The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/20/11 at 12:07 AM ET
Updated at 4:30 AM with more from St. James: When the Detroit Red Wings traded Shawn Matthias and a mid-round draft pick in 2007 to the Florida Panthers for one Todd Bertuzzi, they acquired a player in conflict with himself. Two years after a horrific incident that we all remember, Bertuzzi remained pretty angry at just about everyone, himself included, and he continued to employ a style of play that he very simply couldn’t afford to utilize in the post-lockout NHL. Bertuzzi’s offensive dominance during the early 2000’s was predicated upon the kind of clutching, grabbing and an out-of-control physical game that the league deemed illegal, especially as Bertuzzi became a very marked and closely-watched man.
Wings coach Mike Babcock and GM Ken Holland asked Bertuzzi to play a more controlled and conservative game, Bertuzzi balked, and despite his modicum of success with the Wings as they reached the Western Conference Finals, he chose to sign with Brian Burke’s Anaheim Ducks. Under Randy Carlyle, the classic Todd Bertuzzi remained a player whose giveaways and obstruction penalties were equally divided between reputation calls and honestly earned ones, and after a similarly unsuccessful and injury-marred season with the Calgary Flames, Bertuzzi decided to take up Ken Holland’s offer to re-sign with the Red Wings in the summer of 2009.
To just about everyone’s surprise, a more grown-up Bertuzzi decided to re-dedicate himself to playing sound defensive hockey and a simpler style of play belying a nuclear deterrent with some high miles blunting his offensive talents instead of playing Helter Skelter hockey, he committed fewer giveaways, far fewer penalties and achieved an 18-goal, 44-point season which earned him a two-year contract extension genuinely earned by hard work on and off the ice, and if we are to believe his teammates and coach, a humble, hard-working and genuinely pleasant personality and person behind his ever-present scowl and prickly demeanor.
This year, Bertuzzi’s continued to make up for his frustratingly streaky scoring and the back-passing and backhand-shot-taking remnants of Todd Bertuzzi 1.0 by continuing to reinvent himself as a forechecking forward who lugs the puck up the ice with speed, goes to the front of the net and stays there, forechecks and backchecks hard and plain old works hard every night. He’s going to post Wings-career-best numbers in goals and points before the season is out, and he’ll play his 1,000th career game on Sunday against the Minnesota Wild with his wife and children in tow thanks to Mike and Marian Ilitch’s generosity.
Bertuzzi reflected upon his post-Canucks career and second go-round with the Wings after Friday night’s game against the Panthers, for whom he was traded for Roberto Luongo way back in 2006, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted:
“(Ages) Thirty to 34 kind of stunk,” said Bertuzzi, 36. “But like I’ve said, I was lucky to get a shot to come back to Detroit and play some fun hockey, play with some quality guys. It happens and you don’t sit back and second-guess yourself your whole life and come up with nothing,” Bertuzzi said of leaving the Wings the first time as a free agent. “I’m in a good place right now and hopefully we can continue to win games and build momentum and end the season strong. It was a blessing when Kenny (Holland, Wings GM) called and asked if we could get something done. Fortunately we did.”
“I was lucky to get a second chance,” Bertuzzi said. “To be able to play fun hockey, and playing with some quality guys, makes coming to the rink pretty enjoyable.”
Bertuzzi has six goals in his last four games, with three two-goal games. The line of Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg and Bertuzzi has blended together well.
“We got good chemistry,” Bertuzzi said. “Me and Mule (Franzen) complement each other in the corners. Z’s playmaking, and just his overall game, it’s been beneficial to me.”
Babcock says that Todd Bertuzzi 2.0 is a useful player…
“When Bert’s skating and being physical, hanging onto the puck, it really helps us,” Babcock said. “He’s excited. He’s going to play his 1,000th game, we’ll take his family with us. That’s a special day.”
Chris Osgood and Nicklas Lidstrom praised Bertuzzi’s on and off-ice contributions to the cause while speaking to MLive’s Ansar Khan:
“He holds the puck, shields it, makes great plays behind the net where he can bring it out himself because of his size,” Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood said. “He’s got such good hands he can make really good passes off that.”
Said team captain Nicklas Lidstrom: “He’s just one of those power forwards who are tough to defend. You can tell when he plays with confidence—he’s hanging onto the puck, (opponents) can’t get the puck off him. That’s when he uses his size to his advantage and can take the puck to the net.”
The Wings appreciate his commitment to defense as well…
“You don’t want to say one-dimensional, but he was mainly an offensive guy, never known for being that great in his own zone,” Osgood said. “When he came here he made a commitment to being a better all-around player. His talent has never been in question. He’s one of those guys who’s changed his game to play longer. He’s playing smarter, better. He can play all over the ice now. You can put him out there in any situation.”
And they insist that Bertuzzi’s a genuinely decent human being who simply committed a very stupid act almost seven years ago:
“He’s not this big, mean guy that everyone has him out to be,” Osgood said. “He’s a nice guy, reserved, doesn’t like to talk too much about himself. If you talk about him he gets embarrassed. He just likes to be one of the guys in the room.”
For the moment, Bertuzzi wants to do is keep on keepin’ on. He’s stated that he wants to retire as a Wing and he hopes to do nothing more than go out carrying the Stanley Cup over his head—and while it’s belatedly so, at 36, a finally grown-up Bertuzzi’s earned the right to hope to do so:
“I’m at a good place right now, and hopefully we can continue to win games and keep building this momentum and end the season strong,” Bertuzzi said.
Update 4:30 AM: The Free Press’s Helene St. James posted a Bertuzzi biography and an extensive article discussing Bertuzzi’s excitement about having his family flown into Minny to watch him play in his 1,000th game (Bertuzzi says he’s a very proud Red Wing), his somewhat surprising friendship with Chris Osgood—and you can get the feeling from Bertuzzi’s comment that he’s making fun of Mr. Can’t Be on TV Wearing A Shirt..
“When I’m done playing, he wants my equipment,” Osgood said. “He looks like a goalie when he’s in the net. That’s the scary part. He looks like he knows what he’s doing.”
“I’m an in-the-closet goaltender at heart,” Bertuzzi said. “That’s why Ozzie does things like that, hides his [hockey] cards everywhere. He’s a beautiful, beautiful man.”
And both his teammates’ and GM’s testaments to Todd Bertuzzi 2.0’s character. St. James got Bertuzzi to admit that he was the one who called Ken Holland after his second year away from Detroit, asking Holland if he could rejoin the Wings:
“I think one thing happened, and people let that linger for years and years,” Osgood said. “He was an abrasive player in his prime and, yeah, that was a terrible thing that happened, but I think he’s moved on from that. I think everyone in this room has. We don’t think about that. He’s Todd Bertuzzi, a Red Wing, not what happened previous.”
“I’m big on chemistry,” Holland said, “and you want to make sure a player fits in. I talked to three or four of our guys and brought up Bert, and everyone thought he was real positive in the locker room. I think for a lot of reasons, the timing was right for him to come back. ... His son is around a great youth hockey program in Detroit. It was a good signing for us. When we got injuries in the ‘09-10 season, I thought there was a stretch there in November when he took us on his back and he kept us afloat.”
“If he was going to carry a team on his back like he did in Vancouver, we wouldn’t be getting him at the salary he’s at,” Holland said. “The reason we got him at that salary is because he’s one of a bunch of pretty good players we think we can have so we can roll four lines. We’re thrilled to have him. He gives us some options because he’s got good chemistry with Johan Franzen, so we can play them together to have a real big line. He can chip in goals. When he’s strong on the puck, he makes the other team spend energy.”
And after Jim Bedard suggests that Bertuzzi’s an on-ice leader in practice, Kris Draper has this to say about the big, bad, gruff Bertuzzi:
Though Bertuzzi isn’t as naturally gregarious as Draper or as affable as Osgood, he has endeared himself to his teammates. Asked about Bertuzzi’s personality, Draper broke into a grin and interjected. “Sunshine? He is a quiet guy, but when he’s in the locker room he jokes around with the guys. Between periods, he talks to the guys—way to go, way to skate, way to do this—he tries to build. That’s just kind of what goes on in this dressing room. It doesn’t matter where guys have been or what they’ve been like. It always seems when they come in here, we always have a good group of guys, and Bert is certainly one of those guys.”
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.