Saying that “it sucks missing games,” Tyler Bertuzzi remained unrepentant about his decision to forego the COVID-19 vaccine after enduring a bout with the virus.
Bertuzzi emerged Monday from a 10-day quarantine, and said he stayed active by walking his dog to the park, and is expected to be in the Detroit Red Wings’ lineup Tuesday when they host the New York Islanders. Bertuzzi, the NHL’s only unvaccinated player, has missed eight games — five during this stretch, and three because of Canadian border restrictions — and there are six more games in Canada on the Wings’ schedule.
Asked if he has reconsidered his stance, Bertuzzi shook his head and replied, “Natural immunity now.” His teammate, Danny DeKeyser, just went through a second bout with COVID-19.
Asked if Bertuzzi having antibodies changed his travel status, coach Jeff Blashill said not to his knowledge. “I haven’t dove super deep into it. Our people are looking at all the possibilities and ramifications of him testing positive, and it’s not affecting us today.”
The Wings don’t have a game scheduled in Canada again until the end of February. They have a weeklong trip to western Canada in mid-March, at a time they could potentially be fighting for a playoff spot.
That Bertuzzi would miss a chunk of the season came to light on the eve of training camp, when general manager Steve Yzerman said Bertuzzi had decided not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Yzerman pointed out that he and his family all had gotten vaccinated. The NHL and the NHL Players Association agreed not to have a vaccine mandate, but the Wings have taken the option not to pay Bertuzzi during the team activities he has missed because of his unvaccinated status.
Bertuzzi said he felt “stuffy and a little headache,” while ill with the virus. “There were a few days I was stuffy and didn’t really want to do any cardio. I pretty much walked every day with my dog to the park and I tried to stay as active as I possibly could.” He also watched the Wings drop to 2-6 without him in the lineup.
“Obviously it sucks missing games, but it is what it is,” Bertuzzi said.
Bertuzzi, signed in the offseason to a two-year, $9.5 million contract, is one of the team’s most important players. He had nine goals and six assists in his first games 10 games, but had produced just three assists in 10 games before he entered protocol Dec. 1. Asked what he needed to do to look more like his early season self, Bertuzzi said, “Keep it simple, I guess. Try and get points.
“Maybe go to the net a little bit more.”
He was back on the top line with Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond at Monday’s practice. Bertuzzi may not be up to speed as soon as Tuesday, but when he is back at full strength, the Wings need to see him at his most effective.
“With Tyler, and with that line with Tyler and Larks and Rayzer, just managing the game, and managing the puck,” Blashill said. “They have the ability to make some plays and have made plays that resulted in some higher-end offensive goals and they’ve also turned the puck over too much. There is a balance there, and the balance is situational, where you’re at on the ice, the balance is the advantage you have — do you have them on the ropes where you can really make a play or are you forcing the puck? Are you playing with the lead and how much time is left? I think all those things is something that is a work in progress for that group, and when Tyler plays his best, he’s on the right side of that balance. He’s making plays when there’s plays to be made and he’s living another day when he has to live another day.”
Defenseman Marc Staal remained in protocol Monday. He, Bertuzzi and DeKeyser have all been sidelined in recent weeks by the virus, which is making daily news in the NHL. The Calgary Flames had three games postponed this week because of how many team personnel are in protocol, and the Islanders were coming off a postponed schedule when they were in Detroit earlier this month. In the NBA, the Pistons’ game Tuesday with the Chicago Bulls was postponed due to an outbreak on the Bulls.
Blashill wasn’t sure if the Wings would travel under enhanced measures when they visit Carolina later this week, as they did on last week’s trip to St. Louis and Colorado.
“Last trip we were in enhanced measures and we stayed in our rooms,” he said. “Some teams went to that early in the season and they had one of the biggest COVID outbreaks. It’s a virus that can find you a lot of different ways. Certainly, you want to be vigilant.”
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.