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The Malik Report

Todd Bertuzzi making the most of his second go-round with the Red Wings

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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Comments

Andy from FightNight's avatar

Congrats on the new digs George!

Posted by Andy from FightNight on 02/19/11 at 11:17 PM ET

EDJ's avatar

Glad to see you have The Malik Report up!

Posted by EDJ on 02/19/11 at 11:18 PM ET

Jeff  OKWingnut's avatar

Great to see your blog George, and a Bert story is a good one to start.

Posted by Jeff OKWingnut from Quest for 12 on 02/19/11 at 11:22 PM ET

pucked up's avatar

Fantastic to see the Malik Report here, George.  I had to buy new reading glasses to keep up with you but damn if that wasn’t a great investment.

Posted by pucked up on 02/19/11 at 11:31 PM ET

Wingnutt16's avatar

I was skeptical how he’d fit in, but Bert 2.0 has been a pleasant surprise and big bodies with good hands are always welcome on the roster.  Haven’t heard too much of the too old, undersized Wings talk on the west coast this year, then again, not that many people talk hockey out here.

Posted by Wingnutt16 from San Diego (Imported from Detroit) on 02/19/11 at 11:49 PM ET

Avatar

Congratulations on the Malik Report launch, George-it’s great to see you back again. Excellent article as well-I had no desire to see Bertuzzi in a Winged Wheel uniform after 2007, but he’s been a nice contributor here.

Posted by TheNorm41 on 02/19/11 at 11:51 PM ET

perfection's avatar

hey George, quick question: if Claude Lemieux’s neck broke when Darren McCarty jumped him from behind and beat him silly in that act of hockey vengeance, would you forever refer to it as being “very stupid” as well?

fact is - Bertuzzi’s “act” has happened a million times in hockey history and the fact that this occurance ended tragically doesn’t make it more than the total fluke that it actually was. Bertuzzi has ben crucified, and continues to be, for exactly the kind of play that everyone celebrates when it’s there guy… as long as nobody’s career gets ended.

and I realize in this case it did and they couldn’t ignore that when they punished Bertuzzi - I get that. But for fans, diggers, and bloggers, to keep pretending that Bert did something so over the line and out of the norm is just absurd. that kind of hockey justice had been happening for decades, but this time it sadly had a flukey result.

it’s like if someone boarded a player in the heat of the moment who turned their back at the last second, like it’s happened a million times before, and the player looks down at the wrong moment and breaks his neck. that doesn’t make the “boarder” a worse person or the offense a worse offense than any other boarding. it’s just a fluke and a risk that these guys take when playing such an insane game at such insane speeds against such insanely strong dudes.

I’m not saying I’m down with jumping a guy from behind, but lets face it, a very similar play has reached mythical proportion in Red Wings lore. The organization itself sells giant framed photos of the moment McCarty’s punching Lemieux in the back of the head. It’s kind of hypocritical is all I’m saying.

I know you, like myself, have been impressed with Bertuzzi since he returned. Even when he would show glimpses of his old ways, the upside at the price we had him was indisputably a benefit for the team. I was dumbfounded that so many fans took so long to recognize his contributions. But I’ve also noticed from the beginning that nearly every time you write about his turnaround, or his game changing, or his effectiveness, you also make some judgmental comment about the “very stupid thing” he did, or some equivalent phrase. You usually go on to basically defend him as someone who has redeemed himself, but how about recognizing that what happened was really more about bad luck than anything else… like most tragedies?

Posted by perfection from LaLaLand on 02/20/11 at 12:03 AM ET

Chet's avatar

3 sentences I’d have for Bert:

1. We’re all young and stupid, some fighting demons, just not usually so publicly;

2. I love your game playing for this team and hope you win a Cup here;

3. Either way, congrats on your evolution.

Posted by Chet from twitter: thegansen on 02/20/11 at 12:06 AM ET

joedaiceman's avatar

I swear the lettering in the banner seems to hint of the KHL - nonetheless, I look forward to much more of the Malik report

Posted by joedaiceman on 02/20/11 at 12:16 AM ET

SYF's avatar

Checking out the new digs, George.  Should we break out the Yuengling for christening?  LOL

Count me in as one of those who simply did not believe Bert would fit in with the Wings because of his serious baggage.  The Wings have completely humbled me since then.

Posted by SYF from The Revenge of Johnny E on 02/20/11 at 12:47 AM ET

SYF's avatar

Don’t know why the image didn’t come up after checking it through the preview:

Posted by SYF from The Revenge of Johnny E on 02/20/11 at 12:51 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

Thanks for the kind words, everybody!

Perfection: Yep, I’d still say that Bertuzzi committed a very stupid, if not heinous act. The injury he gave Moore does play into the equation and I guess that I felt the need to say, “Warts and all, I like the guy” in this entry because, for better or worse, Steve Moore will always be part of Bertuzzi’s career story.

Bluntly speaking, I wish that Moore’s lawyer, Tim Danson, would stop trying to sue the entire NHL and simply take a chunk of Bert’s earnings so that both Moore and Bert could move on. They’ve both earned that right.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 02/20/11 at 01:05 AM ET

John W.'s avatar

Posted by perfection from Chicago on 02/19/11 at 10:03 PM ET

Very well said, there have been worse acts committed in the game of hockey, they just didn’t have the same result.  There’s no question if the exact same scenario happened and Moore didn’t suffer a career ending injury, no one would remember it.

Posted by John W. from a bubble wrap cocoon on 02/20/11 at 01:27 AM ET

Avatar

Checking out the new digs, George.  Should we break out the Yuengling for christening?

You can get Yuengling in Vegas?  I can’t find it in Michigan, I had it on my Honeymoon in South Carolina.  Every once in a while I get lucky and find someone heading to a region that sells it, and can get them to bring me back a case or two…

Posted by wingsnut25 from Cheboygan, MI on 02/20/11 at 02:30 AM ET

SYF's avatar

You can get Yuengling in Vegas?  I can’t find it in Michigan, I had it on my Honeymoon in South Carolina.  Every once in a while I get lucky and find someone heading to a region that sells it, and can get them to bring me back a case or two…

Posted by wingsnut25 on 02/20/11 at 12:30 AM ET

Man, I tried for years and then a bartender told me about the following link and suggested I give it a try.

Yuengling Distributors.

Posted by SYF from The Revenge of Johnny E on 02/20/11 at 02:53 AM ET

Hippy Dave's avatar

Props, George!

Posted by Hippy Dave from Portland by way of Detroit on 02/20/11 at 04:02 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

I’m regrettably allergic to alcohol, so this Guinness-missing part-Irish fellow will have to request a premium Shirley Temple, made with Canada Dry and real grenadine instead of cheap generic Sprite and bad cherry juice.

There’s nothing like being a 250-lb, six-foot-tall bald man with a scraggly half-foot-long goatee and walking up to the bar and saying, “I want you to make me your meanest, nastiest Shirley Temple, please.”

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 02/20/11 at 06:43 AM ET

RWBill's avatar

I swear the lettering in the banner seems to hint of the KHL - nonetheless, I look forward to much more of the Malik report

Posted by joedaiceman on 02/19/11 at 10:16 PM ET

Yes, and that was intentional.

Posted by RWBill from cruising Brush Street with Super Creepy Rob Lowe. on 02/20/11 at 11:15 AM ET

Sal's avatar

His favorite musician is James Taylor.

From the Freep Meet Todd Bertuzzi
This is not a sentence I ever expected to read.

Posted by Sal from the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains on 02/20/11 at 12:27 PM ET

perfection's avatar

so you seriously think accidentally falling on someone is a “heinous” act George? because THAT is what injured Steve Moore.

it’s sad and Bertuzzi had to be dealt with harshly… but what is exactly SO heinous. i think slashing someone’s leg so hard that it breaks is so much infinitely worse than what Bert did. I get it you like him “warts and all”, I do too. But you talk like his “wart” is of the Mike Danton caliber or something. It was a fluke plain and simple.

Posted by perfection from LaLaLand on 02/20/11 at 08:17 PM ET

SYF's avatar

There’s nothing like being a 250-lb, six-foot-tall bald man with a scraggly half-foot-long goatee and walking up to the bar and saying, “I want you to make me your meanest, nastiest Shirley Temple, please.”

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 02/20/11 at 04:43 AM ET

I’d be terrified and the next three words should automatically be uttered:

“On the house.”

Posted by SYF from The Revenge of Johnny E on 02/21/11 at 10:00 PM ET

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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.