Take two all-star forwards, mix with a big scoring left winger, add ice and stir.
That is the recipe the Maple Leafs will have on the menu at some stage of the coming season, with free agent Tyler Bertuzzi working a line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
“That’s up to coach (Sheldon Keefe),” Bertuzzi said Monday in his first face-to-face scrum with Toronto media at the team’s charity golf event at Rattlesnake Point in Milton. “Time will tell.”
Bertuzzi created free agent buzz with an excellent playoff in his brief time in Boston (though the team itself was a shocking first round casualty), with 10 points in seven games.
“That was my first taste of playoff hockey, another reason (he wanted to stay with a contender). To get a feel for that, I want to be back in it every year.
“I want to bring my game; energy, being in front of the net, hounding pucks.”
Swapping Bertuzzi for the departed Michael Bunting, who was prime time on left wing with Matthews and Marner much of the past two seasons, could be a fixture from Day One of camp this week or a fall back after other experiments. Eventually it will be too attractive for Keefe to pass up.
As much as the Leafs loved Bunting’s zeal and chirp factor that riled opponents, he was not producing with the other two as often last season, especially when taken off the unit for Calle Jarnkrok as part of a larger top six shake-up.
Tight for money this past summer, the Leafs didn’t try very hard to re-sign Bunting, especially with Brad Treliving coming in as general manager. The new staff were enamoured with signing Bertuzzi, centre/winger Max Domi and the possibility draft pick Matthew Knies make the team after a strong playoff. Knies could be another option at left winger with fellow Arizonan Matthews.
While Bunting ended up in Carolina, projected as its second-line winger, Bertuzzi signed here for one year at $5.5 million US, after the majority of his 328 NHL games were spent in non-playoff seasons with the Detroit Red Wings.
“I came in two or three weeks ago to meet all the guys, skate and work out, get to know everyone,” Bertuzzi said. “I’ve been skating with Auston and Mitch, working out with them (and other Leafs at the practice facility).”
He, Domi and new defenceman John Klingberg all had strong playoffs in 2023, a combined 27 points in 30 games. The Leafs finally got past the first round, but Matthews and Marner needed help as the Panthers shut them down in the conference semi-final.
Bertuzzi is an inch taller and a bit heavier than Bunting, harder to play against and not as prone to diving as the latter was in effectively drawing penaltes. The nephew of former NHLer Todd Bertuzzi is also more of the silent type, a challenge in this market.
“A lot of one-word answers,” Bertuzzi forewarned with a smile. “We’ll see. It’s going to be fun, something different and I’m sure I’ll get used to it.”