This offseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ biggest add was arguably a one-year, $5.5MM deal for top-six winger Tyler Bertuzzi. However, it now appears both sides wanted a longer-term deal than what actually came to fruition, per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on Sportsnet 590. “I’m of the belief that Toronto wanted to sign Bertuzzi longer and I think Bertuzzi wanted to sign longer. But, they just didn’t have the ability to do it now.”
Limited to 50 games last season thanks to hand and wrist injuries that cost him most of the first half of the campaign, Bertuzzi is widely expected to slide into a first-line role in Toronto alongside Auston Matthews, replacing the complementary role filled by Michael Bunting during the last two seasons. The latter departed for the Carolina Hurricanes in free agency two months ago.
Bertuzzi, 28, notched just eight goals last season but looked revitalized after a deadline deal from the Detroit Red Wings to the Boston Bruins, recording four goals and 16 points in 21 games down the stretch of the regular season and leading the team in playoff scoring with five goals and ten points in seven games. His blend of skill and physicality was one new GM Brad Treliving was clearly looking for this summer, also signing Max Domi to a one-year deal to play a bit lower in the lineup.
Even if the two sides could fit a long-term deal under the cap, a one-year pact was likely the wiser choice. Bertuzzi hasn’t been healthy for a full season since 2019-20, and the Leafs don’t exactly have money to throw around on players who could be coming in and out of the lineup with short-term injuries on a frequent basis. The team is still millions of dollars over the $83.5MM upper limit for 2023-24, even with Matt Murray and Jake Muzzin stashed on long-term injured reserve.
But if Bertuzzi has a strong season and stays healthy, it is worth examining what a potential extension could look like. He’s eligible to sign one as soon as January 1, 2024, but unless the Leafs anticipate getting a better deal by signing him early, they’ll likely wait until the end of the season to work out a deal. It’s fair to guess that with the cap expected to increase to $87.5MM in 2024-25, a mid-term (four to six years) Bertuzzi extension likely starts with a six. Is that something Toronto can reasonably make work with a new deal needed for William Nylander by next summer and another for Mitch Marner by July 2025?