Tyler Bertuzzi’s deal part of Red Wings’ promising offseason, flexible future

Tyler Bertuzzi's deal part of Red Wings' promising offseason, flexible future
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Following salary arbitration, Tyler Bertuzzi sticks with the Detroit Red Wings for one year at $3.5 million. By itself, the Red Wings’ situation with Bertuzzi is already worth exploring. Beyond that, having Bertuzzi under wraps for one year also opens the door to discuss the Red Wings’ wide-open future.

Right up front, this is a perfectly reasonable deal for the Red Wings. The most interesting questions, for Bertuzzi and the Red Wings at large, revolve around: “What’s next?”

Tyler Bertuzzi covered for 2020-21 with Red Wings: one year, $3.5M

While both the players and teams are in different places with different expectations, the Red Wings’ one-year deal with Tyler Bertuzzi reminds me of the Sabres’ situation with Sam Reinhart.

Overall, it behooves the Red Wings to learn more about how much Bertuzzi can drive the bus himself.

During the past two seasons, Bertuzzi, 25, produced nearly identical results (21 goals each year, 47 points in 2018-19 and 48 last season). That’s pretty good stuff, especially since Bertuzzi did so in 73 and 71 games respectively.

On the other hand, much like Reinhart being boosted by Jack Eichel, Bertuzzi benefits from quality linemates. Since 2018-19, Bertuzzi spent the vast majority of his ice time with Dylan Larkin. Behind Larkin, Anthony Mantha ranked as Bertuzzi’s second most frequent forward linemate. On what’s been a woeful Red Wings team, it doesn’t get better than Larkin and Mantha.

Overall, Bertuzzi can be an offensive asset, but it’s unclear how much his defense drags everything down.

Then again, it’s easier to accept some warts from a younger player who might not break the bank. Would it have been better if the Red Wings could have bought more years from Bertuzzi while not bumping that $3.5M too much higher? Possibly.

That said, it’s likely wisest to find out how crucial Todd’s nephew truly is to the Red Wings.

Red Wings’ future remains wide open

In the short term, the Red Wings still have work to do. Most importantly, RFA Anthony Mantha needs a new contract.

(Now, that might be a player you want to sign long-term. Especially if it’s for a team-friendly cap hit.)

The Red Wings may also want to extend Filip Hronek, as the defenseman is about to enter a contract year. Also, the Red Wings can try to find similar deals to absorbing Marc Staal‘s contract in exchange for a draft pick. This is something I touted for Detroit before 2019-20, and it remains true now.

But looking beyond 2020-21, it’s remarkable just how much flexibility the Red Wings enjoy.

As much as Ken Holland bogged the Red Wings down with lousy term for depth players, most of those mistakes are washing away. If they haven’t already been dealt with, such as the Justin Abdelkader buyout.

From Staal’s $5.7M to Darren Helm‘s $3.85M, and even Henrik Zetterberg‘s $6.083M, the Red Wings see a bunch of money and/or cap space free up after 2020-21.

(Speaking of ghosts of Ken Holland’s past, the last $1.67M installment of the Stephen Weiss buyout finally ends after next season, too.)

With that money clearing, the Red Wings can be aggressive. Maybe that means adding a splashy free agent to accelerate the rebuild. Perhaps Yzerman can swing some nice trades. Even further, the Red Wings could steal some of the Seattle Kraken’s thunder heading into the 2021 Expansion Draft.

Progress with prospects, but not prosperity just yet

While the Red Wings made some progress with their rebuild, they need to add more and more.

On the bright side, experts seemed pretty keen on their 2020 NHL Draft. After stunning observers by selecting Moritz Seider sixth overall in 2019, the Red Wings colored inside the lines by selecting Lucas Raymond fourth this time around. If Raymond meets or exceeds expectations, that could be huge for Detroit.

Raymond ranked as the 17th-best player under 23 via Corey Pronman of The Athletic (sub required), and played a role in Pronman boosting the Red Wings’ prospect pool ranking from 18th to 13th.

Beyond Raymond and Seider, there’s also Filip Zadina and others who might make it, including Joe Veleno.

Still, after missing the playoffs for four straight seasons (and failing to win a playoff series since 2012-13), Red Wings fans might want to see more progress.

That’s where the near future comes in. Can Yzerman continue to add volume, and maybe also gain more blue-chippers? Detroit’s drafted a lot of players lately, including selecting nine second-rounders and six third-rounders over the last three years. Gaining more premium picks may be key, though. (They’ve drafted four instead of the customary three first-rounders during that same three-year period, but Joe Veleno wasn’t far from Round 2 at pick 30 in 2018.)

Much of the Red Wings’ future revolves around developing the Zadinas and Raymonds. Quite a bit also hinges on exploiting opportunities in free agency and trades. Being that Thomas Greiss is 34 and Jonathan Bernier is 32, Detroit should also be alert when it comes to targeting goalies.

Like Bertuzzi entering his contract year, the Red Wings’ most important work lies ahead. They’ve been hit-or-miss in ways that parallel Bertuzzi’s mix of strong offense and shaky defense, too.

We’ll see how both Bertuzzi and the Red Wings progress as 2020-21 goes on.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.