Bertuzzi was traded to the Detroit Red Wings from the Florida Panthers just before Tuesday’s NHL trading deadline. The Red Wings wanted a physical forward who could score. In Bertuzzi, they got a player who once notched 46 goals in a season but has played just seven games this year after undergoing lower back surgery in November.
The 32-year-old Sudbury, Ont., native still carries the baggage of his attack on Steve Moore almost three years ago. There also were allegations he was a black cloud in the Vancouver Canucks dressing room last season, resulting in him being dealt to Florida in June.
Bertuzzi said he’s “very excited” about being in Detroit, calling the city “a place I’ve always wanted to play.”
Exactly when he will dress for a game isn’t clear.
“I’m hoping to get at least more than a handful of games in before the playoffs,” he said during a telephone conference call. “I’ve been feeling a lot better.
“I’ve been doing a lot off the ice to get my back stronger. I’ve been skating for the last two weeks and getting better each time I’ve been out there.”
To get Bertuzzi, Detroit sent forward Shawn Matthias and up to two conditional draft picks to Florida. If Bertuzzi signs with Detroit when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July, the Red Wings will part with one pick this year and another next year.
It’s the second time in eight months Bertuzzi has been traded. He was one of the principles in the deal that saw the Panthers send goaltender Roberto Luongo to Vancouver.
Bertuzzi, who’s earning US$5.27 million this season, regretted he didn’t have more of a chance to show his talents in Florida.
“I feel bad for the fans in Florida,” said Bertuzzi, who has one goal and seven this season. “Unfortunately I got hurt.
“The only really frustrating part is they never gave me an opportunity to have a chance to make an impact. It’s past-tense and over with. I’m moving on.”
Off the ice, Bertuzzi still faces a $19.5-million civil suit filed by Moore, the former Colorado Avalanche forward.
The Moore incident was raised during the conference call.
“I’m so far behind that it’s not an issue any more,” Bertuzzi said. “Obviously I have issues off the ice.
“I hope people respect the privacy of those situations. Those situations will take care of themselves. It has nothing to do with me going to Detroit or me playing hockey there.”
The lawsuit stems from a March 8, 2004 incident in Vancouver when Bertuzzi was still a member of the Canucks. During the third period of the game the six-foot-three, 235-pound forward grabbed Moore from behind, punched him in the head and drove his head into the ice. Moore suffered three fractured vertebrae in his neck, a concussion and other injuries.
He hasn’t played hockey since.
Bertuzzi served a 17-month suspension. He also pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to probation and community service.
Bertuzzi’s past didn’t deter Red Wing general manager Ken Holland, who said he adds a dimension Detroit needs.
“Todd gives us size and strength, two areas that we really felt we needed to address with our team,” he said. “We think we’ve got a lot more options today than we had a few days ago.”
Before before making the deal Detroit team doctors met with physicians from the Panthers.
“We have a comfort level that Todd is close to playing,” said Holland. “We know he’s a few weeks away. We’re hoping by the end of March.”
Bertuzzi’s best season was in 2003-03, when he scored 46 goals and 51 assists with the Canucks. He managed just 42 goals over the next two seasons.
In 24 playoff games with Vancouver, Bertuzzi scored six goals and added eight assists.
In the dressing room Bertuzzi has a dry wit. He also can be moody and snarl at the media.
On the ice, a healthy Bertuzzi can deliver bone-rattling hits, then make a smooth play to slip the puck in the net.
He and Detroit defenceman Chris Chelios engaged in some vicious battles during the first round of the 2002 playoffs, the last time Detroit won the Stanley Cup.
Bertuzzi laughed when asked about being a teammate of Chelios now.
“I don’t think me and Chelly are going to room together,” he said.