Detroit Red Wings know it’ll be ‘really weird’ playing vs. Tyler Bertuzzi, Boston Bruins

Detroit Free Press

For those in the Detroit Red Wings’ locker room who have history with Tyler Bertuzzi, this weekend will undeniably be a strange one.

“Weird, really weird,” is how Dylan Larkin described the anticipation as the Wings face a home-and-home series with the Boston Bruins, who acquired Bertuzzi March 2, the day before the trade deadline. Larkin took it hard at the time, losing a close friend and longtime teammate, but as the days have passed, emotions have settled.

“I’ve texted with him a little bit,” Larkin said Thursday. “He said it’s cool playing on a good team. It’s a good team, good players. He’s going to do really well and going to go on a run and I’m really happy for him in that way.

“It’s going to be a tough game but I am excited to see how we stack up against these guys. It’s been emotional, it’s been kind of hard to see the dream of making the playoffs fade away, but we’ve kind of gotten over that and now we hit the reset button a little bit. We are still in it. You never know what can happen.”

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The trade came the day after Larkin signed an eight-year extension. He and Bertuzzi were the Wings’ two most prominent pending unrestricted free agents, but while general manager Steve Yzerman found common ground with Larkin’s camp, there was too wide a chasm between the Wings and Bertuzzi, who wanted an eight-year deal. Given his injury history (major back surgery in 2021, two hand surgeries this season), the Wings balked at that. So, Yzerman did what made sense from a hockey operations standpoint and traded Bertuzzi, gaining a protected 2024 first-round pick (if it’s in the top 10, it transfers to 2025) and a fourth-round pick in 2025.

That is the business part of the game; for the players, Bertuzzi had become a friend.

“For me when I first came in here, I was a young guy and he would tell me to just play my game,” Joe Veleno said. “If I had a turnover or made a made a bad play, he would tap me on the shoulder and be like, just keep playing. That is one thing I will remember about him.”

Lucas Raymond spent most of his rookie season on a line with Bertuzzi, stoking a relationship that grew off the ice.

“Me and Tyler were very close,” Raymond said. “We became really good friends and he was a big part of my time here. It’s going to be a little weird but a lot of fun to play him. We always joked around so now we can finally go at one another. He’s amazing guy, amazing player, I wish him all the best in Boston.”

Filip Zadina sat near Bertuzzi in the locker room at Little Caesars Arena.

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“It’s going to be a weird,” Zadina said. “Since I got here, I have been with Tyler on the team and hew as a huge part of this organization. I was looking up to him when I got here, my first season, so it was huge for me to see him play here and get better watching him. It’s going to be special to play against him, for sure, and hopefully he will take it easy on us.”

The Bruins haven’t taken it easy on anyone — they defeated the Wings, 5-1, back in October, part of a rampage that has the Bruins atop the NHL standings and pushing to surpass the record-setting 62-victory mark set by the 1995-96 Wings (62-13-7) and tied in 2018-19 by the Tampa Bay Lightning (62-16-4). Wings coach Derek Lalonde was an assistant with the Lightning at that time.

“The guys just did not let up,” Lalonde said. “When I look back on it now, it may have hurt us — in that we got swept by Columbus, we lost sight of the big goal, which was obviously the playoffs. Unfortunately, I don’t think we are going to get a Boston Bruins night off. Sometimes you might catch an elite team sleeping on us, but the way they are pushing, they are playing for something every night. I think we will get their best both nights.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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