As we get closer to the to the NHL Entry Draft and Free Agency, the rumour mill is starting to pick up and, once again, the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in the middle of it all. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Freidman stated on his recent 31 Thoughts post that the Maple Leafs sought to acquire Detroit Red Wings winger Tyler Bertuzzi before the NHL trade deadline.
As with any rumour, Maple Leafs Twitter blew up, but this one makes sense as there’s substance behind it. Bertuzzi is a really effective player who is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential.
Weeks ago, I published an article on possible destinations for defenseman Morgan Rielly and the Red Wings and Bertuzzi were my first choice. Now Rielly may or may not be part of a deal, but the Maple Leafs do have other assets in their system to try and fill a positional need. Bringing in Bertuzzi could be what the team needs up front as he’s just the perfect mix of grit and skill the team is looking to add.
Bertuzzi Can Replicate What Hyman Does
Zach Hyman’s future with the Maple Leafs is in jeopardy as there’s a distinct possibility that if he demands a high asking price, this will definitely affect the Maple Leafs plans. With their current contract situation, they can’t afford to fork over a high amount for one of their top-six forwards. If they’re looking for a cheaper replacement for Hyman, Bertuzzi is the perfect option– salary wise and play wise.
Bertuzzi is currently a restricted free agent and is coming off a one-year deal where he earned $3.5 million. Early on, it seemed like he was already surpassing expectations with five goals and seven points in nine games. He was poised for a strong season until it was derailed and he required back surgery.
As he needs a new contract, the Maple Leafs could be willing to give Bertzuzzi a raise in the $4- $5 million range. At only 26-years-old and where he can be slotted in the lineup, it’ll definitely be worth the investment to acquire him in a trade. It’s better to have him at that price tag than Hyman (29), who has had his fair share of knee injuries in the past. Here’s a comparison for both Hyman and Bertuzzi in 2018-19 and 2019-20 in terms of five-on-five production.
|Season||Zach Hyman’s Total Points||Zach Hyman’s 5v5 Points||Zach Hyman’s % of 5v5 Points|
|Season||Tyler Bertuzzi’s Total Points||Tyler Bertuzzi’s 5v5 Points||Tyler Bertuzzi’s % of 5v5 Points|
Production wise you can see the similarities, as Bertuzzi is more than capable at replicating the success that Hyman has had as a strong middle six winger. In his sophomore season (2018-19), Bertuzzi had better production on a Red Wings team that finished seventh in the Atlantic Division recording 47 points, 37 of which were at 5v5, finishing top five in team scoring. He bested Hyman’s 41 points that season, but Hyman just narrowly beat him in terms of total percentage of 5v5 points.
In 2019-20, Hyman played in only 51 games and had a respectable 37 points. Bertuzzi registered 48 points, with 32 coming at 5v5 and a slightly better percentage than Hyman. Based on these numbers, Bertuzzi is already producing at the same rate as Hyman at a younger age.
As Hyman grows in age, his production may start to decline while the Maple Leafs could be getting a consistent 50-point player in Bertuzzi during his prime years. In 2019-20, he could’ve hit the 50-point mark for the first time in his career while Hyman would’ve only hit that mark for the first time this season.
Bertuzzi is able to be a hard-nosed player that drives to the net, as he’s always there to make life difficult for his opponents. He’s able to make quick moves in tight and has a great hand-eye for deflecting shots from the point. From 2018-19 to 2020-21, he has a high danger goals for percentage of (HDGF%) 51.79 and a medium danger goals for percentage of (MDGF) 58.14, showing that ability to have success in those areas when he’s on the ice.
Hyman has been productive in finding the score sheet from time to time, but Bertuzzi can do just that and at a cheaper price tag.
Bertuzzi has “Killer Instinct”
We’ve talked extensively about how the Maple Leafs lacked “killer instinct” during the playoffs. It was something that should’ve stayed with them when they were up 3-1 on the Montreal Canadiens.
The Maple Leafs re-signed Wayne Simmonds in the hopes that he will find a spark and provide a physical presence that was noticeably absent in the playoffs. While Simmonds definitely could bring back the “killer instinct”, you can rest assure that Bertuzzi is definitely going to bring that aspect.
Bertuzzi is known for providing steady secondary scoring, but he is going to bring that edge and physicality to make this team more difficult to play against. He had 13 hits in nine games, but had 71 last season. The hit statistic doesn’t mean a whole lot nowadays, but if he were to replicate the amount of hits, he would rank third on the Maple Leafs in that department.
He has the ability to battle for the puck and make a hit that matches that of Hyman. He also has the ability to get under the opponents skin, which is reminiscent of Nazem Kadri’s “in your face” style that he showed on a nightly basis when he was with the Maple Leafs– minus the playoff suspensions. He’s the kind of player that will turn the tides in the playoffs for the better and it will definitely help the Maple Leafs going forward.
Trading Signing Rights?
Friedman also mentioned that the Red Wings could be pursuing the pending free agent in Hyman. Bertuzzi is a pending RFA. Could this be a scenario that plays out where signing rights for a player could be traded?
It’s already been suggested by TSN’s Darren Dreger that a team like the Edmonton Oilers could look to acquire Hyman’s signing rights, that way the Maple Leafs would be getting assets in return and not lose him for nothing. Seeing as the Maple Leafs were previously in on Bertuzzi, this could be an option where it might be a good move for both teams as they would eventually get the player they want.
While many teams will want Hyman’s services, the Red Wings will have exclusive rights to sign him right away ahead of any other team. It also helps that they have over $48 million in cap space to spend. While I initially had Rielly as part of a piece to fill the need on the defense, the Red Wings will get a reliable and strong leader for their team going forward with Hyman. Could recently re-signed defenseman Travis Dermott be part of a deal as well?
Will Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman be willing to make this trade option work? Considering that it really doesn’t make sense to trade assets for a pending UFA just to sign him, it most likely won’t happen. Though it is an option, as they would be getting a head start on negotiations. It happened with Mark Stone when he was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights as they already reached a deal for an extension. The same thing could happen for both Hyman and Bertuzzi.
No matter what method of trade the Maple Leafs make to get Bertuzzi, it’s going to help them out tremendously. They’re getting a younger, cheaper version of a player that they already have while adding a lot of grit and intensity to help with the hopes of a deep playoff push.
Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.