Red Wings Should Pursue Tyler Bertuzzi Reunion

The Hockey Writers

As the Detroit Lions get set to host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in this weekend’s NFL Divisional playoff matchup, it’s important to look back at how their outspoken head coach, Dan Campbell, laid the foundation for the team’s recent success. He used the word “grit” to establish the key attribute that the organization was looking for in its players. He told the media that he wanted his squad to “bite kneecaps” and show up with the mentality to “grind it out.” Looking across the street from Ford Field to Little Caesars Arena, there is another team in town who could use that type of player right now. The Detroit Red Wings once had that rugged grinder in Tyler Bertuzzi and have been missing it ever since they traded him to the Boston Bruins back on March 2, 2023.

Tyler Bertuzzi Toronto Maple Leafs
Tyler Bertuzzi, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Bertuzzi was drafted by Detroit in the second round (58th overall) in the 2013 draft and became a fan favorite not long thereafter. This was partly due to his style of play but also the fact he is the nephew of former Detroit forward Todd Bertuzzi. The elder Bertuzzi was known for his aggressive style of play and willingly played the role of the organization’s on-ice enforcer from 2007 and 2009-2014. But the tough guy uncle was much more than that. He was once the prototype NHL forward who could score but would also not hesitate to drop the gloves at a moment’s notice. His physical presence on the ice, combined with his scoring prowess, established him as one of the top power forwards in the league during the early 2000s with the Vancouver Canucks, netting 174 goals from 1999-2006. Sounds like the kind of guy Detroit could use right now.

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By no means are the two similar players, as Tyler gives up about two inches and nearly forty pounds to his mom’s brother. The younger Bertuzzi has not displayed the scoring touch that Todd once had, posting only one 30-goal season during his eight-year career. But they did have something similar – that physical edge that this Red Wing’s team is desperately lacking. They were the kind of players who never worried about their front teeth being present. Remember that “grit” that Campbell mentioned? Well, the Bertuzzis were overflowing with it.

Tyler Bertuzzi
Detroit Red Wings left wing Tyler Bertuzzi (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY)

It is safe to say that Detroit has been pushed around in the physical department this season, especially when you consider the injury Larkin suffered against the Ottawa Senators in a 5-1 loss on Dec. 9th. You can count on two hands the number of times teams have tried to take liberties with him. While forward David Perron did an admirable job in defending the team’s leader, the Red Wings need a tougher response that makes their opponents fear retaliation. That is what I believe is the missing ingredient in Detroit’s recent surge as the second half of the season unfolds.

Bertuzzi seemed like the perfect fit for a Bruins team looking to make a Cup run after setting the single-season record for wins in 2022-23. The trade created a perfect storm for agitation – teaming up with one of the league’s top instigators in Brad Marchand – that should have caused nightmares for opposing teams. Bertuzzi’s physical presence was supposed to be the missing piece to put the club over the top. He posted five goals to go along with five assists in seven playoff games, but Boston was quickly shown the door in their first-round upset loss to the Florida Panthers. The Bruins’ offseason plans did not include the unrestricted free agent for some odd reason, and he was forced to settle for a one-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Many analysts believed he could be the X-factor for a Leaf’s team that wasn’t accustomed to playoff success.

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At this point, it’s fair to say the pairing hasn’t exactly worked out as planned in “The Six.” Bertuzzi has struggled to maintain pace and is drawing the ire of the ever-faithful Leafs nation. He’s posted just six goals in 43 games so far and is hearing it from the home crowd in what has been a frustrating season for the Sudbury, Ontario native. Many observers called him out in the media when he was caught laughing on the bench after teammate Timothy Liljegren was slew-footed by his other former teammate, Marchand, during a Nov 2nd. matchup in Boston. Where was the supposed agitator in that time of need? Being a scapegoat in the Toronto market is not something any player craves, and trade rumors are swirling as Bertuzzi will be an unrestricted free agent once again this offseason.

Reunion Tour

Could Bertuzzi be a fit on a Detroit team that hasn’t reached the postseason in nearly eight years? His friendship with Larkin was evident as the majority of Red Wings’ fans watched the captain get emotional with the media while addressing the trade of his “best friend.” Bertuzzi has had success in Detroit, but there always seemed to be something going on behind closed doors that pushed him away from the team that originally drafted him. The 6-foot-1 forward refused to get the Covid vaccination during the epidemic, which prevented him from traveling to Canada for games, and it’s been rumored that left a bad taste in the mouth of the Red Wings’ front office. He did miss his fair share of games due to injuries, and there were major concerns about the issues with his back that required season-ending surgery during the 2020-21 season.

There’s no denying his talent. Detroit would probably have to shed some salary to make it happen, but would general manager Steve Yzerman even be a willing participant? At this point, I would say no, but anyone who watches hockey can see what this team is missing. The Red Wings need their own Marchand, their own agitator that blends skill with grit. Would Toronto even make that move as the two teams continue to battle back and forth in the standings? It’s doubtful, but with the recent signing of William Nylander, it’s looking like the Leafs may be willing to move some salary, especially if Bertuzzi continues to struggle.

Waiting in the Wings

Bertuzzi was an effective player during his time in the Winged Wheel jersey, topping 60 points in his final full season in Motown while relishing the role of team agitator. He has always had a love-hate relationship with the fanbase. The organization is hoping they have already found their “next Bertuzzi” in 2021 third-round pick Carter Mazur, but he’s still too raw at this point and will need more time to develop in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Bertuzzi could be an intriguing addition for a Detroit team that needs to find that “grit” as they continue to battle for a playoff spot. If the Red Wings are serious about getting back into the postseason this year and are still in contention at the March 8 trade deadline, they will need to add a mix of toughness and skill to their top nine. They just so happen to be familiar with a toothless face that has some of both.

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