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Tyler Bertuzzi’s AHL Days Should be Over

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The Red Wing’s 2017-18 season is on the cusp of ending, and the talk on the tongues of fans everywhere is what their odds are going to be to win the draft lottery. Needless to say, they won’t be playing any more meaningful games until next fall.

Meanwhile, their AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, will start the last five-game stretch of their season tonight on a western road trip with a ticket to defend their 2017 Calder Cup victory still left un-punched. As part of the preparations for what should be a trip to the playoffs and what they’re hoping to be another long run, the big club recently re-assigned forward Evgeny Svechnikov and defenseman Joe Hicketts to the squad.

Noticeably absent from that list is forward Tyler Bertuzzi, who is still eligible to rejoin the Griffins and play for them in the Calder Cup Playoffs this season. The former 2nd-rounder has played 47 games total for the Red Wings, scoring 24 points in the 45 contests he’s worked into since joining the team full time after Christmas. Last year’s playoff MVP for the Griffins has been the poster boy for the Jeff Blashill school of Earn-Your-Ice Time, growing from limited minutes on the fourth line to a consistent position playing around 15-16 minutes alongside Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist on what you’d currently call the Red Wings’ top line.

In terms of performance, you could absolutely call it that, too. The line with Hank and Gus is putting up 52% possession numbers at even strength, according to Natural Stat Trick and a 61% xGF according to Corsica.hockey. The eye test backs up the numbers in terms of Bertuzzi’s fit alongside his linemates as the mucker/grinder/puck-retriever who creates trouble for opposing defenses trying to break out of their own zone and who creates space for his linemates with his positioning away from the puck.

So, with one game left in Detroit’s season and the rest of April ahead, the question remains: should Bertuzzi rejoin the Griffins? The Free Press’ Helene St. James asked Jeff Blashill about the fact he wasn’t assigned with Svechnikov and Hicketts on the fourth and this is what he had to say:

“In his case, if he were to not go down, the positive would be he can start his training early,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “The positive if he goes down is to just continue to work towards becoming an elite player, not just a real good complementary player. But the negative side is if it’s a real long run, it cuts into his training.”

From the sounds of it, I don’t believe Blashill is leaning towards wanting Bertuzzi to go back. The inclusion of the wording “to just continue” sounds like a limiting return here for me. However, we also know that this isn’t Jeff Blashill’s decision alone.

On the Fox Sports Detroit broadcast of Detroit’s game against Montreal yesterday, Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond discussed this topic, and Mickey brought up the point that if it were up to him, he would talk to Bertuzzi about his expectations and desires and work out a plan from there. Personally, I feel that’s a good idea, but also want to stress that this is a conversation that nobody outside of Ken Holland, Jeff Blashill, and Tyler Bertuzzi should know about. Fan opinion (including my own) on Tyler Bertuzzi choosing to play more hockey or choosing not to isn’t important to this consideration, after all.

At this point, I don’t believe Tyler Bertuzzi has any more to learn from going back down to the AHL and playing at a lower level. I consider him “established” right now and worry not only that a long playoff run will cut into training time (which includes rest time), but that it could be actively detrimental to his level of play.

We know Tyler Bertuzzi is an AHL playoff monster and we know what he’s capable of doing alongside and against highly-skilled NHL players. He’s not going to have that same level of support or competition in the AHL. Compared to Svechnikov and Hicketts (both a full year younger than Bertuzzi), there’s a limited amount of benefit Bertuzzi will be able to derive from the additional seasoning of an AHL run and a limit to how much benefit other prospects might get from having Bertuzzi playing big minutes with the Griffins in those higher-pressure situations.

In terms of precedent, I don’t believe the club will be sending him down, based on previous treatment of both Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha. Neither were sent down after they had reached the point of “established” that I believe Bertuzzi has reached. I could be proven wrong here, but I think it would be a mistake for Detroit to send Tyler Bertuzzi to the AHL from this point. The kid has made it.

[Post-season Update]