With their top two off season priorities now on the back burner, the Detroit Red Wings have started to focus on signing their second tier of free agents. By signing Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom to deals last week, the Wings are now turning their attention to another veteran: Todd Bertuzzi.
Bertuzzi has stirred debate amongst Wings fans ever since he first arrived here back in 2006. Back then, Bertuzzi was fresh off the Steve Moore incident and many wondered if having him on the roster put the integrity of the team at risk. Bert's first stint in Motown was a short one, lasting a combined 24 games (8 regular season, 16 playoffs), tallying a combined five goals and six assists.
After an early playoff exit, Bertuzzi was unsurprisingly let go. He's bounced around the league ever since, which have included stints in Anaheim and Calgary. Now after a semi-successful return to the Wings, Bertuzzi is once again a free agent with an uncertain future. Detroit wants him back, but only has a certain amount of cap space available for him.
Bertuzzi has said he will re-sign with Detroit or retire. The question has become how badly he wants to keep playing.
Much like his previous time here, many Detroit fans were split when the Wings signed Bertuzzi last off season to a $1.5 million, one-year deal. After contributing 44 points in the regular season and 11 in the playoffs, it seems that opinion about Bertuzzi has shifted in his favor. He's won over many fans with his hard work ethic, and willingness to be a secondary "Holmstrom" in front of the opposing goaltender. In an injury plagued season, he was just one of three Red Wings to play all 82 games.
He still has his detractors, however. Bertuzzi has a bad habit of taking untimely penalties, one of which cost the Red Wings a game back when they were fighting for playoff position. Even worse, it seems half the penalties he has taken have been reputation calls. He'll make blind passes to no one at times, and isn't exactly the best skater on the team.
But then again, every once in awhile, he'll do this:
There's no doubt that Bertuzzi can contribute to this team. When put on one of the top two lines, he's definitely one of the Wings' better producers. But Bertuzzi's stats may suffer next season with the return of Jiri Hudler, who is certainly going to garner a spot on one of the top two lines. That could mean Bertuzzi would be pushed down to the third line, a spot where he has struggled to produce.
General Manager Ken Holland finds himself in a tough spot here. Holland wants him back, but with Bertuzzi pondering retirement he may talk him into it if he goes too low with his offer. Then again, he can't spend too much or else he won't have enough money to re-sign other free agents like Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves.
The best option for Detroit is to offer a contract in the same neighborhood of the $1.5 million range that Bertuzzi made this year, likely a little less than that. At 35, the biggest thing Bertuzzi wants is stability, so if the Wings offer him a two-year, $2.5-$2.8 million deal he might be inclined to take it. It's a slight paycut, but he'll be hard-pressed to find better offers on the open market.
No matter what happens, it will most likely start another debate amongst Wings fans about Bertuzzi's role on this team. Some will argue he doesn't fit the system, will others will say that he brings a much-needed physical presence. The only thing we can hope for at this point is that this eventually works out---for Bertuzzi and the Red Wings.
UPDATE: There is now a poll attached to voice your opinion.