Why Bruins should try whatever possible to re-sign Tyler Bertuzzi originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Tyler Bertuzzi is, in many ways, the ideal Boston Bruins player.
Whether he wears a spoked-B sweater on Opening Night during the 2023-24 NHL season remains to be seen, though.
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The Bruins acquired Bertuzzi from the Detroit Red Wings on March 2, the day before the trade deadline. With two left wingers in Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno out of the lineup due to injuries at the time, Boston needed additional depth on the wing and paid a steep price -- a protected 2024 first-round pick and a 2025 fourth-round pick -- to swing a deal for Bertuzzi.
It was a gamble that paid huge dividends.
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Bertuzzi tallied 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 21 games for the Bruins during the regular season. The Bruins were eliminated in stunning fashion by the Florida Panthers in seven games in the first round of the playoffs, but it was no fault of Bertuzzi's. His 10 points (five goals, five assists) tied Brad Marchand for the team lead. He tallied at least one point in all but one game of that series, including three multi-point performances.
"He did great. He's a competitor and he battles extremely hard," Marchand said when asked about Bertuzzi's playoff debut in Game 1. "I don't think there are any question marks about him. He's won in the past. He was incredible in the Calder Cup run they had in Detroit. He's just one of those guys you hate to play against. He brings it every night. His compete level is through the roof. He's a guy you knew was going to show up and be a playoff-type player."
Bertuzzi is a quality goal scorer. He scored 20-plus goals in 2018-19 and 2019-20, then tallied a career-high 32 in 2021-22. Bertuzzi scores a lot of goals in the dirty areas of the ice, like in front of the net. He battles for positioning and loose pucks and often comes out on top. It's not easy, but every team needs a forward willing to pay that price to score, especially in the playoffs.
He's also a tremendous playmaker, and it might actually be the best aspect of his skill set. Boston's first goal of Round 1 was set up by a slick backhand feed by Bertuzzi to David Pastrnak.
Bertuzzi tallied 12 assists in his last 12 games of the season, including the playoffs. He has posted 20-plus assists in each of his last four healthy seasons.
His ability to go to the tough areas of the ice to win puck possession, then create scoring chances for teammates with his excellent vision and passing skill make him really valuable in the attacking zone. And it's one of the reasons he had tremendous chemistry with Pastrnak on the second line. You need a winger who will put in the dirty work and set up your elite scorers.
Bertuzzi does it all. He scores. He creates goals for teammates. He drops the gloves and fights when needed. He brings a physical edge to the ice each shift without crossing the line and taking dumb penalties. It's the kind of power forward-type of hockey that Bruins fans love.
The Bruins must try everything they can to re-sign Bertuzzi long term. Not only does his skill set mesh well with the team, he also has all the makings of a fan favorite and someone who will sell tickets and increase interest in the team. The fact that he's 28 years old is helpful, too, since the Bruins don't have a ton of elite prospects coming through the system.
Bertuzzi also enjoyed his time in Boston. When asked during breakup day May 2 if he could see his family being here long term, Bertuzzi replied, "Yeah, we loved it. We honestly had such a blast. We were in the north end. Ate pasta everyday, went for walks, we had a lot of fun, and we enjoyed it here. So yeah, we could definitely see it."
Actually keeping him in Boston will be difficult for a few reasons.
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One reason is the free agent class isn't very strong. Many of the top players are near the end of their primes or past it. Guys like Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O'Reilly, etc. Bertuzzi is one of the few top UFAs who's 28 years old or younger. When you factor in his age, talent and positional versatility, a case could be made that Bertuzzi is the best UFA on the market. And let's not forget that general managers and coaches love players who play his kind of style and often overpay for it.
A team like the Chicago Blackhawks that has a boatload of salary cap space and a need for wingers to play alongside expected No. 1 overall pick Connor Bedard would be wise to pursue Bertuzzi in free agency. Could Bertuzzi fetch a contract worth $6-7 million per season? It's possible. He's a really good player in the prime of his career.
The Bruins have less than $10 million in salary cap space and more than 10 players eligible for free agency. Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Nick Foligno, Dmitry Orlov, Tomas Nosek and Bertuzzi headline Boston's group of UFAs. Trent Frederic and Jeremy Swayman are the most notable RFAs. Pastrnak's salary cap hit will almost double when his eight-year, $90 million extension kicks in next season. Boston has $4.5 million in overages that will be tacked on to their 2023-24 cap, too. The Bruins could improve their position by trading a contract or two. It's the easiest way for the front office to create salary cap space.
Simply put, the Bruins' cap crunch might cost them Bertuzzi.
It's going to be a challenge, for sure, but it would behoove the Bruins to explore every possible avenue to retain Bertuzzi long term. His impressive skill set and play style help make him an excellent fit for this franchise and the city.