The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/23/12 at 04:27 AM ET
Updated with a superb article about Bertuzzi by the Bob Wojnowski at 3:10 AM: The Detroit Free Press’s Helene St. James was on the story first and now she’s confirming it: the Detroit Red Wings have chosen to re-sign Todd Bertuzzi to a 2-year contract extension (Capgeek.com doesn’t have the details yet, but I’m sure their Bertuzzi page will have the breakdown soon):
Bertuzzi has made himself at home in the metro area since re-joining the Wings in the summer of 2009, and he will continue to do so for another two years. As the Free Press was the first to report Wednesday, Bertuzzi and the Wings have agreed to a two-year extension worth around $2.25 million a season.
“It was easy to do,” Bertuzzi said. “I love being here, I love being part of the Wings. I’m really excited about our team this year. I feel we’re very focused, especially on playing defense. We lacked that last year, and in training camp, everybody pretty much decided to up the ante.”
Bertuzzi, 37, has 12 goals and 29 points in 54 games. He helped turn around the underperforming first line when he was put with Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen in mid-November. But Bertuzzi always has had offensive skills, never more so on display than when he starred for the Canucks a decade ago. What’s remarkable now is how he’s developed his defensive game since joining the Wings.
“You know it’s funny, but back then, I was in a totally different role,” Bertuzzi said. “And to tell you the truth, I really enjoy playing this way. You try to prove yourself each and every time so they trust you when it matters.”
The deal made sense to the Wings because they got a big man—6-feet-3, 200-plus pounds—with great hands at a reasonable price. General manager Ken Holland is a big believer in the importance of veterans, often pointing out that when things get tough, “they get it done on will.”
Bertuzzi has become so popular in Detroit that the first 7,500 fans through the doors of Joe Louis Arena tonight will get a Bertuzzi bobblehead, as he was one of three Wings picked by fans last summer to be portrayed in polyresin. His flesh-and-blood miniatures—son, Tag, 11, and daughter, Jaden, 12—are enrolled in local hockey programs, contributing to Bertuzzi’s comfort in closing out his career in Detroit.
“They love it here, love playing here, just like me,” Bertuzzi said. “All I really want to do is win a Cup and have something that a lot of the other guys in the room already have.”
Update: I’m in the middle of writing my overnight report/game set-up, but this needs to go here and not in there. We did more than a little chatting about Bertuzzi’s undeniable tie to one Steve Moore via the Vancouver Province’s Tony Gallagher discussing the legal stuff that’s still in progress—to the tune of “secret agreements” and legal wrangling by Canada’s most powerful attorney in a civil suit that Bertuzzi literally cannot speak about for fear of further damaging whatever quarter-to-third of his income he will end up giving (and rightly sore) to Mr. Moore…
But Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Regner duly noted that
both the Red Wings and Bertuzzi feel that their relationship should continue because of Bertuzzi’s on and off-ice maturity into a team leader, mentor for younger players and something of an extremely affordable power forward (see: what Tuomo Ruutu got for similar production because he’s ten years younger):
The Wings added the extra year as a compromise that will keep Bertuzzi, 37, with the Wings through the 2013-14 season.
During the past few weeks, Wings general manager Ken Holland has told reporters that he wanted to keep Bertuzzi. Without a new deal, Bertuzzi could become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Bertuzzi joins a long list of veteran players who have revitalized their careers in Detroit. Once a defensive liability, he’s become a responsible two-way player who remains a force down low and a shootout artist.
After a slow start to the season, Bertuzzi has picked up the pace and has 12 goals and 17 assists in 54 games. He’s an impressive plus-21, which at one time during his career would have been unthinkable.
Bertuzzi’s agent also told the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness that financially and otherwise, Bertuzzi’s indeed much more comfortable with his role than he was in his first go-round in Detroit…
“He’s fit in well there,” Morris said. “He’s changed his game and met those expectations of playing defensive minded. (Detroit) has a strong coaching staff and the real strong locker room. He’s got size and skill,” Morris added. “He’s healthy and doing very well now. And his family enjoys it here.”
Wings General Manager Ken Holland said earlier this month that the team wanted to re-sign Bertuzzi.
“He’s in great shape and playing with a lot of confidence,” Holland said. “And that line as got great chemistry.”
The Wings first got Bertuzzi prior to the trade deadline in 2007. After that season, he signed a two-year deal with Anaheim before returning back to Detroit after that contract ran out.
“One (reason he left) was the length of contract and money Detroit was offering,” Morris said. “He decided to pursue free agency. He had a couple of teams looking at him and one of them was Anaheim. He really liked it here,” Morris added. “He had a few teams interested in him after (two seasons in Anaheim) but he wanted to come back to Detroit.”
The Wings could have used Bertuzzi for the two years that he spent in Anaheim and Calgary, but given that Bertuzzi’s 2-year, $8 million deal with the Ducks played out in abbreviatd manners as Bertuzzi had to have surgeries for knee and groin issues stemming from his underlying back issues, he needed to learn how to get in shape and, to some extent, realize how well he had it being asked to simply play…Well, a simple game in Detroit.
The Red Wings don’t mind that Bertuzzi’s a streaky-as-hell scorer, or that he’s going to generally post about 20 goals, 20 assists and somewhere between 35-45 points while generally playing on the 2nd or 3rd line. As long as he keeps his blind backhand passes to a bare minimum, restricts his spinoramas to shootouts as much as possible, keeps his feet moving through the neutral zone so that he can grind the puck out on the cycle and then go to the net and stay there, and plays sound defensive hockey, Bertuzzi offers the kind of size, strength, presence (occasional fisticuffs included) and reputation that allow him to serve as what those of us who were born in the 70’s call a “nuclear deterrent” (i.e. somebody so intimidating that opponents are less likely to take liberties with Detroit’s more skilled players with Bertuzzi’s glare boring holes into their players)...
And given the Wings’ likely personnel over the next two seasons, Bertuzzi serves as a bridge toward what will probably be a naturally bigger team as players like Brian Lashoff, Brendan Smith, Riley Sheahan,Trevor Parkes, Joakim Andersson and Louis-Marc Aubry round out the Gustav Nyquists, Tomas Tatars and Calle Jarnkroks in the pipeline:
On Tuesday, the team traded for defenseman Kyle Quincey. He’s a restricted free agent at the end of the season and Holland has already said they would make him an offer to remain with the team.
The Wings have a long list of unrestricted free agents to sign or let go this offseason. Defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart and Mike Commodore, along with forwards Jiri Hudler and Tomas Holmstrom are all in the final year of deals as is goalie Ty Conklin, who was assigned to Grand Rapids after clearing waivers on Tuesday. Forwards Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader are also restricted free agents at the end of the season and both are expected to re-sign.
In other words, while Hudler, Commodore, and probably Jakub Kindl are playing for their jobs, Joey MacDonald may end up serving as Jimmy Howard’s back-up, and the Wings don’t know whether Brad Stuart (family), Tomas Holmstrom (knees) or Nicklas Lidstrom (family) will return, the honest-to-goodness truth is that the Wings aren’t going to make any radical changes barring a superstar free agent forward or defenseman becoming available and wishing to sign with Detroit, so the Wings need Bertuzzi to bridge the immediate and long-term future in terms of providing size, strength and intimidation.
That’s more than fine by Bertuzzi, as the Detroit News’s Bob Wojnowski noted in a fantastic column about “Big Bert”:
“I’ve always felt comfortable here, it’s one of those locker rooms and organizations that just makes you feel at home right away,” Bertuzzi said. “Being here for a while now, you get that hunger even more, that taste of success they’ve always had.”
Wings GM Ken Holland believes that Bertuzzi 2.0 is a perfect fit…
“If we didn’t believe in second chances as an organization, we would’ve just faded away and gone through a rebuild,” Holland said. “Ultimately, you need to take risks, although I don’t think Bert was a risk. Whatever stories were out there, we didn’t live. I believe in our culture and the character of our locker room. And I also know Bert was one of the premier power forwards in the game. When you blend the two together, you’re banking on the odds it’s gonna be a nice relationship.”
And there’s simply no doubt that Bertuzzi will continue to separate his past actions from what he brings to the table as a member of the Detroit Red Wings when the civil suit finally reaches the courtroom next fall:
“I don’t care what people say,” he said. “I play for myself and my family and my teammates. If you even stop for a second to worry about it, it’s gonna be a waste of time. It’s never been a toll or a weight on me. My stuff is my stuff, I deal with it. I never once brought it into this locker room and I don’t even speak about it.”
Eight years after his public emotional remorse, what else is there to say? The gruff exterior is still there, with the unshaven face and the missing teeth and the sometimes-abrupt demeanor. But where it once was an intimidation tactic, now it’s mostly a shield. Privately, Bertuzzi is funny and engaging and a mentor to younger players.
“A lot of people have a bad perception of him because of the incident, but I think once you get to know him, he’s the exact opposite of that,” said Drew Miller, whose locker is next to Bertuzzi’s. “He’s definitely a good person, a good player, a good father. I think he’s a great guy, and a lot of my progression in hockey has been from watching him.”
Teammates rave about Bertuzzi’s professionalism, and also happily label him a “teddy bear.” But the Wings’ late-career reclamation projects are never about sentimentality. They’re about finding elements in older, skilled players that other teams don’t have the patience to extract. Early on, the Wings weren’t ecstatic with Bertuzzi’s conditioning and defense. But when Babcock bumped him to the top line in November, he helped create even more space for Datsyuk, and his commitment to defense is noticeable.
“I think Bert’s been excellent for a while,” Babcock said recently. “He’s big and he’s physical. He’s protecting the puck and guys are bouncing off him, and that makes him hard to play.”
Bottom line, Bertuzzi hopes to be riding shotgun for Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Darren Helm or whoever Babcock places him with for a good while yet:
“In order for us to be successful, I gotta go in the corners and get the pucks and do a little of the dirty work for Pav,” Bertuzzi said. “An injury to your back takes a lot out of you, but I’m feeling pretty good. I still got the drive. I want to stick around here and win something.”
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