For the teams that are not in the playoffs, the offseason is now in full swing. Planning for the 2022-23 season has already begun, and general managers (GM) from all 32 teams surely have a gauge on what kind of moves their organizations may or may not be able to pull off. While some teams don’t need to mess with their formula too much, others may be looking to switch things up in a big way, sending a message to their team that the status quo is no longer good enough.
One team in the latter category seems to be the Detroit Red Wings. After letting go of long-time head coach Jeff Blashill on the first day of the offseason, GM Steve Yzerman made it known while addressing the media that his team’s performance this season was not good enough. Whether it’s through trades, free agency, or even internal competition, it seems likely that change is coming to “Hockeytown”, and in a big way.
Another team that could feasibly look to shake things up is the Toronto Maple Leafs. After suffering their sixth-straight opening series loss (including their qualifying round loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2020), the Maple Leafs still remain as the only Canadian franchise without a playoff series victory in the salary cap era. While they gave the back-to-back defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning all they could handle in the first round, they still came up short. GM Kyle Dubas’s top priority this offseason will be finding the missing piece that will get them past the first round for the first time since 2004.
As luck would have it, both the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs have something that the other needs. While they are Atlantic Division and Original Six rivals, both organizations could seize the opportunity to help each other out.
Maple Leafs Need Skill & Grit
It’s no secret that the Maple Leafs don’t really have a player that is the proverbial “pain in the butt” to play against. While they have loads of skill spread throughout their lineup, their most physical forward this season was 14-year veteran Wayne Simmonds. In his prime, he was the exact type of player Toronto needs today, but those years are long gone, and he has recorded just 25 points through 110 games with the Maple Leafs. What the Leafs need today is a player that can play in their top six, be a thorn in the opposition’s side, and produce at a level that is befitting of that top six ice-time.
Enter Tyler Bertuzzi.
The Maple Leafs have been linked to Bertuzzi going back to the 2021 offseason. When they lost Zach Hyman to the Edmonton Oilers in free agency, Dubas is rumored to have investigated the possibility of acquiring Bertuzzi from the Red Wings. For various reasons, including the player’s unvaccinated status and the travel limitations that come along with it, a deal was never consummated. A year later, the Maple Leafs find themselves still in need of a player like Bertuzzi, and while the vaccine mandate is still in place, there continues to be whispers that things may change on that front.
In a bubble, adding Bertuzzi makes a lot of sense for the Maple Leafs. He is coming off of a career season that saw him produce 30 goals and 62 points – both career highs – through 68 games. He plays a scrappy game that is tailor-made for the playoffs (he was the playoff MVP of the American Hockey League during the Grand Rapids Griffins’ run to a 2017 Calder Cup championship) and, at 27 years old, he is in his prime right now. If he is ever going to be a real difference-maker in the NHL playoffs, this is his time.
Drafted by the Red Wings in the second round of the 2013 draft, Bertuzzi has yet to play a single playoff game in the NHL. By all accounts, he is a terrific presence in the locker room, and with his long hair and a smile that is missing a front tooth, he is basically what a random person would think of if you asked them to imagine a hockey player. The Maple Leafs have lethal offensive forwards in Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, but they do not have a player like Bertuzzi.