The Detroit Red Wings are currently navigating through some unfamiliar territory, salary cap trouble. Detroit, one of the NHL’s most successful teams during the pre-salary cap era, is now anticipating being over the cap at the beginning of the 2017-18 season in October, an issue that will undoubtedly have an impact on the team’s roster over the next 50 days. One player who could be affected by the cap crunch is also one of the organization’s most NHL-ready prospects.
Tyler Bertuzzi, reigning 2017 Calder Cup champ and playoff MVP, appeared in seven games with the Red Wings last season but is now ready to make a case for a full-time roster spot with the Wings. During the Grand Rapids Griffins’ 2017 championship run, Bertuzzi totaled nine goals and ten assists in 19 games played. Much like his famous uncle, Todd Bertuzzi, Tyler has a knack for getting under the skin of opposing players while also having the ability to frequently find the back of the net.
Red Wings’ head coach Jeff Blashill is well aware of what he has in a player like Tyler and hasn’t been coy about praising the young winger:
“Bert looks to me like he’s on the very of becoming a good NHL player,” Blashill said. “He brings a lot of qualities that we don’t have. He’s hard and has skill. We got a lot of guys with skill that might not be hard and we got some guys that are hard that might not have as much skill. He’s got pretty good package as a fit on our team. I think the playoff he had certainly puts him in a position to grab a spot next year and make our team better.”
Even with the praise of his coach, Bertuzzi’s hopes of making the Red Wings’ roster on a full-time basis in 2017-18 relies heavily on Ken Holland’s ability to effectively manage Detroit’s current roster/cap prior to the start of the season. Unfortunately for Tyler, Holland doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to sort things out.
The Numbers Game
The current plan in Detroit is for the team’s roster to be constructed of 13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders. This scenario is contingent on a completely healthy roster at the start of the season. The Wings have yet to come to terms with unrestricted free-agent Andreas Athanasiou, but when they do, it will give the team 12 forwards, one player shy of the desired 13, but it also leaves little cap space for the front-office to play with.
Bertuzzi, still on his entry-level contract, could provide Detroit with a flexible and more affordable option for a third or fourth-line winger. Tyler would carry an AAV of $910,833 in 2017-18, and he will also be waiver exempt. If the Red Wings are able to stay completely healthy on both offense and defense once training camp has concluded, the team may then be forced to make a trade or risk losing a player via waivers in hopes of finding some salary relief.
Detroit will once again gain some cap room by keeping Johan Franzen on the LTIR list, most of which will go towards re-signing Athanasiou in addition to defenseman Robbie Russo. Unlike Athanasiou, Russo will most likely start next season in Grand Rapids since the Wings added veteran blue-liner Trevor Daley during the offseason. The team could receive additional financial compensation by also placing Niklas Kronwall on LTIR if he is unable to manage his lingering knee injury, but it’s hard to imagine him not trying to soldier through one more NHL season before making such a decision.
Speaking of the offseason, the Red Wings also brought in Luke Witkowski from the Tampa Bay Lightning this summer. The gritty Witkowski can be deployed as both a forward or a defenseman but seems more likely to be used as a hard-hitting fourth-liner, a role perfectly suited for Bertuzzi. If Detroit is unable to clear some cap space either via trade or waivers, the team could very well choose to play Witkowksi over Bertuzzi on a more regular basis based on Witkowski’s lower AAV of $750,000.
Bertuzzi Still a Safe Bet
Detroit knows what they have in Bertuzzi and it’s a popular opinion that he is NHL ready. He possesses many of the skills that the Red Wings are looking for in their future players, but one, in particular, is highly coveted in Hockeytown these days, grit. It’s no secret that the Red Wings want to be a tougher, bigger, and edgier team to play against in the next few years, and Bertuzzi certainly helps them become that type of club.
Personally, I believe that “Bert” will be on the Red Wings’ opening night roster. There’s not much more the 22-year-old winger can prove at the AHL level, and any time he spends in Grand Rapids will be due to the Red Wings inability to effectively manage their current roster. What remains to be seen is what Tyler can learn and accomplish at the NHL level on a regular basis if Detroit can make the right moves to afford him the opportunity.