Quick Shifts: Tyler Bertuzzi is the Maple Leafs’ beautiful mess

Toronto Maple Leafs forwards Tyler Bertuzzi, left, talks with teammate Auston Matthews at practices during the opening week of their NHL training camp in Toronto, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. (Nathan Denette/CP

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Might mess around and step on a logo.

1. Three quarters of Tyler Bertuzzi’s front tooth got high-sticked out of his mouth during his first winter in Grand Rapids, Mich., so the dentist yanked the other 25 per cent out.

Bertuzzi has never investigated replacing the lost Chicklet. He owns a flipper that would complete his smile but doesn’t bother using it much.

The winger figures wrapping a knob onto the top of his hockey stick would be a waste of time, so he pastes one strip of camouflage tape on the shaft. Admittedly lazy, he doesn’t spend much time on the blade either, haphazardly wrapping a few strips on his most important piece of equipment.

Trips to the barber come around as often as dentist appointments, and his skate tongues happily flop open like Odie’s.

“Yeah, he’s got hilarious style. Tongues out. The flow all over the place. The knob. The non-tape on the blade. Yeah, he’s got it going on, for sure,” says Auston Matthews, Bertuzzi’s fashion-conscious, stick-nerd centreman, with a smile. “Everybody is just looking at a stick like, ‘What’s going on?’

“As long as he likes it, that’s all that matters. But it wouldn’t be my first or second choice.”

The chirps have been flowing at the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ new first-line left winger like a Sudbury hairdo.

“Yeah, they’ve given me some s—, but I’m sticking with it,” Bertuzzi says, flashing his jack-o-lantern grin.

If you’re searching for method to Beruzzi’s madness, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Sloppy tape job?

“Just don’t like taping sticks, so it’s easy,” he shrugs.

Floppy skates?

“Nothing in particular. Just grew up doing it.”

OK. What meaning does his sweater number, 59, hold?

“Absolutely nothing.”

Here’s the thing: Bertuzzi’s careless/carefree approach to, well, pretty much everything, is a refreshing addition to a group of players all too aware of presentation and perception.

Suddenly, this Shoresy extra wheels up in his black Ram pickup truck to shake things up in the creases and corners.

Bertuzzi’s Toronto teammates have taken quick liking to him, off the ice and on.

“He’s more talented than I ever thought, and he’s fit right in,” says defenceman Morgan Rielly. “He likes being in those dirty areas. He’s very willing to go there — and not everybody’s like that.”

Rielly has seen all sorts of left wings try to develop chemistry alongside the super duo of Matthews and Mitch Marner. Watching Bertuzzi in captain’s skates, Rielly believes he has the tools to stick.

Bertuzzi’s excellent speed, smart passing, and hockey sense all took Rielly off-guard. Now he’s used to seeing the free-agent acquisition thrive in scrimmages.

“I’m always surprised that people can keep up or play at their level. It seems like he just fit right in,” Rielly says. “This is a little bit too specific, maybe, but he’s got a great backhand. From in tight, he’s able to kind of put it upstairs really quick. And he’s just got these little things to his game that I never knew about. I really appreciate it.”

If Rielly were in Bertuzzi’s undone shoes, trying to complete Toronto’s top line, he would go up to Matthews and Marner and say: “What do you need me to do?” Then he would do his best to do exactly what as they instructed. Go where they told him to go.

“It’s just like keeping up and being open, always being ready and just understanding who you’re there with, because the puck can get to you at any time,” Reilly says. “They transition from defence to offence extremely quickly, so it’s kind of a hockey sense thing and always being ready and just being on their same level.”

Their same level hockeywise — not fashion-wise, of course.

“What he has got going on there is something I’ve never seen before,” Matthews says. “To see that he can actually play hockey with what he’s working on, it’s pretty impressive.”

2. Keep your eyes glued to the waiver wire.

That’s where Julien BriseBois’s focus will be.

Yes, we saw unsung backup Jonas Johansson pitch a 42-save shutout for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Friday’s pre-season action. But to think a contending team won’t try to upgrade its goaltending depth with all-world workhorse Andrei Vasilevskiy sidelined for two months is silly.

Perhaps BriseBois, the Tampa GM, already put in a claim for Spencer Martin, who got scooped off the wire by the lower-ranked Columbus Blue Jackets.

But there will be more options coming as Tampa’s rivals must trim their camp rosters and expose (or trade) a goalie.

The Bolts’ current tandem of Johansson and Matt Tomkins have a combined 35 games of NHL experience, and the Atlantic Division playoff race should be tighter.

Calgary’s Dan Vladar ($2.2 million) may be too pricy for the cap-tight Lightning, aware that Vasilevskiy will be coming off LTIR eventually.

Toronto’s Martin Jones ($875,000) and Pittsburgh’s Magnus Helleburg ($785,000) are more cost-effective targets for BriseBois.

3. So much attention in Leafland has been devoted to William Nylander, the club’s marquee pending free agent, that T.J. Brodie’s upcoming contract year is flying under the radar.

Hands down, Brodie has been Toronto’s most consistent and reliable defender since arriving to the city in 2020, when then-Flames GM Brad Treliving let him walk out of Calgary as a free agent. (Reminder: Treliving was ready to trade Brodie to the Leafs for Nazem Kadri in 2019, but Kadri nixed the deal.)

The shutdown man battled injuries last season and struggled in the Florida series (he wasn’t the only one), going minus-4 in that five-game elimination.

“There was a lot of transition,” Brodie says, referring to the Panthers’ counterattack. “It’s something you learn from. You put it behind you. You take away the stuff you can, but it’s a new year, and I’m looking forward to getting it going.”

Brodie, now 33, has been reunited with Rielly at camp, with the Leafs drifting away from a pure shutdown unit. The softspoken defender was a late starter at camp due to the tragic death of his father, Jay, to cancer.

Head coach Sheldon Keefe gave Brodie an exemption from his gruelling skate test and is easing him into exhibition play, with his pre-season debut set for Saturday in Montreal.

Brodie says he’s not putting extra pressure on himself entering his contract year.

Did Treliving and Brodie have any discussions about a potential extension over the off-season?

“No,” Brodie says. “It’s one of those things where I’m just focused on day to day, and I’m not too worried about anything like that.”

Would he like to remain a Maple Leaf beyond this season?

“Yeah, definitely,” Brodie says. “But we’ll see what happens.”

4. Although Rasmus Dahlin has gotten nastier through his five seasons in the show, there were murmurs in Buffalo that the Sabres’ 73-point defenceman was unhappy at times with the lack of aggression surrounding him on the ice.

Kevyn Adams made it a point to remedy that issue.

The GM’s solution? Rugged Connor Clifton, arriving in Buffalo feisty after throwing a career-high 208 hits and blocking a career-high 120 shots last season for the Bruins.

Dahlin is thrilled by his new training-camp partner. This pair will be zero fun for opponents to face.

“You see his toughness. I remember playing him in Boston,” Dahlin told reporters.

“I was scared of him. I hated to play against him.”

5. There is essentially one forward spot up for grabs at Sabres camp, and 18-year-old Zach Benson is hogging all the buzz.

Benson is getting looks with Buffalo’s big guns and playing well.

The native of Chilliwack, B.C., exploded for 98 points in 60 games for the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice last winter, and now it appears the 13th-overall pick has a legitimate shot to make the opening night roster.

6. Quote of the Week.

“I feel like Sean Payton.” — Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet, following the Canucks’ 10-0 pre-season loss to the Calgary Flames, which followed Payton’s Denver Broncos’ 70-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins

7. This is how you promote a client.

CAA Hockey, which represents free agent Patrick Kane, dropped a sizzle reel of the future Hall of Famer’s rehab this week.

While a few conclusion-jumpers point to Kane’s red pants and immediately think Red Wings, we believe the Sabres simply make too much sense. And not just because Western New York is home for the player.

Buffalo should be a better team, the Sabres have the cap space to make it work, and Kane would add another great veteran voice to young room ready to take the next step.

We can see those No. 88 sweaters flying off the shelves now.

8. Defenceman John Klingberg — who credits his offensive acumen to growing up a forward — has been studying Blackhawks rookie Connor Bedard’s pull-and-fire technique and plans to pick teammate Matthews’ brain to improve his release.

“Bedard is kind of like Auston that way, where they’re really good at creating a lane. They have the puck far out from their body, and then they can pull it in and shoot around the guy trying to block the shot,” Klingberg says.

“That’s something I’ve been working with at the blueline as well. You can sell a shot and maybe have the puck far off from the body and then pull it in towards your body and shoot around the guy. So, that’s a good thing with my reach with the puck.”

Klingberg believes Matthews’ angle-changing release opened eyes league-wide when his new teammate entered the NHL in 2016.

“A lot of people around the league, especially on teams I’ve been playing with, talked about it. He’s so good at pulling it towards his body and shooting around guys. That’s obviously why he scores a lot of goals,” Klingberg says. “Because goalies can’t really see the puck, and it happens so fast, and his release is very quick. I bet that’s something that he’s been working on his entire career.”

9. Evgeny Kuznetsov was already one of the most interesting interviews in the league, but his candid conversation with Russian outlet Slippery Ice took it up a notch.

Among other prickly topics, the dynamic yet inconsistent Capitals centreman did not hold back on his criticism of former coach Peter Laviolette’s system, which he says stifled creativity.

While open to a trade out of town, Kuznetsov’s cap hit ($7.8 million) and salary ($8 million) through 2024-25 make that difficult.

The former 83-point star underwhelmed last season: 12 goals, 55 points, minus-26 rating.

New coach Spencer Carbery was hired, in part, for his expertise with young players, but one of his most important jobs will be to helping Kuznetsov, 31, to perform to his capabilities — whether that benefits the Caps directly or helps facilitate a trade.

Kuznetsov must now speak with his play and prove he’s not an anchor.

10. Re-signing career-long Flame Mikael Backlund and stitching a second ‘C’ on his sweater is the first big win for rookie GM Craig Conroy.

“It’s awesome. Could not have happened to a better guy. I played a lot of years with Backs,” Calgary’s last captain, Mark Giordano, told reporters in Toronto. “He’s going to be a great captain, and he was already a great leader for a long time for them.”

Time will tell if Backlund’s commitment has a contagious effect on the Flames’ other talented UFAs-in-waiting, but had the captaincy remained vacant and had Backlund remained uncertain, that would’ve spelled trouble.

Backlund himself said not having a captain “hurt us last year.”

Calgary’s gain is the rest of the league’s loss, however.

The reasonably priced, experienced, two-way centre is precisely the type of trade-deadline target contenders would’ve liked to pick up for a Cup run.

11. Never seen this one before…

12. Treliving flew away from Maple Leafs camp to lend his support to Flames assistant GM Chris Snow and his family in Calgary.

A beautiful, selfless family. A brave legacy.

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