DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings refuse to concede that they will be rebuilding next season.
Detroit signed Todd Bertuzzi to a one-year, US$1.5-million contract Tuesday in the hopes that the veteran forward can help make up for some of the Red Wings’ significant losses.
After falling one win short of repeating as Stanley Cup champions in June, the Red Wings watched as forwards Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler, Mikael Samuelsson and Tomas Kopecky signed with other teams.
“We lost almost 90 goals,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “I read or hear people picking us to be about fourth in the Western Conference.
“Even though a lot of teams have gotten better, I still think we’re a Stanley Cup contender because our defence is as good as anyone’s defence and I like the rest of our team.”
The 34-year-old Bertuzzi scored 15 goals and had 44 points last season, ranking sixth in both categories for the Calgary Flames. He played in an average of 67 games the past two seasons after a back injury stunted his career.
“He gives us a veteran with a big body and skill,” Holland said. “We think he can help us on one of our top three lines. And if a team wants to get physical with us, we’ll have the option of putting Todd out there to snarl at people.”
The six-foot-three, 245-pound Bertuzzi played in just 15 games during the 2006-07 season, including eight with the Red Wings, because a herniated disc led to lower-back surgery.
“Our trainers were very impressed with him physically,” Holland said. “He’s in much better shape than he was with us last time, when he was trying to revive his career after back surgery.”
While playing for Vancouver in 2004, Bertuzzi sucker-punched Colorado’s Steve Moore in the head in one of hockey’s ugliest episodes. He served a 17-month suspension after hitting Moore and driving him face-first into the ice and breaking three vertebrae in his neck.
Eight months ago, Bertuzzi and Moore had a face-to-face meeting in a court-ordered mediation hearing in an attempt at settling a lawsuit without going to court.
Moore is seeking $38 million in lost income and damages from Bertuzzi, the Canucks and the company that owns the team because Bertuzzi’s attack ended his career. Bertuzzi was charged with assault, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation and community service.
Earlier this off-season, the Red Wings signed forwards Jason Williams and Patrick Eaves to one-year contracts.
“We’ll go to training camp over the salary cap,” Holland said. “We’ll see how things play out and what options we’ll have.”
Detroit is counting on young players such as Ville Leino, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader to produce, but Holland said they don’t have roster spots locked up.
“We’re never going to be in a position where we just give kids spots on the team. They’re going to have to earn it,” Holland said. “We’re trying to contend for the Cup because that’s what ownership, the front office, the players and this city wants.”
The Red Wings didn’t have much salary-cap space this summer because they re-signed Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen during the regular season, but they’ve set themselves up to have a lot of money to spend next off-season when star defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom could be an unrestricted free agent.