Detroit — Tyler Bertuzzi wasn’t in the Red Wings’ lineup for Monday’s exhibition game against the Chicago Blackhawks, and it’s unclear whether he’ll play in any of the three remaining exhibition games.
Returning from back surgery, which essentially cost him all of last season, it would be good to have Bertuzzi play a warm-up game or two.
But the bigger picture is making sure Bertuzzi is fully heathy and ready to play the regular season opener Oct. 14 against Tampa Bay.
“You’d love to do that; you’d love to have him play a few games,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “But he’s in a spot where we’re progressing him and we’ll see. I’m not going to put a timeline on it, and I’m not going to say that it’s something that is a must.
“He has to be ready for Game 1 against Tampa and there are a lot of different ways you can be ready. Some of it is playing in the exhibition season, but we’ll see how it progresses.”
Bertuzzi has been physically cleared to practice and play, and has been a regular in practices since the start of training camp. He also played in the intrasquad Red & White scrimmage.
But through five exhibition games, Bertuzzi has yet to play as the Wings remain cautious with the forward.
“Returning to play coming off a major back surgery, there’s a lot that goes into that,” Blashill said. “Part of it is just getting your body ready. He hasn’t skated this hard in a lot of months, way more than other people.
“Part of it is just getting his body ready and getting into a spot to be ready to feel comfortable to go out and be successful.”
Blashill said Bertuzzi would take part in Monday’s practice. But whether Bertuzzi would be able to jump into an exhibition game later in the week remained unclear.
“Our goal is for him to be ready for Game 1 against Tampa,” Blashill said. “We’d love to get him in exhibition games, they can help you feel your way into it. We’d love to get him some games, but right now we’re trying to keep progressing at the right speed.”
Ideally the Wings would like to have their roster essentially set by the weekend, and possibly play their NHL lineup Saturday in the exhibition finale in Buffalo.
But that might, or might not, happen.
Given the three games yet to play, possible injuries, and possible roster battles for jobs, the Wings could keep extra players through the weekend.
“If it works out, great, but if we’re undecided with a number of guys, we’ll dress a little bit different roster (in Buffalo),” Blashill said.
A smaller roster by the weekend allows for roles and responsibilities to be defined to start the season, and allows a team to prepare for the regular season a few days early.
But, there might be personnel still battling for available roster spots.
Goaltender Calvin Pickard, defenseman Brian Lashoff and forward Taro Hirose have had good exhibition seasons and have NHL experience, but appear to be destined to start the season in Grand Rapids.
The three veterans are examples of how teams value quality depth and leadership in their organization.
“You have to have guys to call up and are capable of winning NHL games, and all those guys have done that,” Blashill said. “You also want to have leadership in Grand Rapids to help mentor young players, to push young players to be their very best.”
Lashoff has been the Griffins’ captain the past several seasons, and a player Blashill thinks highly of, in that role.
“He does an outstanding job of that,” Blashill said. “He’s an excellent person; he’s a guy we feel pretty comfortable coming up to play in an NHL game, but also does an excellent job of leading down there.
“I’ve told him multiple times he’s extraordinarily valuable to our organization and he knows that, but any of those guys are.”
Defenseman Jordan Oesterle already has shown in this exhibition season how useful he can be for a team.
Oesterle (Dearborn Divine Child/Dearborn Heights) was signed as an unrestricted free agent over the summer with the intention of supplying depth and versatility to the defensive unit.
Oesterle, 29, has played in 252 NHL games, spanning seven seasons in Edmonton, Chicago and Arizona.
Thus far, Oesterle has played on both specialty teams, shown to be a good defender, and be effective in any role.
Blashill recruited Oesterle to Western Michigan, but left to join Mike Babcock‘s coaching staff with the Wings in 2011, just as Oesterle was arriving for his freshman season at WMU.
Blashill believes Oesterle can help the Wings in a variety of ways.
“He’s a good skater who’s smart and can do a number of different things,” Blashill said. “He can play a little bit on your power play, he can kill penalties. He’s been good in five-on-five situations. He jumps up in the play, gets the puck out of the zone.”