Tyler Bertuzzi was chatting with a couple of his Detroit Red Wings teammates when the subject shifted to the coming season.
Enthusiastic anticipation came easily to Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Robby Fabbri, who are central to the Wings’ rebuild. General manager Steve Yzerman signaled Bertuzzi’s importance to the team with a two-year, $9.5 million contract agreed to Saturday, which comes on the heels of a number of dealings and doings. Over the past month, Yzerman has traded for goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic and defenseman Nick Leddy, added forward Pius Suter and defenseman Jordan Oesterle in free agency, and re-signed veterans Sam Gagner and Marc Staal.
“It’s some good players coming — a mix of older veterans that will bring a lot to the team and be there for the younger guys, and then a few young guys that are really good in the league already,” Bertuzzi said Saturday. “I’m very excited. I talked to Larks and Fabs yesterday, we’re all very excited for this year.”
The first half of 2021 was challenging for Bertuzzi: He had a great start to the season with five goals and seven points in nine games, then a back injury caused him so much pain he ended up missing the rest of the season. He underwent surgery in April, and happily reports everything looks good for being ready for training camp, which begins Sept. 23
“Last year was very, very tough, physically and mentally, being in pain every day,” Bertuzzi said. “But everything is going as planned. Pretty much all restrictions are lifted in the gym. Been skating. No setbacks. Everything is going really well. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Back injuries can be tough to bounce back from. Defenseman Danny DeKeyser, five years older than Bertuzzi, hasn’t looked as effective since undergoing back surgery in December 2019. Bertuzzi’s style is in-your-face — he loves to mix it up with opponents, and has a knack for scoring goals around the net, where shoves and crosschecks run rampant. But Bertuzzi sounds determined that to be just as big of a pest as he was. That element of his game was a big part of his appeal when the Wings drafted him in the second round in 2013.
Bertuzzi’s rehabbing pal is Larkin, who left the Wings’ April 20 game in obvious pain after Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn shoved his stick into Larkin’s neck. Larkin was hospitalized and had to wear a neck brace. Yzerman said last week Larkin is progressing well, and Bertuzzi said his and Larkin’s training has included working with skating coaches.
“We’re all working out at the rink,” Bertuzzi said. “I see Larks every day. We’re working out side by side, we’re both getting better, skating together. When more guys come to town, we’ll skate with them.”
Bertuzzi delayed his wedding planned for this summer to next summer. (Travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada made it challenging to book a date this year.) But otherwise he’s having a good offseason, especially after gaining job security for two years. Bertuzzi already had established his value with 21-goal seasons in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Unlike last year, when his camp filed for arbitration that led to a one-year, $3.5 million deal, this year the process went very smoothly.
“No one wanted to go to arbitration,” Bertuzzi said. “We knew we’d get something done and come to even ground.
“This works out for both sides. Coming off a back injury, it gives me time to get back and prove myself and make sure that everything is good, just be as healthy as I can. It gives them time to look at me and say, ‘OK, he’s still healthy, he’s good.’ ”
The time to prove himself begins in September, when the Wings return to Traverse City. (They held camp in Detroit last season because of COVID-19 concerns.) It’ll be nearly a week of multiple practices a day, but after the challenges imparted by the pandemic and the injury, even that sounds delightful.
“I never thought I’d say I’m excited for training camp, but I am,” Bertuzzi said. “Traverse City, we didn’t go last year, but it’s a fun way to get all the new guys involved — go golfing, go fishing, whatever. It’s an awesome time up there and we love it.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.