The Detroit Red Wings need early-season version of Tyler Bertuzzi back. Here’s why

Detroit Free Press

Tyler Bertuzzi is expected to be available for the Detroit Red Wings’ next game, rejoining his teammates after a stay in COVID-19 protocol.

Getting back a top-line forward and power-play stalwart is welcome news to a team trying to overturn a three-game losing skid, but what would really help is if Bertuzzi looks more like his early-season self than the one who was underperforming before a positive test on Dec. 1 landed him in quarantine for 10 days/five games.

When the season began, Bertuzzi hadn’t played since the end of January, when a back injury ended up derailing his 2021 season and requiring surgery in April.

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Any concern how that would affect him dissipated when he scored four goals in the opener. He had a point in each of the next two games, and another multipoint performance (goal, two assists) in his fifth game.

Bertuzzi gave an especially impressive performance Nov. 6 at Buffalo, with the Wings on an 0-3-1 skid. With the Sabres leading 3-1 in the third period (Bertuzzi had set up Pius Suter’s goal in the first period), Bertuzzi scored twice 90 seconds apart with less than seven minutes to play — and capped off the evening by setting up Moritz Seider in overtime.

The next night, Bertuzzi used a goal and an assist to help the Wings win a second straight game.

Bertuzzi’s production after that Nov. 7 game against the Vegas Golden Knights was nine goals and six assists in 10 games; his 1.5 points-per-game average lead the team. Expecting Bertuzzi to keep producing at that rate was not sustainable, but beyond scoring, his value — which yielded Bertuzzi a two-year, $9.5 million deal in the offseason — is that at his best, he plays with such grit and determination it gets under opponents’ skin. That aspect of his game dropped off, and with it, his production: In 10 games spanning Nov. 9-30, Bertuzzi had just three assists. In that same span, Bertuzzi’s linemates thrived: Dylan Larkin had seven goals and four assists, and Lucas Raymond had three goals and four assists.

Overall, Bertuzzi has 18 points in 20 games. Bertuzzi, the NHL’s only unvaccinated player, has missed eight games: Three because he could not travel to Canada under current border regulations, plus five in quarantine. The Wings have not paid Bertuzzi during that time, because while the NHL and NHL Players Association do not have a vaccine mandate, teams do not have to pay players who miss team activities because of unvaccinated status.

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Coach Jeff Blashill often has brought up how the Wings can’t afford to have players not on their A game, because while their depth has improved from previous seasons, they still are not a team that can count on taking command of a losing game in the third period. Bertuzzi hasn’t been on his A game in more than a month. Monday’s practice (Sunday was a day off) will be his first with his teammates this month, and he may not be in game-shape yet when the Wings (13-12-3) host the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

But even a B performance from Bertuzzi would be a welcome sight for the Wings.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.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 AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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