Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Is Bertuzzi right for the Wings? (MNA Feb. 07)

Associate Editor

The Detroit Red Wings acquired Todd Bertuzzi from Florida just before Tuesday's trading deadline, supposedly adding the tough forward they wanted to help them in the Stanley Cup playoffs. This begs the question:
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Bertuzzi hasn't played since he had lower back surgery in November, after being sidelined for more than two weeks by a herniated disk. So what can he bring to the team?
He has only one goal and six assists in seven games after being acquired last summer in a trade that sent goaltender Roberto Luongo to Vancouver. Babcock can’t possibly want him for his goal producing ability,then.
Could he be adding him to the staff for pure goon factor alone?
Let’s not forget how hated this man is in the NHL and among hockey fans, alike. While playing for the Canucks, Bertuzzi attacked Colorado's Steve Moore in one of hockey's ugliest episodes — if not the ugliest ever — in March 2004.
On Feb. 16, 2004, during a Vancouver-Colorado game, player Steve Moore injured Vancouver Canucks team captain Markus Näslund by striking him in the head with his elbow while Markus Näslund was reaching for a puck ahead of him with his head low. Markus Näslund suffered a minor concussion and a bonechip in his elbow as a result of the hit. The attending referee did not call a penalty on the play. The hit was later reviewed by the NHL and no suspension or further discipline was administrated to Moore. This drew the ire of many Vancouver Canucks as their captain was sidelined with a concussion for three games. Canucks head coach Marc Crawford publicly criticized the non-call by the referees on the incident.
It was a missed call, and a bad one at that, I’ll admit. But it didn’t warrant what happened next.
During another Vancouver-Colorado game three weeks after the Naslund hit, on March 8, 2004, Steve Moore fought Matt Cooke in the first period. Late in the third period, Bertuzzi began following Steve Moore down the ice attempting to instigate a fight. When Moore ignored him, Bertuzzi punched Moore in the side of the head. Anyone who saw this could describe it only as a “sucker punch.”
Then, the hockey world watched in awe as the fight escalated well beyond what is the accepted norm for hockey brawling in any era of the game.
Bertuzzi grabbed hold of Moore's jersey before driving him headfirst into the ice. Watching the replay of this hit — by far the cheapest one I’ve ever witnessed in the sport — was sickening.
As a result of the hit, Moore suffered three fractured vertebrae in his neck, a grade three concussion, vertebral ligament damage, stretching of the brachial plexus nerves, and facial cuts. For this, Bertuzzi served a 17-month suspension, glossed over and almost forgotten due to the 2004-2005 lockout, which resulted in a lost season of hockey for everyone.
So, I ask again, what exactly were coach Mike Babcock and manager Ken Holland thinking when they picked up Todd Bertuzzi?
In exchange, the Panthers acquired forward Shawn Matthias and up to two conditional draft picks in the deal. If Bertuzzi signs with Detroit when he becomes a free agent after the season, the Red Wings will part with one pick this year and another next year. It hardly seems worthwhile to lose picks in order to keep a much-loathed goon like Bertuzzi on the roster.
Hopefully, the wisdom of this strange transaction in the 11th hour of the trade deadline will somehow be made clear in the coming months and with the start of the NHL playoffs in April. Because, for the time being, the Wings’ front office has me scratching my head on this one.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

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