The Boston Bruins acquired Tyler Bertuzzi on Thursday morning as the arms race in the Atlantic Division continues apace.
F Tyler Bertuzzi (50% retained)
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) March 2, 2023
To open up the cap space, the Bruins have placed Taylor Hall and his $6 million cap hit on LTIR. Hall was said to be seeking a second opinion on his lower-body injury, which was not initially believed to be serious. Now we wait and see if Hall will be able to return, if he will be activated at playoff time once the cap limit disappears, or if the Bruins make an additional move to open up space so he could return during the remainder of the regular season.
It’s an interesting question to ponder. If the Hall injury doesn’t happen, is it possible Bertuzzi is a Leaf?
For the Leafs to match this price, they likely would’ve had to sacrifice their own 2024 first-round pick or add an additional pick to the 2023 first acquired from Boston in the Rasmus Sandin trade, as the 2023 pick from Boston cannot be higher than 28 given the Bruins will win their division with the most points of any division winner. Moving their 2024 first would’ve left the Leafs with just one pick in the first three rounds of the next two drafts combined, but this kind of package would leave them with all of their top prospects still in the organization.
It’s also worth noting that along with Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, Erik Gustafsson, and Luke Schenn, Bertuzzi would’ve represented a fifth rental player acquisition.
When healthy and in form (big ifs this season), Bertuzzi is a very nice “lite power forward” complement to a top-six line and a capable net-front power-play weapon. Since breaking the league full-time in 2017-18, the 6’1, 200-pound Bertuzzi fast became a fan favourite in Detroit during their lean rebuilding years thanks to his blend of scoring ability and fearless physical play in the corners, at the front of the net, and in the occasional bout of fisticuffs.
This season — a contract year for the Sudbury native — has not been near as productive, though. A two-time 20+ goal scorer and one-time 30-goal scorer (achieved last season in just 68 games), the pending UFA is in the midst of an injury-riddled down season with just four goals and 14 points.
He’s broken both of his hands blocking shots this season — the left one required surgery — and dealt with a minor lower-body ailment as well, limiting him to just 29 games so far. The injury history is noteworthy; while both of those hand injuries are flukey tough breaks, he appeared in just nine games in 2020-21 due to a back injury.
Bertuzzi was a first-line, 20-minute-per-game forward last season for Detroit with over 16 minutes at evens, three minutes a night on the power play, and a tertiary role on the penalty kill. His ice time is down to 16 minutes and change per night this year, including just 13:26/game at even strength. Those ice-time and production figures are his lowest since his rookie season back in 2017-18.
Last season, in a miserable 74-point campaign for the Red Wings (-82 goal differential), Bertuzzi was the only Detroit regular to be on the ice for more goals for than against at five-on-five (53 for, 52 against), and he nearly broke even in expected goal share as well at 49.5%. This season, Bertuzzi has mostly lined up next to centerman Dylan Larkin, with whom his results are worse this season than last.
In 2021-22, the pair out-scored the opposition 26-23 at five-on-five and broke even in shot attempts and expected goals. This year, they’re below water at 11 goals for and 15 against as well as a 49.7% shot attempt share.
In terms of playoff experience, Bertuzzi fits the Jake McCabe profile in that he has played over 300 games in the league but has yet to appear in a playoff game, although he has won a Calder Cup championship in the AHL with Grand Rapids in 2017 while earning AHL playoff MVP honours (19 points in 19 games).
Bertuzzi is in the midst of a clear down season in terms of health, production, and on-ice results while playing on a more competitive Red Wings team than years past, although his injuries have been a significant factor, and those were broken bones, not ligament issues or the like. He is not expected to be as much of an offensive leader in Boston so much as he is another piece to the puzzle, and it also goes without saying that the Bruins’ environment is more conducive to getting Bertuzzi back on track offensively.
If Hall is able to return for the playoffs, Bertuzzi will give the Bruins the one additional offensive piece they were looking for inside their top nine with Craig Smith moved out and new addition Garnet Hathaway bumped to the fourth line. If we assume full health (which is unlikely, but to wit):
#63 Brad Marchand – #37 Patrice Bergeron – #74 Jake DeBrusk
#18 Pavel Zacha – #46 David Krejci – #88 David Pastrnak
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #13 Charlie Coyle – #71 Taylor Hall*
#17 Nick Foligno* – #11 Trent Frederic – #21 Garnet Hathaway
Extra: Tomas Nosek, AJ Greer
#81 Dmitri Orlov – #73 Charlie McAvoy
#27 Hampus Lindholm – #25 Brandon Carlo
#28 Derek Forbert – #48 Matt Grzelcyk
Extra: Connor Clifton
#35 Linus Ullmark
#1 Jeremy Swayman
It clearly won’t be Bertuzzi now, but the Leafs‘ need for one more winger of note — especially when thinking of a potential match-up with Boston’s four-line depth above — appears to remain as we approach 24 hours until the trade deadline.
Said winger could slot in next to John Tavares and Mitch Marner/William Nylander or join Ryan O’Reilly on a third line, with one of Calle Jarnkrok or Alex Kerfoot moving up onto the second line. It is currently a little more difficult to picture the Leafs getting the most out of ROR driving a third line with one of Kerfoot or Jarnkrok plus one of Noel Acciari or Sam Lafferty on his wings.
If they were to add one more top-nine winger of consequence and move ROR to C, there would also be the trickle-down effect of slotting David Kampf in as the checking 4C in between Noel Acciari and Sam Lafferty, which is the best-looking fourth line the team would’ve iced in ages. With the right additional forward piece, it would be a 1-4 forward group that stacks up nicely against Tampa and Boston, and there would be no need to hide any of the four lines from difficult competition.
With Bertuzzi off the board now, who could that winger be? Names like David Perron (one more year at $4.75 million), Adam Henrique (one more year at $5.8 million), Conor Garland (three more years at $4.9 million), or Lawson Crouse (four more years at $4.3 million) all might pique some interest, but there is term and a $4+ million in cap hit to take on in each of those situations. Among the rental options, Max Domi, Nick Bjugstad, or Conor Sheary might move for cheap (Domi and Bjugstad can play center or the wing, it’s worth noting) in the final hours before the deadline.
My sense is the ask right now from Chicago on pending UFA Max Domi is a second-round pick that's down the road, similar to the price Colorado paid on Lars Eller
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) March 2, 2023
With 18 goals and 49 points in 60 games, Domi has been significantly more productive and healthy than Bertuzzi this season in not-dissimilar usage (in the top six and on the top power-play unit).
The Leafs are currently carrying 12 forwards and nine defensemen, so it would appear something has to give by 3 p.m. tomorrow.