An otherwise quiet day on the NHL’s free-agent front turned intriguing Monday when the Calgary Flames announced the signing of forward Todd Bertuzzi to a US$1.95-million, one-year contract.
While Flames fans flooded websites and debated the merits of bringing on the controversial winger, the signing came with the stamp of approval from captain Jarome Iginla – one of the most popular players in the NHL and certainly the poster boy for character and class in Calgary.
“Jarome is 100 per cent why I’m a Calgary Flame,” Bertuzzi said Monday. “Everything he had to say about the city, the team and the organization was nothing but positive.”
In a clever and PR-savvy move, the Flames held three separate media conference calls – first with GM Darryl Sutter, then with Bertuzzi and finally with Iginla.
The heavy-duty PR treatment seemed excessive for a modest financial signing, but this is a player who was once the NHL’s premier power forward, collecting 97 points with the Vancouver Canucks in 2002-03, and also a player still carrying the baggage of his sucker-punch to Steve Moore in March 2004.
“He is a character guy,” said Iginla. “He made a very bad decision and it was a bad incident. I’m sure if he could take that back he would take that back.
“But yes, I do believe in second chances. He’s got to move on and I think we should, too.”
Sutter said the Moore incident was a long time ago.
“I have a traffic ticket from three years ago,” said Sutter. “I hope there’s three or four fans that can forget I went through a red light. I guess I expected certain members of the media to bring that up today.
“But quite honestly when you know what kind of player he is and the money works, you know you’re not overpaying for that player, and he wanted to play in Canada, and somebody like Jarome wanted to bring in that player – I think everything else is pretty small in the big picture, then.”
The 33-year-old native of Sudbury, Ont., became an unrestricted free agent after he was bought out by the Anaheim Ducks late last month. From that moment on Bertuzzi craved a return to Canada.
“I’ve played my best hockey in Canada when I was under the microscope and under the pressure,” said Bertuzzi, who spent part of eight seasons in Vancouver. “And I think if anything that might be a little kickstart to getting it going again.”
While Sutter downplayed his expectations for Bertuzzi, the former Canucks star feels he can still put up good numbers. He had 40 points (14-26) in 68 games with the Ducks last season.
“I’m preparing myself to come in and play an offensive role,” said Bertuzzi. “I think my numbers have spoken for themselves. Obviously they’ve been down a little bit but I think I’ve still got a lot left in me to produce and to play.”
In other moves Monday:
-The Toronto Maple Leafs re-signed restricted free-agent centre Matt Stajan, 24, to a $3.5-million, two-year contract. Stajan had a career-high 16 goals last season while adding 17 assists in 82 games last season.
-The Columbus Blue Jackets signed centre R.J. Umberger, 26, to a $15-million, four-year contract. The Jackets acquired the restricted free agent from Philadelphia at last month’s NHL entry draft in Ottawa. He had a career-high 50 points (13-37) in 74 games with the Flyers last season and also added 16 playoff points (11-5).
-The Carolina Hurricanes re-signed restricted free-agent defenceman Dennis Seidenberg, 26, to a $1.2-million, one-year contract. Seidenberg had a career-high 15 assists in 47 games with the Hurricanes last season.
-The Pittsburgh Penguins signed Finnish league scoring leader Janne Pesonen, 26, to a one-year deal. Pesonen had 78 points (34-44) in 56 games with Oulu Karpat.
-The Chicago Blackhawks signed unrestricted free-agent defenceman Matt Walker, 28, to a $600,000, one-year deal.
-The Ottawa Senators re-signed forward Greg Maudin, 26, to a one-year, two-way contract. He had 33 points (15-18) in 71 games with the AHL Binghamton last season.
-The Montreal Canadiens signed free agent winger Ryan Flinn to a one-year, two-way contract. He had four points (3-1) in 41 games with AHL Springfield and AHL Hershey last season.
-The Anaheim Ducks signed goaltender David LeNeveu to a one-year contract. LeNeveu appeared in 34 games last season with AHL San Antonio and AHL Hartford, posting a 17-10-5 record with a 2.33 goals-against average.
-The Tampa Bay Lightning signed forward Mark Recchi to a reported US$1.25-million, one-year deal. Recchi split last season with the Atlanta Thrashers and Pittsburgh Penguins, finishing with 48 points (14-34).
But the news of the day came out of Calgary, where Sutter hopes to have the kind of similar success with Bertuzzi that he also had with veteran winger Owen Nolan last season. The Flames got Nolan at a reasonable rate for a one-year deal last season and he delivered with 16 goals and a physical brand of game some believed was past him.
Sutter said he wanted to bring Nolan back but the unrestricted free agent wanted a two-year deal.
“We weren’t against paying Nolan what he wanted on a one-year deal but once it became two years, that was a far as we could go,” Sutter said.
Nolan, 36, signed a $5.5-million, two-year deal with the Minnesota Wild on Sunday. That opened the door for Bertuzzi, who is three years younger and signed for less.
“We felt he was a fit,” said Sutter. “Because he’s a big guy who we feel can still put up numbers similar to what Owen did. … At the end of the day the money worked and that’s probably why it was a fit. …
“The deciding factor was that the player really wanted to play in Canada and to me that speaks really strongly of the player,” added Sutter.