Seven weeks after he left a game with an aching back, Tyler Bertuzzi is not close to rejoining the Detroit Red Wings.
That was the bad news delivered Thursday by coach Jeff Blashill, who described the lack of progress Bertuzzi has endured while attempting a comeback. The season was two weeks old when bowed out; now it’s more than halfway gone, and there’s been no recent Bertuzzi sighting on the ice at Little Caesars Arena.
“He’s gone back-and-forth between and skating and not skating and right now he’s not skating,” Blashill said. “That certainly doesn’t make him close at all. He’s obviously not practicing.”
Bertuzzi led the Wings with five goals and was tied for the team lead with seven points when left after two periods Jan. 30. The injury dated to the previous outing, Jan. 28 against the Dallas Stars. So far, he has avoided surgery — but that could change.
“We’ve got great medical people and they look at everything and they make the decision on a day-to-day basis on what’s best for the player, and what’s best for him short term and what’s best for him long term,” Blashill said. “They’ll continue to do that.
“I think everything is on the table right now. I’m not trying to be vague, I just don’t know the answer. We are going to have to take it day-by-day. It sucks. But it is what it is and you have to work through it.”
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When the five players who spent two weeks in COVID-19 quarantine in January were ready to return, they did so after one practice. Given how long Bertuzzi has been out, and his penchant for going to dirty areas, he’s going to need at least a week of practices.
“The first step is to skate over a longer period of time than what he’s done,” Blashill said. “He’s kind of gone in spurts of two or three days and then has had to come off it. If he can go on his own and build up to four or five days, and then into practice — he’s a ways out.”
Few players go through an entire season at 100%, playing through bumps and bruises. But that’s significantly different than trying to play with a back injury.
“You can never come back if you’re going to risk further injury,” Blashill said. “If there is significant risk of further injury by coming back, we will never put a player back in the game. Then it comes down to, can you play like you’re 100%? You don’t feel 100% but nobody in the stands, nobody on TV, nobody knows because of how you play. Those are the things we look at.”
The Wings don’t have anyone else with the same rambunctious style, the same knack for scoring while in front of the net. Bertuzzi scored his third power play goal of the season Jan. 28; after that, the Wings went 0-for-40 on power play opportunities, a stretch that spanned 14 games.
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“Tyler is a big piece for our team, he’s a great person,” Blashill said. “He’s in the prime of his career and it’s really unfortunate. I feel bad for Tyler. I feel bad for our hockey team — we are a better team with him.”
Bertuzzi, 26, gambled in the offseason and filed for arbitration, which was settled with a one-year, $3.5 million deal. There’s no question he’s valuable — he’s consistently one of the team’s hardest workers and a reliable producer — and his next contract figures to be the biggest of his career, as general manager Steve Yzerman is likely to want to tie up Bertuzzi deep into unrestricted free agency.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.