The glass of available unrestricted free agents out there is as half full or half empty as you want it to be.
There are many players still on the market and unfortunately a good chunk of them will never again play in the NHL. If you consider yourself picky, you might look at the UFA list and say there are only a couple names worth considering.
It all depends on what a team is looking for – from Maxim Afinogenov to Mike Zigomanis, there’s a role for a lot of these guys. One UFA who continues to catch my eye is the enigmatic Todd Bertuzzi.
Say what you want about Big Bert and his past crimes of poor judgment, he can still be a useful player on a handful of teams.
The days of Bertuzzi being a 40-goal scorer and point-a-game player on a top line are long gone. So are the stipends of $5 million plus per season. (I still find it hard to believe genius GM Brian Burke gave him a two-year deal at $4 million per to play for Anaheim in 2007, when there were no other real suitors because of his legal battle in the Steve Moore affair.)
Bertuzzi was bought out after one 14-goal, 40-point season in Anaheim, then signed as a free agent in Calgary last summer for $1.95 million. The expectation was Bertuzzi could become a regular contributor on the top two lines and perhaps score 25 goals and 60 points. It didn’t work out that way.
Injuries limited Bertuzzi to 66 games and he managed just 15 goals and 44 points despite premium minutes with skilled linemates. By all accounts, he was a solid citizen in the dressing room and away from the arena despite his label as a brooding loner. Both he and his family loved living in Cowtown as well.
Last spring on the eve of the NHL playoffs, CBC analyst Kelly Hrudey made the interesting point Bertuzzi no longer plays a power forward game. He doesn’t get involved physically and regularly passes up opportunities to hit a defenseman or forward in favor of skating the big looping circle. Could’ve been the bad knee he was skating on, but that’s not Darryl Sutter hockey.
The Flames are right up against the salary cap this season after signing Jay Bouwmeester and had no interest in keeping Bertuzzi at anywhere close to $2 million. So what does Bertuzzi do at age 34 and his glory years of being a productive power forward clearly behind him?
For a team to be interested in signing Bertuzzi, it must accept the fact he’s only a mildly productive second-liner with underrated playmaking skills and capable of scoring in streaks. Signing Bertuzzi to be a grinder on the third or fourth line just isn’t going to work.
Secondary production is an issue for a lot of teams and that’s why I think there’s still room in the NHL for Big Bert. Probably not for $1.95 million, but perhaps for $1.5 and maybe in a market that’s a little under the radar. There are still some decent seasons left for Bertuzzi.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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