Last we saw of Todd Bertuzzi in Detroit, he was a skating shell. No more than 50, 60 percent of the player he’d been in his heyday.
Bertuzzi gave it the old college try, but he wasn’t what the Red Wings thought they were getting when they dealt for him at the 2007 trade deadline. Or, at the very least, he wasn’t what the Red Wings hoped they were getting.
He was coming off serious back surgery, and had only played in a handful of games for the Florida Panthers when the Red Wings came calling.
The result was a gingerly-skating Bertuzzi in the ’07 playoffs, rarely crashing the net and hardly ever throwing his big body around.
Still, the Red Wings wanted him back for ’07-’08, thinking an off-season and more rest and therapy would make him more of the Todd Bertuzzi, circa 2002 that vexed the Red Wings in their series with Vancouver that spring.
But Bertuzzi wanted more of Mike Ilitch’s pizza dough than the Red Wings were willing to offer, so Bert signed with the Cup champions, the Anaheim Ducks.
After being released by the Ducks and catching on with the Calgary Flames last season, Bertuzzi is back in Detroit, signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal.
He’s 34 now, but has played in 134 of a possible 164 games over the past two seasons, which isn’t bad for a 30+ year-old coming off back surgery.
Bertuzzi’s career has been pocked with controversy. There was the Steve Moore sucker punch, which resulted in criminal charges and a lawsuit. Moore hasn’t played in the NHL since the incident, which was over five years ago.
Bertuzzi’s first Detroit stint was a game effort, but his back wasn’t anywhere near 100 percent
Bertuzzi badly wanted to be the final piece of the Red Wings’ playoff run puzzle two years ago, and was genuinely excited upon arriving in town in late March ’07. But his body betrayed him, not ready yet for the rigors of playoff hockey. He managed three goals in 16 playoff games, but his shifts were auspiciously devoid of the on-ice presence that he once wielded.
But there must be some sort of magic hockey potion in the Detroit River, which for years has been pumped into Joe Louis Arena via underwater pipeline, and under which players are christened.
Unwanted free agents. Unproven youngsters. Other teams’ castaways. Veterans looking for one more “kick at the can”—the Stanley Cup.
All of the above have donned the Winged Wheel and found their mojo playing in Detroit.
The current roster is dotted with these types.
Dan Cleary, a cast-off from Edmonton and Phoenix, is probably the best example—a guy who scuffled along, trying to find his foothold, then joining the Red Wings and blossoming.
There was Dallas Drake, brought back by the Red Wings for a swan song, the last bar of which was Drake skating around the Mellon Arena ice with the Stanley Cup in June 2008, at age 39.
So the Red Wings, having lost Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson, Jiri Hudler, and Tomas Kopecky to free agency this summer, are opening the magic potion pipeline once again, hoping that Bertuzzi and the afore-signed Patrick Eaves and Jason Williams can benefit from it.
Bertuzzi will probably never again be the player NHL fans remember in his prime. It usually doesn’t work that way the further the calendar advances. But he’s on board for a relative pittance of a salary, and the Red Wings believe in the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. They always have.
They play hockey a certain way in Detroit, and the team’s aura has enabled players to buy into the system and eschew any bad habits learned elsewhere.
Bertuzzi didn’t get the prize—that has so far eluded him—in his first go-round in the Motor City. Already, most “experts” are counting his new/old team out of the running for the 2010 Cup.
Just like they counted the Red Wings out after they fell into an 0-2 hole against Bertuzzi’s Canucks in the first round of the ’02 playoffs. I think you know how that post-season ended for the Red Wings.
So Todd Bertuzzi knows a little bit about what the Red Wings can do when they’ve been written off.