There was a request in the Domi article for a look at Tyler Bertuzzi, so I decided to do a little more formal digging into his value than just my basic feelings about the player. This is a Friday read, because honestly, I put Friday effort in.

My read on the things the Leafs are saying right now via the press – they like him, they would be open to re-signing him, but... – is that they're not serious about it. He's too expensive when the needs in other areas are so acute. However, I don't know for sure that the Leafs will pass on Bertuzzi, and he seemed to fit in fine with the team, so by all means let's have a longer look at him.

The only way he'll ever get a goal is if someone leaves it to him in their will

You can't talk about Bertuzzi's season without talking about his goal scoring drought, so that's where I'll begin. I wrote an entire post that was really about him as a way of understanding what you're seeing when you track a player's goal scoring:

Seeing Random
Is the goal blue or white?

This was Bertuzzi's chart in that post, and do read it if you haven't, but briefly this shows every goal plotted by how many minutes of player TOI have elapsed in the season. In other words, the spaces are minutes played by that player, not other breaks like games missed or holidays.

As of February 25, 2004

This is his 2023-2024 season in full:

How people felt about him before March and how they felt afterwards are very different things, and yet, no one should think March and April are the "real Bertuzzi" any more than they should think the early part of the season is.

Playoffs, though

Bertuzzi was said to be a great playoff performer, which has annoyed people, but has a foundation in reality. For players in this year's playoffs (to date) he is 30th in Individual Expected Goals per 60/minutes. John Tavares, Matt Knies and Auston Matthews are all ahead of him. Oh, what? You thought the Leafs never shot the puck, never got near the net, and they were bad and they should feel bad? Jer-e-my Sway-man. Clap. Clap. Clap.

Over his full playoff career, Bertuzzi's playoff numbers are even better. But wait. He's only played 14 games in the playoffs, and all of them involved Boston. When he played for Boston, he shot way over his ixG and when he played against them, he shot way under. He also had a lot of assists with Boston because his linemates were scoring too – in a series they lost, let's not forget. The goal total in that seven-game series was 27-26 for Boston, and this year it was Boston over Toronto 18-12. I think I just found another way raw goal totals are misleading.

What does that mean? Well, not much. Seven games here or there are not the story of the player and individual results are heavily influenced by the team around the individual. Playoff results by the opposition as well. The fact his ixG is good is the good part.

Bertuzzi vs, well you know

I'll throw in the towel on my frustration over the constant comparison of Bertuzzi to Max Domi because they're both up for a new contract and they were both on the Leafs this year and they are the same age: 29.

Bertuzzi had played his entire career with Detroit until the deadline last year. So his Boston career was 21 games in the regular season and seven in the playoffs. Other than not changing teams five times, the other major difference between them is that Domi entered the NHL on one of the worst teams, and started immediately playing on the top line in 2015. Most of the time he stayed at top line minutes until he got to Toronto, where he played a lot less than his usual amount.

Bertuzzi was developed in Detroit as a prospect who worked his way up out of the bottom six. His results improved dramatically after he missed almost all of 2020-2021 with an injury. He came back to play on Detroit's top line, and continued playing with the best players on Boston and Toronto. The major improvement came in his offensive impact as measured by either HockeyViz or Evolving Hockey. His defensive impact has always been at least okay for a winger, but it got better too.

This inevitably led people to assume they were seeing his linemates' efforts and Bertuzzi wasn't really contributing anything. So here's the conundrum on this player for me: I don't take these models being perfect as an article of faith, but I also don't buy in on the "riding the coattails" claim that many players get hung with. I don't buy that line as the explanation in totality for Max Domi. He has offensive skills, just very limited ones, and if you recall from his charts, he's all Goals For with nothing much backing it up, whereas Bertuzzi is all fundamental shot and shot-quality measures with a lousy Goals For – relatively speaking.

Bertuzzi's personal shooting looks good by Expected Goals. He shoots very close to the net, and like most things about his game, it was better in Toronto than ever before.

Notable with Bertuzzi is that his good on-ice Expected Goals % wasn't dependent on which line he was on. With John Tavares or with Auston Matthews, it's all very good, no matter the other winger. The only line that had more than 100 minutes and was terrible was that bizarre line with Domi as centre and William Nylander as the other winger. There was no one in charge there, is the polite way to phrase that, and it failed utterly with 34% xG. (I used Moneypuck here just for ease of looking it up.)

I think that RAPM chart sums him up very well. He's useful on the power play, gets into scoring position well, has poor finishing skills, but excellent puck retrieval skills. He plays a physical game in the offensive zone that is effective, and his defensive play is better than average for a winger.

I have been watching Easton Cowan lately, and he is a player who, when his talented linemates have the better scoring positions or the open lanes for passes, he goes right to the net and finds someone to keep busy. Matt Knies does this too. And so does Bertuzzi. And it's where a lot of his positive offensive impacts are coming from. Ryan Reaves does this too, because back in the day he was a valuable defensive player. That kind of net-front nullification is how defending and physicality become offensive support.

In the end Bertuzzi scored at .98 GF/60 in Toronto on a prior four-year average of 1.03 (all-situations, but his five-on-five number is dead on too). He shot at his normal, fairly low rate, as players tend to do regardless of usage or team. He shot better quality than ever by a bit. He blocked more shots than usual, he hit more and took more hits, took and drew penalties in about his usual numbers. He is exactly what he seems to be, a good secondary player who thrives at the net and along the boards playing a highly physical game.

Buyer's hesitation

I'm not all that thrilled at the idea of buying years of Tyler Bertuzzi's thirties. One key soft-tissue injury could derail him for a long stretch, and he takes so many hits, it seems inevitable injury time will pile up. If the Leafs were only looking for a secondary offensive winger with a game like his, I'd say sign him, even to some term because the risk is manageable.

My tepid enthusiasm is because I think defence is so much more important and because Matt Knies has taken some of the pressure off filling this role. But if the Leafs can afford him, and the AAV doesn't go very far above five million, it's not a terrible idea even with two years more term than everyone wants, as is tradition.

To continue the comparison with Domi, which I still find very absurd: Bertuzzi is a better player in every category except passing. Bertuzzi's combined shooting and finishing skill is about as bad as should be acceptable in a top-six player you're paying decent money to. He should be paid about double Domi's salary, which should be in the $2 - $2.5 million range and won't be. Term for Bertuzzi will be an AAV that will make people upset, but rising cap means rising salaries, and no one is signing for the $3 million you penny-pinchers want to play top six anymore.

Ranking order: Zach Hyman - massive drop - Tyler Bertuzzi - big drop - Michael Bunting - drop - Ilya Mikheyev - big drop - Leo Komorov. Maybe the Leafs should buy. Who else is there?