Well, that didn’t last long. After four days and 9:13 of ice time, Tyler Bertuzzi is rejoining the Grand Rapids Griffins.
— Ansar Khan (@AnsarKhanMLive) December 12, 2017
Bertuzzi, who many thought would be a lock to make the Red Wings roster out of training camp, battled a wrist injury that saw him miss the first four weeks of the season. Upon his return, he put up five goals and nine points in his first twelve games with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL.
When David Booth was ruled out of Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury, Bertuzzi was called up to fill the gap left by the Scott Wilson trade and Luke Witkowski suspension. He played in the Wings’ 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues, receiving just over nine minutes of ice time.
This low amount of ice time on Saturday was not a result of his play, even though he did finish as a minus-3 with a single shot on goal and a blocked shot. Saturday’s game ended up being a heavy special teams match-up, with both teams taking three penalties each. Bertuzzi wasn’t going to play the special teams in his first NHL game of the season, so he spent more time on the bench.
He remained with the team for the rest of the weekend and was a healthy scratch in Monday’s match-up against the Florida Panthers as head coach Jeff Blashill opted to put Witkowski in on defense instead.
In the midst of a rebuild, Red Wings management and coaching this season has been heavily criticized. Understandably, fans are tired of seeing age and grit rewarded with more ice time, especially with how well the young players are playing. Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Martin Frk all have higher 5v5 on-ice shot attempt percentages than Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, and Henrik Zetterberg.
The youth movement is well underway and there is more youth waiting in Grand Rapids, including Tyler Bertuzzi. While it may appear that Blashill prefers to have Witkowski’s grit and toughness in the lineup instead of the youthful energy of a hungry prospect, I really don’t believe that’s what’s keeping Bertuzzi out of the lineup. Really, this all comes down to available ice time.
Booth and Witkowski are the two fringe players who are rotating in and out of the lineup. They have been getting an average of 6:39 and 6:20 per game, respectively. That is all the ice time that’s available for forwards right now, with everyone else playing an average of 10+ minutes per game. So even if Blashill scratches Booth and plays Bertuzzi, he’s only looking at an average of seven minutes of ice time per game. That’s not enough for a developing player with third line potential. At this point in time, it’s hard to make an argument for him cutting into any other forward’s ice time.
“My biggest thing on Tyler is, do we have enough minutes for him? He’s different than Booth in that he’s at the beginning stages of his career,” Blashill said to Ansar Khan of MLive. “If we don’t have enough minutes for him, then he’s better off playing in GR, so that when injuries arise, or opportunities open with more minutes, he’s readier (sic) to jump through that window of opportunity.”
I know we all want to hate on Blashill because this team is losing a lot, but he’s made the right decision here. Let Booth and Witkowski fill the six minute gaps per game and Bertuzzi can continue to build confidence in the AHL.
In a few months, when Holland starts to sell prior to the trade deadline, Bertuzzi will get the call up for a permanent spot. At this point, he’s destined for the NHL. He played with a lot of fearless energy against St. Louis that he didn’t look particularly out of place. There’s no room for him right now, but 2zzi will be back.
Don’t agree? Sound off in the comments about whose ice time you think he should be cutting into if he remained with the Red Wings.