early on. He didn’t look comfortable on the top line and wound up getting benched for parts of games. And, although I can’t imagine a guy on a one-year prove-it deal would bring anything less than his best in such a pivotal season, there were times when he looked careless with and without the puck.
Thankfully, we tend to reserve our judgements for after the season, not two months in. And, while this article may come off as recency bias given that Bertuzzi is fresh off a three-assist performance in Kyle Dubas’ return to Toronto, he’s been a lot better than he’s gotten credit for. In this case, his lack of scoresheet offence might actually work in the Maple Leafs’ favour long term, should the two sides ever talk contract extension. And, according to Elliotte Friedman, the two sides HAD originally talked multi-year extension, but Toronto simply didn’t have the money to make it work at the time.
Before I delve into why this makes sense for Toronto any more, I need to make one thing clear; the Leafs should not be worried about signing Bertuzzi long term until they sign William Nylander. His deal is the clear-cut most important, and if they lose him, it’s going to take a lot more than Bertuzzi to make up for what he brings. If there’s no pen to Willy’s paper, there should be no dice for anyone else until there’s clarity on where the Swede will be playing in 2024-25.
That said, writing articles like these is all about hypotheticals, and for the purpose of this piece, we’re going to assume that Treliving finds a way to get Nylander locked up. After demonstrating the ability to score 30 goals, play a relentless forecheck and slide nicely into the role of a top six power forward back in 2021-22, Bertuzzi could have made a legitimate case to come in and demand something in the realm of $7-8 million long-term. Instead, he got off to a slow start with the Detroit Red Wings in 2022-23, who promptly traded him to the Boston Bruins at the deadline. He made up for his weak first half, like I alluded to above, but his 28-game body of work with the Bruins wasn’t enough for many teams to feel comfortable settling on a number like that long term. Hence why he signed a prove it deal with Toronto.
For as much as Bertuzzi’s playstyle is coveted by teams around the league, he’s not going to be getting a raise with 13 points in 29 games to his name so far. Having said that, once January 1st hits, the Leafs will be eligible to offer extensions to any pending unrestricted free agents they have. They should be taking advantage of what will likely be a dip in interest for his services league wide, and get him signed to an extension while his value is lower than usual.
One might argue that Bertuzzi’s lack of offensive production is more reflective of who he is than his playoff run with the Bruins or his 2021-22 season with Detroit is. And if you rely exclusively on the eye test, that would probably check out. But, analytically, he’s actually been one of their best players when it comes to puck possession. His Corsi-for rating of 57.25% is the best of any player on the Leafs, and while we all know that plus/minus is a flawed stat, his rating of +10 is second on the team and reflects the fact that he’s played a big part in setting up goals that he didn’t get scoresheet credit for. Call it “third assist syndrome”, if you will. He also leads the team in expected goals with a rating of 63.01%, almost seven points higher than the next-highest forward, John Tavares at 57.45%. He clearly makes things happen while he’s on the ice even if he doesn’t get scoresheet credit for it, and hasn’t really looked out of place outside of the first few games on the top line.
If the Leafs can manage to secure Bertuzzi’s services for the next 3-5 years at a dollar value between $4.5-5.5 million, they’ll have a top-6 power forward locked up on the left side for the prime of Matthews and Marner’s careers. He and Matthew Knies would give them a healthy mix of playmaking, goal scoring touch, and size on the left side, and even if Bertuzzi isn’t a point-per-game player, having him in the realm of 45-55 points with his edgy tendencies and subtle passing ability could set them up nicely for the future.
The Leafs and Brad Treliving will and should rightfully have priorities that come before signing Bertuzzi long term. They desperately need an upgrade on the back end and might need one in net too, depending on how or if Ilya Samsonov can bounce back. But, inking the former Sudbury Wolf to an extension would be a tidy bit of business that should be considered, at the very least.
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